Veteran Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Mike Trombley, who knows a thing or two about big hits, was sitting in the visiting clubhouse at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco last Friday afternoon, sipping a cup of coffee while watching a Jerry Springer highlight video. Six years ago, while pitching for the Minnesota Twins, Trombley allowed Eddie Murray's 3,000th hit. Three years ago, he gave up the 36th of Mark McGwire's record-setting 70 home runs that season. How embarrassing would it be, he was asked, to surrender Barry Bonds's record-breaking 71st homer? Trombley stopped drinking and turned away from the video high jinks. "Embarrassing?" he said. "You must be kidding me. You're pitching against a team in a major league pennant race in a packed stadium against one of the greatest hitters who's ever played the game. There's nothing embarrassing about it. It's special."
Although Chan Ho Park, the sullen Los Angeles righthander who a couple of hours later would give up not only Bonds's record-breaking 71st home run but his 72nd as well, might have disagreed with Trombley, it was hard to argue the point. Bonds, capping perhaps the greatest offensive season in baseball history, had done something special—and breaking the home run record was only a part of it.
In the final weeks of the season he'd been asked to (in no particular order):
?help provide entertainment for a nation in dire need of diversion;
?lead the San Francisco Giants in a come-from-behind drive for a playoff berth;
?smile and expound for a vast press corps that he had usually shunned;
?watch ball four after ball four after ball four after... ;
?play while mourning the death of friend and former bodyguard Franklin Bradley, who died on Sept. 27 from complications during abdominal surgery;
?worry about his impending free agency;
?catch and pass McGwire.