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Sham? Maybe. Shame? Definitely

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds had just unloosed a wickedly hard swing Tuesday night, the ball already lining its way deep toward the stands in right-center field and into its place in baseball history, when he dropped his bat, thrust both fists into the cool night air and stood, tall and unmoving, for all the world to see. Immediately, we all were forced to deal with a question that we've been wrestling with for years.

What do you think of Barry Bonds now? What do you think of the new home run king?

After years of streaking toward this moment, more rapidly in the past few seasons than anyone had thought humanly possible, Bonds finally arrived on the summit he had so desperately sought with his typical bang and bravado. The Giants' controversial slugger crushed a fifth-inning, full-count fastball from the Nationals' Mike Bascik to the deepest recesses of AT&T Park, a superhuman 435 feet away, to supplant Hank Aaron at the top of Major League Baseball's list for most home runs in a career.

The San Francisco fans, so loyal and forgiving, went wacko when No. 756 pierced through the night. Fireworks popped over McCovey Cove as Bonds made his accustomed slow trek around the bases. He touched home plate, the record now all his, thrust his gloved fists again skyward and held them there as his 17-year-old son, Nikolai, embraced him.

Bonds then waded slowly into a subdued group of teammates, bowed and blew kisses to the crowd, greeted his family, hugged godfather and Giants great Willie Mays and thanked the fans at AT&T Park in a brief on-field ceremony. A few minutes later, after one last nod to the fans in left field, Giants manager Bruce Bochy pulled Bonds from the game.

And now, we are left to reflect on the man, the moment and the significance of it all. Bonds has millions of fans, as his selection to this year's All-Star game indicates. His supporters are vocal and relentless. But there are millions of fans today, too, that are completely, radically disgusted at baseball and at the idea of Bonds, of all people, holding this important record. They call him a cheat. They call him a disgrace. They call this whole thing a sham.

Think about that and what that means. Even if Bonds' record is not a sham -- and an overwhelming body of evidence points to the fact that's exactly what it is -- Bonds as home run king is, without any doubt, a shame. The most magical number in baseball, the most recognized record in sport, now belongs to a 43-year-old man who has broadly split the baseball-loving public.

"If they feel that way, I feel for them," Bochy said of the Bonds' critics. "I feel this is a time to celebrate. I would hope that everybody that loves this game and has a passion for it would celebrate. I think it's time to move on."

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We can argue -- baseball fans have been at it for years -- the relative merits of the performance-enhancing drug charges that Bonds has been sidestepping for years. The tirelessly reported and researched book Game of Shadows paints a picture of a man obsessed with getting the same kind of attention and adulation that former slugger Mark McGwire received during the great home run chase of 1998, and one who went chemical to achieve it. It's almost impossible to read that book, written by two investigative reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle, and come away with the impression that Bonds wasn't into a lot that he shouldn't have been into.

But even giving Bonds every benefit of the doubt, the new record-holder has been way less than we expect of our best, way less than what we should get. Record holder? Absolutely. Hero? Not in a million years.

At best, Bonds has made a lot of stupid, arrogant choices, associated himself with exactly the wrong type of people, played stupid when it served him best -- c'mon, Barry, flaxseed oil? -- and shown no regret for any of his actions. At best, as comedian Chris Rock told Bob Costas recently, Bonds has pulled a fast one.

At worst, Bonds has blatantly worked around and above the game's current drug policy and ignored the spirit and intent of baseball's rules against performance-enhancing drugs when they weren't enforceable. At worst, he took the drugs even though he knew he shouldn't, tried to hide that fact and cheated his way to this record.

The best is not good. The worst is reprehensible. Is this the man that baseball fans want holding the most glamorous record in sports? A surly, sometimes outright mean cuss of a player who also has been, at times, hated by his teammates, at odds with the players' union, nasty and condescending to fans and a disaster as a family man?

"This record is not tainted at all. At all," a defiant Bonds said in a postgame press conference. "You guys can say whatever you want."

There's no choice now, of course, when it comes to recognizing the new record holder. Bonds has a grand jury holding a possible indictment for perjury over his head. His former trainer and overly loyal friend, Greg Anderson, convicted of steroids distribution and money laundering, sits in a prison cell for refusing to testify about Bonds before the grand jury. Yet when the record books come out next year, Bonds' name will be atop the list, scot-free and asterisk-free.

Shortly after he was pulled from Tuesday's game, to another loud ovation from the crowd of more than 43,000, Bonds was caught by television cameras on the bench in the Giants' dugout. Most of his teammates were in the field or standing against the rail next to the field. Bonds sat, with no one near him on either side, staring blankly into space.

It was a poignant scene and completely fitting for the moment. The new home run king, on top of his world, all alone with his thoughts.