- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

Barry Bonds is bearing down on the mighty number of 700 with barely an acknowledgement from the national press.

That is a subtle indication of the uneasiness that accompanies his march to history, which comes with two parts.

Bonds has made a habit out of distancing himself from those who stoke the flames of passion, whether print or electronic types. Both are necessary conduits to the consumers who feed the lifestyles of the rich and athletic. The contentious relationship between the king and the messengers has left everyone cold and exhausted. Bonds also is one of the principal figures of the BALCO scandal awaiting the next investigative shoe to drop. It is the leak or release that threatens to rock baseball anew.

Bonds is merely the Babe Ruth of the new millennium, and that comparison is perhaps being kind to Ruth. Bonds is a late-model artist, unthinkably prodigious at a curious age, who has dispatched the game’s seam heads to find new context in his ever-growing base-on-ball totals.

The curiosity has resulted in both whispers and charges within the game that not all is what it seems with Bonds. Baseball is seemingly in the position of not knowing whether to celebrate the occasion or close its eyes, hold its breath and hope the quest is genuine.

Bonds is about to become the third player to reach 700 home runs, Hank Aaron and Ruth the first two. That is sacred company, the milestone hallowed.

More attention seemingly was devoted to Greg Maddux’s pursuit of 300 victories, a worthy barrier but hardly up to the rarified standard of 700.

The BALCO scandal has had an unfortunate way of humanizing its glorious suspects, starting with Marion Jones, the one-time queen of track and field who lost her championship aura either because of the birth of a child or a body made clean. It was an ex-husband who claimed to be the personal injector of his one-time wife.

Fair or not, Jones is hardly perceived in the same fashion after months of revelations and stunning failures. The BALCO fallout has followed a sense of urgency this summer, with the investigation first devoted to those who might embarrass the United States at the Athens Games.

The sleuths soon will return their attention to baseball and Bonds, the lead figure with the aging body seemingly carved in stone. He is one for the books, both statistical and genealogical.

He also is the artist who is forever tormented. He is Jackson Pollock in cleats, only he beats back his demons with a surly disposition. The absence of joy in his quest is especially at odds with an endeavor that brings pleasure to so many.

Bonds has been psychoanalyzed by the usual assortment of armchair therapists, each coming to the same diagnosis that he is a person without charm and grace, the reasons unknown. His theme song could be: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

He has come to be a mythical figure in many ways, consumed as he is with the sole purpose of sending a little, white ball to the outer reaches of the ballpark. No one in our time ever has made the challenge of putting a stick to the ball look so clinical. His efficiency is combated with the free pass.

So now he embodies the beauty and perhaps the untruth of the game.

More than any other figure in the BALCO scandal, Bonds needs to be exonerated or exposed. His name is too indelibly etched to the game now. His would be the mother of all asterisks, if revealed that he was juiced.

That would put him in the pantheon of the game’s all-time liar, Pete Rose, who has been banished from all MLB ballparks, plus Cooperstown.

For now, Bonds remains on a problematic path, with the breadth of the feat blunted by the whiff of suspicion.

We cheer. We exchange high-fives. We raise a toast in his honor.

We do so with fingers crossed.

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