When the Record Falls

by Eric Freeman Jr., Special to BaseballEvolution.com
July 26, 2007

755. It’s the most powerful number in all of sports. Not 100, not 63, not 99, not 2,632. Sports starts and ends with the number 755.

This number soon will cease to have any meaning. One man (at the time of this writing, sitting at 753) will have the pleasure of rendering what was the most famous number in sports, at least for the last 33 years, completely obsolete. Now, it could be argued that Barry Lamar Bonds, the future “black sheep” of baseball history, doesn’t merit the title of baseball’s Home Run King, as allegations of steroid use haunt him to this day. And whether or not he actually used performance-enhancing drugs to boost his soon-to-be record-breaking numbers may remain a mystery, locked in the vault of unknown history forever.

When Bonds breaks the record and becomes the all-time home run king, he will be loved by some, hated and persecuted by many, and threatened by many more. But he will have earned the most hallowed record in sports, and until evidence to the contrary arises, no asterisk, blemish, or blip should be put next to his name. After 21 years of constantly fighting off adversity, negativity, and even death threats, Bonds has rightfully earned his place in history as one of the five greatest players to ever knock the dirt off their cleats.

Because of the day and age in which we live today, the pressure to achieve this once unattainable record has been enormous. Whereas Babe Ruth played in a time when his 11 home runs in 1918 led the American League, Bonds plays in an era when steroids cloud much of the American mindset. It takes a lot to impress the fans of Major League Baseball, but too much impressive activity leads to accusations of steroid abuse. Let’s not forget that Matt Lawton has tested positive for steroids, and his career .267 batting average must certainly have been beefed.

The fact of the matter is that Bonds has never tested positive for steroids, even though he has unknowingly used “The Cream” and “The Clear,” revealed in his grand jury testimony leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. And allegations remain allegations without concrete proof. When Commissioner Bud Selig gave a statement legitimizing his attendance for Bonds’ pursuit, he said that he would attend “out of respect for tradition of this game, the magnitude of this record, and the fact that all citizens in this country are innocent until proven guilty.” While the Commish has feigned interest in the actual breaking of the record, he recognizes that 755 is that monumental of a record, and to ignore it as the Commissioner of baseball would be irresponsible and ill-advised. For Selig to not be in attendance would legitimize the claims that Bonds’ record would merit an asterisk.

Hank Aaron’s case is a different story altogether. The Hammer has had the same feigned interest in the breaking of his record, but it’s his record to be broken. Aaron downplayed the breaking of Ruth’s record on that fateful April night in 1974, and in that sense, Aaron’s stance of non-involvement or acknowledgement of Bonds’ pursuit is right. How would you feel if you worked your entire career chasing a ghost, and finally catching it, only to feel pressured by the media and the fans to attend the breaking of the record you spent your entire career setting?

In a sense, Babe Ruth had it easier than Aaron, as he was no longer alive to see someone break his record (or any of his illustrious records, for that matter), while Aaron is still alive to see his records broken. It’s not insulting or degrading for Aaron to not want to see his record broken, and his extrication from the chase relieves some pressure from Bonds. In his heart of hearts, Bonds wouldn’t want Aaron following him, as Aaron is the man Bonds is chasing. Bonds really doesn’t need Aaron on both sides of the chase.

Bonds was not in last night’s lineup against the Atlanta Braves, but the record will be broken soon. And when it is, he will be the all-time home run king. He already owns the single season record, and he has spent 21 years earning his rightful place in history. It cannot be tarnished. It cannot be watered down. It cannot be taken away. When the record breaks, Barry Lamar Bonds will have earned it.

This article was written by a guest contributor to BaseballEvolution.com. You can be one as well. Mail your articles to submissions@baseballevolution.com.