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Bonds steadfastly denied that he knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs and let the accusations bounce off him, the same way fastballs deflected off his bulky body armor.

Choking up an inch or so on his favorite maple bats, No. 25 became the No. 1 target for boobirds outside the Bay Area. Bonds was constantly shadowed by doubts rather than showered in affection the way Mark McGwire was nearly a decade ago.

The whole baseball world — the whole country, really — joined the celebration when McGwire broke Roger Maris’ season home run record in 1998. After Big Mac launched No. 62, he pointed to heaven, hoisted his son and hugged Sammy Sosa.

Yet that story did not have a happy ending. Disgraced by a poor performance in front of a congressional panel looking into steroids, McGwire basically became a recluse and never came close in his first bid to make the Hall of Fame.

Bonds broke McGwire’s mark of 70, hitting 73 homers in 2001. Ever since, he’s been on a path toward Aaron, a journey that hasn’t been full of joy. Bonds has been hobbled by bad knees and bickered with Giants management, and his chase was hardly backed by Selig.

A lot of fans, in fact, are already rooting for the day when Bonds‘ record falls. While Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas are next up among active players, Rodriguez is considered the most likely successor. The Yankees star just turned 32 and is well ahead of Bonds‘ pace at the same age.

That said, Bonds‘ quest was the main reason Giants owner Peter Magowan brought Bonds back for a 15th season in San Francisco, signing the slugger to a $15.8 million, one-year contract right before spring training.

Even with Bonds at 755, there is bound to be a split among many fans over who is the real home run champ.

There will be some who always consider Babe Ruth as the best — those old films of him wearing a crown will last forever. Others will give that honor to Aaron, as much for his slugging as his quiet dignity in breaking Ruth’s record in 1974.

While steroids tinged Bonds‘ chase, race was the predominant issue when Aaron took aim at Ruth’s mark of 714.

Aaron dealt with hate mail and death threats from racist fans who thought a black man was not worthy of breaking the record set by a white hero, the beloved Babe. Bonds, too, has said he deals with racial issues and that threats have been made on his life at times.