- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Barry Bonds is endeavoring to preserve the sanctity of his prodigious gifts, mostly to satisfy the dwindling number of baseball’s true believers.

His long-ball prowess has risen in proportion to his biceps, both features impressive in the absence of a viable test.

Bonds, as irritable as professional hemorrhoids come, is content to leave the matter to a smell test, with a clothespin to the nose advised to those in his vicinity.

His body has come to be carved out of granite at such a late age in his athletic life. His before and after pictures are startling, along with the accelerated rate of baseballs rocketing off his piece of lumber, one element believed to be legal.

The same could not be said with one of Sammy Sosa’s bats last summer.

Mark McGwire, the other musketeer, is long gone, betrayed by the legs that gave out to the seam-busting upper torso. It was an unnatural alliance, as confirmed by his medicine cabinet.

McGwire topped Roger Maris, then Bonds topped McGwire, each instance demanding blind faith.

Baseball persisted with a celebration on each occasion, with crossed fingers and the hope that the game’s poets could keep the stench to a minimum.

Science has adopted a murky position in more and more sports, lurking just beyond the cheers of the obsessed and innocent.

Something named the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative is suspected of providing illegal performance-enhancing drugs to athletes in several sports, baseball among them.

A federal grand jury is taking notes, evaluating the plausible deniability of those on the subpoena list.

Bonds, with a lawyer in tow, told his story, whatever it was, last week.

It went “fine,” Bonds said, as fine is defined down in the company of a lawyer.

It is hardly fine that the probe’s tentacles stretch to baseball’s leading player, the one face in a game that is increasingly faceless.

Bonds is not a target of the probe but a useful conduit to Victor Conte and Greg Anderson, the only two figures named in the investigation so far. Bonds is associated with both men, that association left to interpretation.

Bonds is not one to explain himself on his best days. His day before a federal grand jury had to be the equivalent of a root canal for him.

The court of public opinion is less restricted than one with a jury.

Bonds is defeating Father Time at the moment, with or without the help of illegal substances, that clause destined to be attached to his biography.

In fact, if a score could be kept, Bonds is beating Father Time by a bunch, in a first of its kind outcome. He has won the last three NL MVP awards, arguably his three best seasons ever, coming at ages 37, 38 and 39. He is pushing to be the home-run king, with McGwire down and Hank Aaron to go.

Fair or not, the damage to this march already is done, the deployment of an asterisk open to individual interpretations.

Unfortunately, the drug genie is out of the bottle in a game that, not too long ago, seemed well beyond the reach of a Ben Johnson-type scandal that scarred the Seoul Games in 1988.

As long as there was the girth of David Wells to mock — and there have been lots of those body types in baseball over the years — baseball seemed immune to the tales of bad chemistry mixed with bad intentions that taint the mostly irrelevant games of the Olympics and the Tour de France.

That no longer is the case, as first football and now baseball come with the caveat that seeing is not always believing.

The New York Daily News reported that Bonds testified to taking legal supplements and vitamins provided by Anderson, although he said he could not always swear to the validity of each ingredient of his miracle grow. For all Bonds knew, he could have been taking a placebo, innocent as that is.

The probe is going somewhere, just not sure where, with so much testimony and legwork in the offing.

However it goes down, the cloud of suspicion hanging over baseball is certain to become thicker than ever.

Bonds is winning against Father Time, but the game is losing big-time.

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