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Disturbing sign of the times (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday May 9, 2006 11:44AM; Updated: Tuesday May 9, 2006 6:41PM
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Phillies fans greeted Bonds last weekend with some creative signs.
Phillies fans greeted Bonds last weekend with some creative signs.
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Ruth did it on hotdogs & beer. Aaron did it with class. How did YOU do it?

That eloquent triptych stretched more than 60 feet along the front row of the left-field seats behind Bonds as he took his place in the field on Sunday night. It is right and fair and necessary to question Bonds. You can say likewise about McGwire and Sosa and Palmeiro and Canseco and their ilk, but they are not passing the Babe and taking dead aim at Hammerin' Hank, which, more than his personality, puts Bonds dead in the crosshairs of such widespread public condemnation. Imagine a highway patrol officer manning a radar gun as car after car zooms past him at more than the 55 mph posted limit, some if only by a handful of miles per hour. And in that traffic is one red Ferrari zipping along at 100 mph. Who is getting pulled over?

Surely there are plenty of people out there who will seize this opportunity to pile on. Sunday's game, televised nationally by ESPN, added to the written and shouted verbiage at Bonds (which included, "Just Retire!" "Barry Cheated!" "Ster-Roids!" and "Balco Barry!"). Indeed, his home run ball landed near a guy holding an ESPN-inspired sign that read, "Every Steroid Produced record Needs an *.''

But the ballparks of America (not including AT&T Park in San Francisco) make for the jury box on Bonds. Night after night he is despised -- that's been true for years, much of it because he is so good -- but now he also is mocked and ridiculed. It's much worse this way, even if Bonds does all he can to minimize the harshness of his treatment. He said Dodger Stadium was worse. "This,'' he said of his weekend in Philadelphia, "was nothing."

"I don't really pay too much attention to it,'' he said. "[The fans] are supposed to be mature people, too. A lot of them bring their kids. Say a lot of things in front of their kids.''

In the hallowed company of Ruth and Aaron, Bonds is treated as the punchline to a joke, like the sign in left field that read, "For Sale: Life-Sized Bobblehead. See Leftfield." Or the one in the upper deck with an enormous asterisk-marked head drawn over a small body that read, "Life Size. Shrink This." Or the faux Giants jerseys that say "Cheater" on the front and "Juiced" arched over a No. 25 on the back. Or the people dressed in giant cardboard juice boxes marked "100% Roids." Or the "Got Juice?'' signs. Or the skinny guy with the T-shirt that said "Barry With Pirates" while his buddy, dressed in an inflatable sumo costume, wore one that said "Barry With San Fran." Or the sign that simply said, "Fraud*.' On and on it goes, the majesty of history trumped by lowbrow humor.

Cheater.

That simple sign may be the worst of it. An athlete being labeled a cheater is worse than being called soft or a loser or even a jerk. And yet that is the verdict on Bonds, a player once gifted with as great a package of all-around baseball skills the game had ever seen. And that, really, is why this tour toward history is so sad.


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