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Bonds' historic journey too good to be true
The specially marked ball landed in the right field seats. The network, mercifully ignoring the scrum in the stands, kept the camera focused on Bonds. His trot around the bases was modest, uneventful. He was met at the plate by his son, Nikolai. For a long moment, they were alone at home plate. There were fireworks, brightly colored streams and bulbs exploding above them. His teammates who seemed to have a greater sense of duty than glee kept a respectful distance before congratulating him, one by one.
Soon, Willie Mays would appear, holding a microphone, trailing his godson. Then, in a stunning development, Hank Aaron came into view on a video screen. He had words of congratulation for the new home run champion. "I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 years," said Aaron, expressing the hope that "the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams."
What controversy? Who needs a commissioner anyway? Bonds' new record was being consecrated by the two greatest living baseball players.
Now Bonds took the microphone. He thanked his teammates. He thanked his family.
"My dad," he said.
There was a clearly audible voice from the San Francisco crowd: "We love you Barry."
Bonds was already done, though. He had begun to choke up at the mention of his father. He was holding back tears.
It took him only 22 major league seasons to demonstrate his humanity.
"My dad taught me everything I know," Bonds would say later.
Fathers and sons and baseball. I wanted to cry.
But I couldn't.
I want to believe in Barry Bonds. But I can't. I don't think I'm alone, either.
It seems more prudent to save your tears for the looming indictment.
This was the shot heard round a new world. You want to believe. But you can't. You can't even trust what you see anymore. The cynics have won the day.
Recall that glorious Summer of '98. Remember the universal applause that greeted Mark McGwire's 62nd home run that season. Remember how the commissioner sanctified the evening. Would you cheer now? Hell no. Turns out what seemed too good to be true really was.
On June 5, 1986 the New York Times carried a box score with the salient details of Bonds' first home run, off a pitcher named Craig McMurtry in Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium. That day's editions also featured a small story, "School Lesson About Steroids." The brief dispatch mentions suspicions aroused when a 135-pound student at Bloomfield (N.J.) High School put on 50 pounds over the course of a semester. Syringes and a vial were found in the boys' bathroom. Students were apprised of the risks attendant with steroid use: acne, sterility, liver cancer.
Two decades later, the irony might seem obvious. But the warning went unheeded. Muscle culture became part of the sporting life. Athletes started looking like pro wrestlers, those highly skilled entertainers who die at an alarming rate. Unlike wrestling, though, sports are supposed to be real. One shouldn't have to worry about the competition's authenticity.
Of course, Major League Baseball didn't catch on to the steroid scam until it was too late. By then Mark McGwire was out of the game, and the home run totals were hopelessly tainted. Shame on Bud Selig. He should have seen it coming.
The evidence that Barry Bonds did steroids, among other illicit substances, is overwhelming. Steroids are illegal. Steroids are cheating. And unlike so many others, Bonds the best player of this tainted era didn't need drugs to be great. Still, great as he is, he's human. If you could trade places with him, you might have done steroids. Baseball players weren't the only ones, of course. All the sports got big. It got to the point where even those skinny little bike riders couldn't be trusted.
What, you believe in the Tour de France?
The problem is, getting big has a price. It compromises your faith.
Now Barry Bonds has broken the most famous record in sports. It should be the perfect story: a tale of fathers and sons and baseball. It should bring a tear to your eye.
You want to believe, but you can't. Welcome to the new world.