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Disturbing sign of times

Bonds' pursuit of the Babe becomes joyless endeavor

Posted: Tuesday May 9, 2006 11:44AM; Updated: Tuesday May 9, 2006 6:41PM
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Barry Bonds inched closer to Babe Ruth with career home run No. 713 on Sunday night.
Barry Bonds inched closer to Babe Ruth with career home run No. 713 on Sunday night.
Al Tielemans/SI


Hey Barry. Move Your Head. We Can't See.

The signs, including that one in the left-field seats, were so prevalent in Philadelphia last weekend that Barry Bonds' pursuit of the greatest record in sports has become embarrassing and awkward for baseball. Bonds can have his home runs, his "wiping out" of Babe Ruth, as he promised five years ago, and even The Big One -- the record Hank Aaron has held with 755 career home runs -- but real legitimacy and honor never shall be his. So what then would he really have? The mocking of Bonds and his ill-gotten home run total was so savage I wonder if any such great and accomplished athlete was treated so harshly in his twilight.

Seeing Barry Hit 715: Worthless.

Bonds chasing Ruth and Aaron was bound to be a missed opportunity for baseball, what with the moral issues clouding the athlete achievement and dampening the celebration. But I did not expect it to be this negative, this sad. It is worse than joyless, what with Bonds treated so rudely and being a mope himself.

(Of course, none of such negativity applies in the cocoon of San Francisco, where Bonds is at home with his forgiving fans. They know about the steroid issue, of course, but choose to compartmentalize it, not letting it get in the way of cheering for their team, which needs Bonds to win.)

Two home runs away from Ruth, Bonds would have gone 0-for-Philadelphia in terms of talking about history if he did not hit number 713 on Sunday night. So he ended what had been an entire weekend of silence -- twice skipping out of the clubhouse hurriedly and surreptitiously -- to answer questions from reporters in the Citizens Bank Park media room.

It was there that a 25-year-old serviceman, who said he could soon be headed for a tour in Iraq, excitedly asked Bonds to autograph the home run ball that the man caught after it bounced off the facade of the upper deck. Bonds turned his head dismissively and ignored him. Bonds later posed for a picture with the man and shook his hand, but refused to sign the ball. It was just more of Bonds spreading his good cheer.

At that news conference a reporter asked Bonds why he never legally challenged anybody on the first or even any charge that he used steroids. Bonds, slightly piqued, said, "Are we having a steroid conversation or baseball?" while a Giants staffer to the side of him reflexively added, "Keep it to baseball, guys." Right. With Bonds, the elephant never leaves the room. Steve Howe took the cocaine association to his grave. Pete Rose will do the same with gambling. Bonds will do the same with steroids.