Opening Day fans in San Diego made their feelings about Barry Bonds very clear,and they won't be the last to do so
Barry Bonds'spursuit of the alltime home run record will occur while he is underinvestigation and--to read the writing literally on the wall on OpeningDay--under siege. When Bonds jogged out to leftfield on Monday night in SanDiego's Petco Park, he was greeted by four derogatory signs held up against thenetting in left, one of which referred to the size of his head and, in a doubleentendre, his genitalia. No, the chase of one of sport's most hallowed recordswill not be a feel-good story.
Bonds began theseason 47 homers shy of Hank Aaron's record of 755. But so tainted is Bonds byallegations of extensive steroid use that Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully,who called the home run in 1974 when Aaron eclipsed Babe Ruth's record of 714,told the Los Angeles Times that he'd rather not have to call what he termed"an awkward moment" when Bonds hit No. 756. Padres fans--history bedamned--shared that sentiment, booing Bonds repeatedly and raising severalsigns that referenced an asterisk or steroids, including one that editedGREATEST HITTER OF THE ERA to read GREATEST CHEATER OF THE ERA.
"None of itdetracts from his performance," Giants owner Peter Magowan said before thegame, anticipating the hostility that awaits Bonds this year. "There'ssomething about him that allows him to rise to the occasion. It's like, Meagainst the world." Score the opener in favor of the world. Bonds did lacea ground-rule double with his first swing, but popped out, flied out andgrounded out in his other plate appearances as San Diego won 6--1.
"Barry Bondsis not deteriorating," said Giants manager Felipe Alou, who planned to restthe 41-year-old Bonds in San Francisco's second game because of his troublesomeknees. "The power is still there. The guy is not damaged physically, exceptfor what it takes to run."
Asked after thegame if he had noticed the fans' signs, Bonds cracked, "I can't readanyway. It doesn't matter." As he jogged off the field following the eighthinning, Bonds bent down and with his glove scooped up a large syringe that hadbeen thrown from the stands. "If that's what they want to do, embarrassthemselves...," he later said of the fans, his voice trailing off. As forthe outpouring of negativity in one of the major leagues' more laid-backvenues, Bonds said, "I don't judge those things. I have to concentrate onbaseball."
Only four daysbefore Sunday's season-opener between the Indians and the White Sox,commissioner Bud Selig announced that he had ordered a steroid investigationthat clearly had Bonds as one of the players in its crosshairs. Whileannouncing the appointment of former senator George Mitchell to lead thatinvestigation, Selig repeatedly mentioned BALCO--the focus of the recent bookGame of Shadows (SI, March 13)--as a major impetus for the investigation.
Said onehigh-ranking major league source, "Bud had no choice but to do this[investigation], because if he didn't, Congress would have stepped in andruined reputations. They would have been out for blood." The source addedthat Mitchell's team would probably need until at least November to completethe investigation. In the meantime, if Opening Day is an indication, every dayon the road for Bonds will be judgment day.
Barry Bonds wasn't the only player closing in on a career milestone throughMonday.
The Mets' first baseman, 47, could become the oldest big leaguer to hit a homer(Jack Quinn, 46, 1930).
The Padres' closer needed 42 saves to break Lee Smith's alltime record of478.
The Mets' ace was 139 strikeouts away from becoming the 14th member of the3,000-K club.
Already the alltime home run leader among catchers, the new Padre needed twomore for 400 overall.
The Yankees' closer was 21 saves from becoming the fourth relief pitcher tonotch 400.
The Mariners' rightfielder could become the third player to amass 200 hits insix straight seasons.
> Moreanalysis from Tom Verducci at SI.com/baseball.