Thursday, October 21, 2004

With each new revelation, Barry Bonds edges ever closer to the tawdry company of Pete Rose.

The latest is a jaw-dropping conversation on tape, in which Greg Anderson takes a measure of pride in the juicing of Bonds, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Anderson, the longtime buddy and trainer of Bonds, is one of the principal figures in the BALCO scandal, a regular Dr. Feel Good who is said to have dispensed the miracle potion to record-obsessed athletes.

His doctoring of Bonds, real or imagined, has produced the usual assortment of spin doctoring. You are advised to process it with an ample dose of skepticism.

All the dirty findings eventually will come out, and baseball is certain to be worse off for it.

Another asterisk beside a home-run record could be part of it.

Bonds, arguably the best there ever was, is bearing down on one of the most cherished records in all of sports, the career home run mark held by Hank Aaron.

The investigation and the pursuit are determined to intersect.

Bonds, fair or not, remains up to his thick neck in suspicion. He is either guilty of beating the game’s permissive anti-doping system or a victim of guilt by association.

The latter is the product of a players’ union that refuses to agree to tougher testing.

As long as the system is grievously flawed, the doubt is destined to persist. That is an obvious failing of a system not really interested in finding the wrongdoers and cleaning itself up. Even the innocent are inclined to be swept up in the questioning if their numbers suddenly appear abnormal one season.

Bonds was a wonderful ballplayer long before he became a hulking presence in the batter’s box. His impeccable hand-eye coordination coupled with a body that came to be chiseled in stone resulted in a startling home run binge at a ripe age.

Bonds has not merely improved with age. He has become Godzilla, a menacing figure who frightens all too many pitchers into serving him a free pass. His base-on-balls rate is unprecedented, not unlike so many other elements lurking in his biography.

This is the problem within the problem, this accumulation that adds up to uneasiness.

It is true that athletes routinely push the boundaries, defying previously set limits, and Bonds is doing just that, regardless of his home run totals.

Bonds still has to swing the wood against the ball, and no drug has been invented to increase an athlete’s ability to do that. Bonds hit .362 at age 40 this past season. His on-base percentage was a ridiculous .609, stuffed as it was with 232 walks.

Yet extra body mass and additional strength increase the distance of a well-connected hit.

With the advent of steroids in the game, juiced-up hitters found that their warning track outs of previous years were clearing the fence. Baseball’s skyrocketing home-run numbers reflected that development.

Bonds is a marvel who possibly had a little something extra in his tank. If so, his was an act of gluttony that obscures what undoubtedly would have been a compelling march anyway.

Ted Williams used to say that hitting a baseball was the most difficult task in all of sports. It was hard to argue against the premise, considering the very best hitters are consigned to failure seven out of 10 times.

Bonds was born to hit a baseball, no doubt about it, and he was destined to hit himself into the Hall of Fame.

But now, with BALCO wedged in his portfolio, his legacy is harder to quantify.

His improbable home run assault is almost mythical. It also is murky.

If the facts eventually overtake anything an attorney can spin, Bonds is liable to play the dupe card, the last position of plausible deniability.

That would be an affront to the game and to those who have defended him.

Bonds may have a prickly disposition in the locker room, but he is no one’s fool.

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