SIDELINE SLANTS- Major League Baseball doesn’t know whether to buy or sell Bonds

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
What should Major League Baseball do with controversial slugger and home run record-chaser Barry Bonds?

His pursuit of the all-time home run record and his monstrous home runs has made him bigger than life. Of course, cynics will say that his body also has become bigger later in life thanks to performance-enhancing drugs, i.e. steroids.

If you were Bonds’ publicist, what would you do to change his image? Bonds denies using steroids. He believes he’s being unfairly criticized.

Bonds has plenty of opportunities to tell his side of the story.

He has his own TV show on ESPN called “Bonds on Bonds.” The problem is that few are buying his side of the story.

There’s no argument that Bonds is one of the great home run hitters of all time with Hall of Fame credentials. The question is whether his performance is purely his own.

Fans in San Francisco seem genuinely enthused about Bonds and his home run chase. Fans elsewhere accuse Bonds of being a cheater, and they boo him unmercifully. Either San Francisco fans are more understanding than the rest of the country or they are selling their souls in exchange for the thrill of the home run record.

Would fans in other Major League Baseball cities be more forgiving if Bonds played for their team?

The court of public opinion has concluded that Bonds isn’t playing fairly. A recent book, “Game of Shadows,” details how Bonds benefited from performance enhancing drugs and has led to a baseball investigation headed by former senator George Mitchell.

To be fair, Bonds is taking a disproportionate share of the heat for a practice shared by many others, but he has done little to help himself with his words and actions.

Babe Ruth’s home run record was surpassed by Hank Aaron decades ago, and Aaron’s record might well be broken someday, if not by Bonds, then by another slugger.

Aaron faced tremendous public pressure during his home run chase, including death threats. Somehow, Aaron was able to conduct himself with class.

That fact wasn’t lost on the fans in Philadelphia. At a recent game with San Francisco, fans unfurled a large banner that read, “Ruth did it on hot dogs and beer. Aaron did it with class. How did you do it?”

Major League Baseball is in a conundrum. Watching Bonds chase a time-honored record should be an exciting and celebratory time. But MLB made it clear that no special ceremony would be held when Bonds passes Babe Ruth because Aaron passed that record years ago.

Still, one wonders what kind of ceremony MLB would hold if Bonds passes Aaron. I have a feeling that MLB just wishes that Bonds would go away.

MLB was slow to step up to the plate when it came to adopting a policy regarding steroids. After looking the other way for so many years and denying that there was a steroid problem, baseball grudgingly concluded that there indeed was a problem and finally took steps to address it. Did Bonds take advantage of their “look the other way” policy or did he merely improve his performance through hard work?

Controversy aside, Bonds is good for TV ratings. He helped ESPN generate a ratings hit during the first month of its MLB coverage. Through May 17, the network had a 20 percent rating increase, and Bonds is considered a major reason.

Bonds has Hall of Fame talent and accomplishments, but his legacy may be accompanied by an asterisk.

Writing on FOX News.com, Martha MacCallum said, “I wish that I wanted to let my sons stay up late tonight to watch Barry Bonds. But I won’t. When they do their best and they lose, I tell them what matters is ‘how you play the game.'”

Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent also thinks Bonds’ legacy will suffer.

He said, “I think the public will put its own asterisk (on all the records), even if baseball doesn’t. I think the sadness for (Mark) McGwire…and maybe even Bonds is that people will not look at them the way they did before all these drug allegations.

“I think it’s bad all the way around. Nobody comes out a plus in all this.”

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