- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Our long national nightmare is over.

Barry Bonds hit his 715th home run Sunday, passing Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time list and giving the rest of the baseball world permission to move on with their lives.

The Bonds watch is over — for now.

His long, slow march toward Hank Aaron’s record of 755 home runs will be a lonely one.

Outside of San Francisco, Bonds is reviled. He has hit his seven home runs this season while dodging a syringe in San Diego, something resembling a toothpaste tube in Arizona and, albeit unsuccessfully, pitches from Houston Astros reliever Russ Springer.

This home run chase isn’t just joyless, it’s dangerous.

As Bonds limps toward Aaron, he also is being chased — by two recent books reporting his steroid use, a federal investigation for possible perjury and baseball’s own faux investigation.

It was hard to tell what loomed largest Sunday: Bonds’ 715th homer, his mammoth head or the imaginary asterisk many baseball fans already place next to his accomplishments.

This still is the steroid era, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

Maybe Al Pacino should have attended those Congressional hearings last year: “Barry Bonds is out of order! Bud Selig is out of order! This whole sport is out of order! I’ve got a guy who hit 70 home runs in a season who doesn’t want to talk about the past! What do you want me to do?!”

There is a feeling, even a hope, among baseball fans that Bonds does not have 40 home runs left in his body by BALCO. That way, they won’t have to feel icky about Bonds holding baseball’s most cherished record.

Bonds is on pace to hit 16 more homers this season. That would give him 731, just 24 behind Aaron. But Bonds will be 42 next season, and playing on creaky knees, and 24 home runs aren’t the cinch they used to be for him.

The home run chase of Bonds may not even be the most interesting of this season.

Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols hit his 25th home run of the season yesterday. He is on pace for, that’s right, 79.

That number used to seem especially cartoonish, until Bonds hit 73 in 2001. But Pujols has been tested and tested again, and Major League Baseball says everything is on the up and up.

Unfortunately for Pujols, a record-breaking season won’t be viewed that way.

This still is the steroid era — at least until Bonds goes away.

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