- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

The joylessness of Barry Bonds is immutable now.

His return in pursuit of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron is made of radioactive stuff.

His undertaking is hard to embrace. It smacks of wrong. The fun is absent amid the clearing of throats.

Bonds now lives in his imaginary bunker to ward off the slings and arrows of the BALCO scandal. He is the victim, of course. He is both the victim of BALCO and an unsympathetic national press that sees his exploits through the lens of race.

His is an understandable gambit. What else does he have to play?

More convoluted dialogue is certain to follow. See the problem?

His chase is supposed to be a celebration of the game, a testament of a player’s quest to surpass one of the most hallowed marks in sports.

But there can be none of that with Bonds. He snuffed the life out of the party a long time ago, even before elements of the BALCO investigation started to seep to the surface.

He never accepted his role in all this. He asked to be the enemy of the national press, and the national press was obligated to meet the request.

He never recognized his fundamental obtuseness. He plays a child’s game, for crying out loud, and earns an exorbitant salary. The least he could do is have a ray of sunshine in his public persona.

But us mere mortals could not relate to the burdens and complexities of Bonds, who apparently is Albert Einstein with a bat.

He raised the white flag in the spring.

You win, he said, as if the reporting of the BALCO investigation was a game. He said he was tired; he mentioned being tired almost every other word. He wiped away his surly veneer, if only for a moment, and acted wounded.

And now he is back, the curiously problematic knee all better.

His absence had that Michael Jordan-like feel to it, going back to Jordan’s first “retirement” in 1994, which either was a “retirement” or a request from the commissioner to take a break because of his ultra-serious gambling excursions.

Bonds stayed away long enough to let the BALCO principals cut their deals and minimize further fallout.

Conveniently out or not, Bonds must know what is ahead as he moves closer to Aaron. He must know that his trek will come with a slew of unsettling questions and doubts. He must know that members of baseball’s old guard, such as Nationals manager Frank Robinson, are unhappy with their steroid-free marks being increasingly marginalized. He must know the road will be different from San Francisco, where he was serenaded to cheers in his first game this week.

Bonds has robbed the game of a feel-good moment. His march plans to be a polarizing forum of the true believers and the skeptics.

Baseball has no choice but to smile around the groans.

Baseball and the players union were the enablers of the juice era, both all too eager to look the other way as the fannies filled the seats.

Bonds represents the most compelling ethical challenge of the era because of his unprecedented dominance.

In time, Rafael Palmeiro will be a footnote of the period, his marks mostly ignored.

We will have no such luxury with Bonds.

He already owns the single-season home run mark and is determined to eclipse Aaron.

He should have spared the game and the baseball public the latter.

He should have stayed away.

Instead, the catchwords of baseball’s tainted time will attach themselves to Bonds.

He did not “knowingly” use the cream and the clear.

Never. Ever. Period.

So his last lap will not be stepped in revelry, as it should have been.

It will be a referendum on his credibility.

Should we cheer, politely clap or boo?

That is the unappealing prospect before Bonds and baseball.

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