|A day later, the taint remains and the questions begin about Bonds' place in history|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 09 August 2007 01:55|
Baseball was once a game that glorified the likes of Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. But Joltin' Joe has left and gone away.
Nearly a decade ago, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were the game's conquering heroes, big men who could swat the ball out of the park with seeming impunity. Now they are discredited, one already initially denied entrance to the Hall of Fame and the other facing some big questions when his turn comes on the ballot.
Pete Rose was the best singles hitter ever but never will be in Cooperstown because he liked to bet on games involving his team. And the steroid cloud that hovers over Bonds everywhere he goes could cost him his place in baseball's most hallowed shrine.
The day after one of the greatest records in sports was broken, a nation was left wondering where all its sports heroes had gone.
A city celebrated Tuesday night when Bonds hit home run No. 756 to break Aaron's mark, and Aaron himself was gracious enough to pass along the crown, albeit via a salute taped weeks earlier. But commissioner Bud Selig stayed away, and baseball was deliberately wary about a slugger who may spend time in a federal prison before he spends time in Cooperstown.
``I don't know what they would do if they found out he did steroids. What could they do?'' Rose told The Associated Press on Wednesday. ``If (steroids investigator) George Mitchell comes back with concrete evidence, what could he do? It's just a strange situation. I believe anybody in baseball who breaks any rules, anybody, not just Barry Bonds, they have to penalize. I broke the rules, and I've been suspended 18 years.''
Even President Bush kept his distance on the historic night, waiting until Wednesday to call Bonds to offer his congratulations.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain, one of the lawmakers active in hearings examining the use of steroids in baseball, was asked Thursday on NBC's ``Today'' whether he would put an asterisk next to Bonds' record.
``As a baseball fan, yes,'' the Arizona senator said. ``It's sort of inappropriate for me, but in my personal opinion as a lifelong baseball fan: asterisk.''
It didn't have to be this way. Bonds already was a great player and a sure pick to join his godfather, Willie Mays, in the Hall before he defied the trend of virtually every player who has ever set foot on a field and became a lot better as he got a lot older.
And that, says Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley, might be the cruelest irony of all.
``This guy is probably one of the greatest players to ever play, and he got greedy,'' Eckersley said. ``It wasn't good enough to be great. How great do you have to be?''
The numbers prove how great Bonds is, just as numbers define most every player who has ever played the game. But in Bonds' case they also raise questions. He never hit 50 home runs a year before he became associated with the infamous BALCO lab and suddenly set a new season record by hitting 73 out of the park in 2001.
From the age of 35 on, a time when almost every athlete begins losing his timing and power, Bonds hit 311 of his 756 home runs.
He reportedly told a federal grand jury that he used the ``clear'' and ``cream,'' thinking it was flaxseed oil and arthritis balm. And his former trainer sits in prison while prosecutors try to convince a federal grand jury that Bonds lied when he said he didn't know he was taking steroids.
Richard Lapchick, who directs the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, said Bonds will end up as the poster child for steroid use because of the record he broke.
There's little doubt many players were users - including Clay Hensley, who gave up the tying 755th home run in San Diego - but Lapchick said there is also little doubt that Bonds did something to make himself grow stronger at an age where muscles begin to deteriorate.
``I don't see how it's possible there will be some events that come out that he had not used. I know sports fans and media people and people in baseball don't think that will ever happen,'' Lapchick said. ``I think he will be viewed with this cloud in his lifetime and forever.''
Bonds insists his record is legitimate.
``This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period,'' Bonds said on a night where seemingly everyone in San Francisco was celebrating the new home run king.
Unfortunately for Bonds, that's not his call.
Baseball writers ultimately will decide his place in history and his place in the Hall of Fame. And if their thumbs-down vote on Mark McGwire last year is any indication, there's a chance he could join Rose and McGwire on the outside looking in.
Gambling cost Rose his spot in Cooperstown, which was seemingly assured when he broke Ty Cobb's record and went on to set a mark of 4,256 hits that may never be challenged. While Bonds' supporters argue that he has never tested positive for steroids, as far as we know, Rose was kept out of the Hall and out of the game even before he admitted he bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds in the 1980s.
Bonds may never be tried in a court of law, but the court of public opinion has already spoken. While there was jubilation in San Francisco when he broke the record and some cheers in San Diego when he tied it, the boos lately have come heavy and often in every ballpark Bonds has traveled to.
Eckersley said many Hall of Famers quietly discussed the subject of steroids at Cooperstown last month for the induction of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn.
The former pitcher says he is among those who expect Bonds to be indicted and that he has his suspicions about how legitimate the new record is.
``He didn't get caught,'' Eckersley said, ``but if I had to vote right now, I'd vote he did it.''
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org