STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Barry Bonds' homerun last night was the 715th of his career. That puts him ahead of Babe Ruth, and second on the all time list behind Hank Aaron. It does not necessarily mean Bonds is first in the hearts of all fans, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN reporting:
Five years ago, at a time alleged to be the height of Barry Bonds use of illegal performance enhancing drugs, the San Francisco Giants left fielder was smashing homeruns at a clip of about 1 every 8 times at bat. Whether it's age -the 41-year-old Bonds says it's not - or injuries or pressure or the constant questions about steroids, one in eight is homerun ratio long gone.
But baseball habits die hard. Bonds came up to bat yesterday in the bottom of the fourth inning against Colorado, having hit only one homerun in the preceding three weeks. Still, the fans were up, cameras at the ready just in case this time there wasn't a strike out or a fly ball that died in the outfield. And this time, there wasn't.
Unidentified Announcer: The pitch. Bonds hits one high, hits it deep to center, out of here! 715. The wait is over. And they are on their feet here at AT&T Park.
GOLDMAN: Duane Kiper on Fox Sports Net Bay Area made the call, and the last thing he said was significant, because how people react has been a major part of the story. For Bonds, it was a happy moment in what has been a controversial and draining journey to tie and then pass the legendary Babe Ruth.
Mr. BARRY BONDS (Outfielder, San Francisco Giants): And the fans at San Francisco - I don't care, it can't get any better then this. It just cannot get any better than this. And I want to thank all of them, too for supporting me.
GOLDMAN: When Barry Bonds came to San Francisco in the early 1990's, he saved a struggling franchise. His loyal fans repaid him by becoming his most ardent defenders against the doping allegations of recent years. The rest of the country, in the extreme, there's been the angry cries of drug cheat. Then there has been the ambivalence of fans like former baseball commissioner Faye Vincent. Here is how he responded to 715.
Mr. FAYE VINCENT (Former Baseball Commissioner): I am very confused at sort of the moral level. The baseball level it's remarkable. On the other levels, and they count, I am very confused.
GOLDMAN: So are others who wonder how many of the 715 homeruns were aided by drugs. And if the allegations are true, was Bonds - who maintains he never knowingly used illegal drugs - was he simply one of many who cheated? Indeed, today there's a lot of confusion. Outside of AT&T Park, there is joylessness where normally there'd be joy. Esquire Magazine columnist Chuck Klosterman, who writes about sports and culture, thinks this make Barry Bonds the perfect American sports icon for our time.
Mr. CHUCK KLOSTERMAN (Columnist, Esquire Magazine): I think people feel like so much of what they understood to be true about living in America has been antithetic, and that, you know, like a company like Enron kind of creates this false perception of, you know, mammoth success, and then underneath it's all fake. There's nothing there.
GOLDMAN: The search for baseball heroes with substance already is underway in the sports press. During Bonds' recent homerun drought, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals went on a homerun tear. The media talked about a torch being pass from Bonds to Pujols, about Pujols being the first star power hitter of the post-steroids era.
But the whispers are there, too. How do we know Pujols is clean? He says he's never used drugs and never tested positive. Barry Bonds says the same things. If a torch is being passed, it appears to be flickering right now, and it could be a long time before it burns brightly.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
INSKEEP: Barry Bonds is 40 homeruns behind Hank Aaron's all time record of 755. It's NPR news.
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