I don't like Barry Bonds, hardly anybody does. He's a spoiled brat, churlish and selfish. Not that we haven't seen his like in baseball before. Some of the most unpleasant people I've ever met came out of baseball; the game seems to self-select for brats. Still, that's not the point here. I doubt I'd have warmed to Ty Cobb any more than Bonds. And Ted Williams? I gather I could have done without his company, too.
But when history gets the last word -- and it always does -- Bonds will never be mentioned in their company. His home run "records" will not require an asterisk or any other qualifier, and it won't be because he shunned the press or strutted through life with the insufferable gait of one of those Sweet 16 beauties. History forgives personality. Even the vainglory of Bonds.
All that's left, in the passing of time, is a grudging respect. Like him or not, you have to admit, Henry Aaron sure hit a lot of home runs. Joe DiMaggio, icy as he might have been, did have a nice little hitting streak. Cobb? Well, he was an ass by all accounts, but it doesn't sound like anybody played harder.
Bonds' achievements will not stand that test of time, though. His cheerless progress past Babe Ruth's onetime record of 714 home runs tells us as much. There is an inclination to say that these records are part popularity contest, and there is something to that. Roger Maris, when he topped Ruth's single-season mark, was so thoroughly resented that the commissioner had to rush in and more or less rule that he didn't top Ruth. I always wondered if there'd have been a similar reaction if teammate Mickey Mantle had been first to 61. Somehow, I think it would have been different.
It's more than just popularity, though. There is the suspicion that great as Bonds has been, he hasn't always been playing the same game as the rest of the league. At first I thought the suspected steroid use, which would have accounted for his late-career surge, would be one of those things that "get taken into context" as baseball evolves. Like an oversized glove, or night games. I thought the BALCO Boost would simply become a conditioning routine. I was sure wrong about that.
History has already spoken. There's no crying in baseball, and there's no cheating. For whatever Bonds used, and for however long he used it to hit those home runs, he will be reviled. It's not because he's black, a jerk or not Mantle. If Albert Pujols keeps this pace and acquires a personality disorder in the meantime, he will not face this ongoing raspberry. Assuming he tests clean, of course.
The lesson, of course, is not to make this judgment too complicated. Issues of race and personality fade in the face of history, and in this case, they will never be a factor. But wouldn't it be nice if the fact that nobody likes a cheater was the only drug enforcement that sports needed?