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It's a struggle to put Barry Bonds, and his impending home run record, in perspective
IF THE BARRY BONDS saga teaches us anything, it is that baseball still matters. If it didn't, then who would care that the sport's most cherished record is about to be broken by such a polarizing figure?
Say what you will about baseball being boring, or losing its place as the Great American Pastime to the glitz and violence of football. Baseball captivates us because we know there is nothing more challenging in all of sport than connecting a skinny bat to a small, speeding ball at precisely the right instant. Succeed three times out of 10, and you're a potential All-Star.
Barry Bonds has done that very well during his 22-year major league career. He's on the verge of overtaking Hammerin' Hank Aaron as the all-time career home-run leader. But does he really deserve it? In 2004, the year he turned 40, he won his second National League batting title with a .362 average. That incredible performance, at an age when most players are fading or retired--plus his increasingly robust physique--bolstered allegations that he was using performance-enhancing potions.
Of course, there are also the books about abuse of steroids in baseball and the media accounts of leaked grand-jury testimony that link Mr. Bonds to steroid use. His defenders, most San Francisco Giants fans among them, counter that even if he did use such substances, they weren't banned by MLB at the time. Mr. Bonds has never tested positive for steroids, nor been charged with using such prescription drugs illegally.
The federal government is, however, investigating whether he perjured himself in 2003 while testifying before a grand jury in BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroid-trafficking case. A federal tax-evasion probe of Mr. Bonds is also ongoing.
Because it is human nature to cling to the strength and vitality of youth, athletes who have spent their lives training to excel will do whatever it takes to compete at the highest level. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and all league and club officials are guilty of failing to recognize that and deal with a steroid problem they had to know existed--not just to assure fairness, but to protect players' health. The dangers these drugs present are well-known.