A Barry easy target

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

What could have been one of those special moments in baseball history was reduced to one of bitter irony.

Barry Bonds hit his 714th home run Saturday in Oakland, tying him with Babe Ruth, second on the career list behind Hank Aaron's 755.

A local teenager caught the ball a dozen rows deep in the outfield grandstand. A breathless reporter caught up with him a few minutes later and asked if the kid was going to give the ball to Bonds.

The response?

"Hell, no. I hate that guy."

But that didn't stop him from letting the world know he plans to sell the ball. That's what we like: A man of principle, ready, willing and able to profit from the achievements of detestable celebrity. Welcome to the warm and wonderful culture of 21st Century sports.

Wherever Bonds finishes, whether it's above or below Aaron on the home run list, in the minds of millions, he is going to be persona non grata. Everyone is going to have to choose in their own way.

History is going to view Bonds through a distorted prism. He has been, more or less consistently, a jerk all his life. His college teammates at Arizona State tried to vote him off the team. He always has had the ability to say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.

But, no matter what anyone thinks of this guy as a person, he could play. If Bonds had avoided becoming a pharmaceutical marvel back in 1998, he would have retired as a lead-pipe cinch for the Hall of Fame. He wouldn't have hit 714 home runs but he would certainly have hit 600, maybe even enough to pass his mentor, Willie Mays (660). Homers aside, he probably had enough other tools to get himself to Cooperstown.

Despite a 1991 law that made steroid possession illegal in the United States, baseball had its collective head stuck in the sand until 2002 when so many offenders had been discovered and the evidence was so overwhelming that it was forced to institute a system of suspensions.

So, really, whatever Bonds was swallowing or injecting or rubbing on his body, he wasn't breaking any baseball rules. Indeed, the worst thing Bonds appears to have done is allegedly lie to a U.S. grand jury 30 months ago. That could get him in more hot water than the act of cheating itself.

Baseball history is full of characters who willfully broke the rules. Pitcher Gaylord Perry took great pride in his ability to load up baseballs with various gooey substances in direct contravention of the rules. His penalty? A spot in the Hall of Fame and another spot on the best-seller list with his book Me and The Spitter: An Autobiographical Confession.

Perry is just one of many shadowy superstars. Just this season, baseball got around to banning the use of amphetamines which were routinely used by hundreds of big-leaguers on a daily basis. How many players of the last 30 or 40 years have put up big numbers stoked by a healthy supply of greenies?

Bonds' contemporaries like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi have had their accomplishments diminished by drug revelations, though none of them have been formally penalized. That could come when Hall of Fame electors have to decide on them.

But Bonds, with the mother-of-all-baseball records in his sights, has become the lightning rod for the public's disgust. It's not just that he appears to have cheated, it's a combination of things. He is, as it turns out, the Perfect Storm of targets.

For starters, he's a miserable, arrogant person. Add in the fact that, in a game that prizes at least an illusion of fellowship among teammates, he doesn't even pretend to be a team member. Throw in the pursuit by this unlikable man of two of the greats of history -- Ruth and Aaron -- and the fact he has accomplished much of the work by use of illegal substances and there you have it: A witches' brew of venomous emotions, all aimed at Bonds.

They say that in life, you reap what you sow. Barry Bonds has spent nearly two decades in the big leagues, building toward this big finish.

Somehow, you have to think that "Hell, no. I hate that guy" wasn't exactly what he had in mind.


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