On its face, the Barry Bonds story is just what baseball needs: A telegenic superstar who doesn't hit home runs so much as he bludgeons them. He is almost a freak of nature, a 38-year-old serial MVP who just turned in a 46-homer season, in the process eclipsing the vaunted 600-mark for his career. Don't look now but the guy has a decent chance of surpassing Hank Aaron's supposedly untouchable career home run record. You'd think Bonds would at least be encroaching on the level of admiration reserved for the likes of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. The problem: Bonds is as popular as kudzu, a player considered so churlish he makes Albert Belle look like Yogi Berra. Never mind Bonds' legendarily frosty relationship with the media -- no single feat, that -- or the preening arrogance he betrays when he shows up opposing pitchers or fails to run out ground balls. The formation of the San Francisco Giants' clubhouse is perhaps the most damning indictment of his toxic personality. His 24 teammates are nestled in their individual lockers while Bonds commandeers three stalls in a corner where he reclines in his very own La-Z-Boy and watches a big-screen TV that only he can see. No wonder he nearly came to blows with one of his teammates. No wonder the other Giants players can't always bring themselves to emerge from the dugout on the frequent occasions of his tape-measure shots. We can debate whether any of it matters. Do we stop admiring a musician's talent because we learn that he happens to be a jerk offstage? Do we stop appreciating an actress' work if we hear that she is a harridan when the cameras stop rolling? So long as Bonds is the best baseball player alive -- and, be assured, he is -- should we care how he conducts himself outside the batters' box? And yet at some level, sports are morality plays writ small. Most fans want to feel some small connection to the athletes. They want to feel as though they are rooting for the good guys and booing the bad guys. If and when Bonds gets close to Aaron's record, we suspect it will capture the public's attention. Will fans finally admire Bonds for the elite player he is and -- image be damned -- cheer for him to make history? Or will they tune in, hoping like hell that he falls short?
Frank Deford: Stuporstar
Rick Reilly: 'Back off or I'll snap!'
Phil Taylor: The great myth
CNNSI.com Special: Bonds joins 600-home run club
Sports Illustrated Scrapbook: Barry Bonds
Photograph by Ben Margot/AP