Bonds helps awkward situation by heading home with 713 HRs

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds is back home, something that should come as a big relief to the surly slugger and the people who run Major League Baseball.

A road trip that ended with a bang -- a mammoth shot that brought Bonds to within one home run of Babe Ruth -- also highlights the conflicting emotions around the San Francisco Giants' left fielder.

Bonds was booed and jeered, mocked and scorned, by thousands who came to games in Milwaukee and Philadelphia. They expressed their ire at every opportunity that the embattled star who is at the center of the steroid scandal is about to break one of the game's most revered marks.

More than a half century after his death, Ruth remains baseball's most beloved figure. The muscle-bound Bonds, meanwhile, is fast becoming the most reviled.

Home should be a welcome respite from all the derision, likely saving both Bonds and baseball from what would surely be an uncomfortable moment on the road.

Bonds was not in the lineup Monday night, but odds are he will hit No. 714 -- tying a mark that stood until Henry Aaron finally passed it 32 years ago -- sometime during a seven-game homestand.

No. 715 is a good bet to happen here, too.

It's a moment that has been widely anticipated -- but not always for all the right reasons. Baseball has dreaded it so much that commissioner Bud Selig not only said there would be no official celebration but refused to drive 10 minutes from his office to watch Bonds chase the mark in Milwaukee.

But this isn't about moving up a notch into second place on the all-time list, it's about passing a legend.

"It's overwhelming right now. "It's a little bit larger than the single-season record home run," Bonds said. "It's big. it's really big.'

Bonds was in trouble long before the season began amid allegations he bulked up on steroids to hit 73 home runs in 2001. But it multiplied with the publication of the book "Game of Shadows," which alleged in detail Bonds' use of an astonishing number of muscle-building substances.

Bonds has previously denied knowingly using steroids. But with a federal grand jury investigating him for perjury and baseball investigating him for steroid use, the denials have been conspicuous recently by their absence.

Bonds claims he doesn't read the newspapers, doesn't hear the fans, doesn't listen to the controversy. It was telling, though, that after hitting a Ruthian-like blast Sunday, he refused to answer the lone question about the issue.

"Are we having a steroids conversation or a baseball one?" Bonds asked.

That would all depend on who is being asked.

Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell is reportedly requesting medical and telephone records of sluggers linked to the steroid controversy as part of a probe ordered by Selig. That group would include such names as Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield and others.

And the grand jury in Bonds' home town is calling witnesses to see whether perjury charges are warranted for Bonds' earlier testimony that he used designer performance-enhancing drugs the "clear" and "cream" but thought it was flaxseed oil.

The public outside of the Bay Area isn't so eager to embrace Bonds, who didn't help his cause Sunday when he was asked if he was better than Ruth.

"I don't know yet," he said, "but the numbers speak for themselves."

Bonds struggled during the five-game road trip, where fans chanted "Balco Barry" and booed him even when he was catching a fly ball. Some dressed in huge inflatable suits to mock the muscles he suddenly sprouted at an age when most men begin losing them, and held signs above his left-field post.

Despite it all, baseball fans apparently still dig the long ball.

When Bonds connected on a 2-1 pitch for a shot so enormous that it hit a sign between the second and third decks in right field, some of the same fans who booed couldn't help themselves but to stand and cheer. As if to show their feelings hadn't changed, they booed louder than ever when Bonds came to bat next in the eighth inning.

Then, showing the fascination Bonds still holds to them every time he comes to the plate, thousands streamed to the exits after he struck out in his final at bat. They had seen what they came to see.

Bonds shrugged it off as part of the game.

"It would only bother me if I'm getting booed in San Francisco," he said.

That won't happen. Giants fans are willing to overlook any transgressions for the slugger who has been the face of the team for a decade. They celebrated when he passed his godfather, former Giant Willie Mays, on the home run list, and they'll celebrate when he passes the Babe.

Home has never looked so good.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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