NEWS

Mike Fine: Bonds may have hit 756, but he's no hero

Mike Fine

If records are made to be broken, there's something downright

fractured about what has befallen baseball. Almost like a plague, Barry

Bonds' Major League home run record has maliciously swept over a

baseball-loving populace that regards the game with reverence, awe and

fondness.

Great accomplishments of the past have taken a back seat to the nastiness

with which Bonds surpassed the most revered of baseball's records, the home

run mark that the much-adored Babe Ruth held for 42 years, and the new mark

of 755 set by the much-admired Hank Aaron.

Ruth was a fun-loving, publicity-seeking big lug of a guy who adored people

and craved entertaining them. The quiet Aaron, hounded by bigots and

threatened by misguided zealots, carried himself with grace and dignity as

he surpassed Ruth's much-heralded mark of 714 on April 8, 1974, while playing

for the Atlanta Braves.

That pair represented hundreds of great players who played the game with an

unabated joy that's largely been lost in these days of financial pressures.

From Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Greenberg to Koufax to Musial to Kaline

to the Robinsons to Ripken and right on down the line, baseball has been

graced with wonderfully talented performers who've given to the game and the

fans.

Boston's baseball history is rich with players who've long ago taken on a

historical presence: Williams, Pesky, Foxx, Grove, Doerr, Malzone,

Petrocelli, Lonborg, Yaz, Evans, Rice, Lynn, Clemens, Boggs, Martinez and

right on up and down the line. There's been fun times and hard times, but

through it all, the fans have flocked to Fenway, adored its players,

sometimes to a fault, and provided more support than a human being could

hope to achieve.

And then there's Bonds, who, without a doubt, is one of the most unpopular

players ever to don a major league uniform. It's more than just the use of

illegal substances, as outlined in the book, "Game of Shadows," which was

based on leaked testimony of players, drug distributors and other principals

given to a San Francisco grand jury. It goes far beyond that. Bonds is

simply a "bad guy."

He's known to be a liar, a manipulator, an accuser, a user, a denier, a

cheater, an intimidator, a law-breaker, an obfuscator, a tax evader, a dirt

bag, a loathsome, unfeeling, uncaring, unappreciative, big-headed,

big-footed, insecure, naïve, friendless, soulless, passionless,

compassionless, self-centered and sorry excuse for a human being who is

being celebrated for his home run achievements only in San Francisco, where

his hometown fans turn a blind eye to his documented us of Winstrol and Deca

Durabolin (steroids) and hCG (human growth hormone).

When Bonds came to Boston in mid-June (hitting his 748th home run at Fenway

Park on June 17), he was actually quite charming, although he wasn't quizzed

about the ongoing steroids investigation being conducted by former Maine

Sen. John Mitchell. As he has approached his record, he's maintained a

much more even keel, but it doesn't belie the fact that he's bullied,

manipulated and chewed and spit out people in his life, alienating himself

from teammates who didn't even bother to greet him at home plate when he

broke Ruth's home run record.

The new record of 756 is a black mark on the game, so dire that

Commissioner Bud Selig's most pressing concern over the last several months

had been whether or not he'd attend the ceremony that the Giants were

planning on completion of the record. It's a shame, too, because Bonds was

an All-Star player, an MVP-caliber player when he played for the Pittsburgh

Pirates from 1986-92, but soon after being traded to the Giants, he began

taking note of the fabulous home run race between Mark McGwire of St. Louis

and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. McGwire finished with a single-season,

record-shattering 70 homers (to Sosa's 64).

That race ended an apparent golden era in home run hitting. From 1901

through 1990, the 50-home run barrier had been reached only 18 times. From

1995 through 2006, it was done 21 times. Through 1998, only two players -

Ruth and the Yankees' Roger Maris - had ever hit as many as 60 home runs.

From 1998-2001, it was done eight times, three times each by McGwire and

Sosa, twice by Bonds.

Around 2001, Bonds took notice of McGwire and Sosa, in particular and,

according to information in "Game of Shadows" became jealous that these two

players were receiving all the notoriety that went with the home run chase.

It was at that point that he began "growing." His head swelled, his feet,

his hands and his entire body took on a new appearance, and fans began to

suspect steroids use. At the same time, numerous other players - Jeremy

Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Sosa, McGwire, Gary Sheffield amongst them - were

suspected of going down the same path.

But while the others have either clammed up (McGwire), opened up (Giambi)

or maintained a pleasant persona (Sosa), Bonds has been belligerent,

confrontational and manipulative. At 43, he's hung on far longer than he

should, playing on battle-scarred knees that simply can't get the job done,

except, perhaps, in the batters' box. He's playing for one thing: to break

the record previously held by a beloved icon of the game.

Fans in every city but San Francisco are expressing their feelings through

their boos. As far as they're concerned, Bonds is little more than a cheater

who shouldn't be allowed to prosper.

Mike Fine may be reached at mikefine@ledger.com.