Boo Me, Cheer Me
Clip from Bonds press conference
Gerald Early discusses the quandary around Bonds breaking the home run record
Chris Rock on Bonds breaking the home run record
After the tough new drug testing program went into effect in 2006, the baseball world hoped the stigma of steroids would no longer darken the game. But the most dominant player to have been implicated in the scandal was making that an impossibility. Having broken nearly every single-season hitting record there was, Barry Bonds was closing in on the most cherished record of them all. He began the 2007 season just 21 home runs shy of Henry Aaron's mark of 755 career home runs. He was 42 years old.
As he approached the record, fans, writers, and Major League Baseball struggled with how to honor the man who was about to become the game's new home run king.
Some suggested Bonds should retire rather than presume to play long enough to break Aaron's record.
Bonds just kept hitting. Aaron had been one of the game's immortals for over a generation. Coming up through the minor leagues in the Deep South, he had endured much of the same vicious racism that Bonds' own father, Bobby, had experienced. He had played in an era largely dominated by pitching, persevered to break Ruth's record despite an avalanche of death threats, and did it all without the use of any known stimulants. He decided to be elsewhere when his record was broken.
Bonds got threats and hate mail, too. Fans in opposing ballparks taunted him, booed when he was announced as the hitter, then booed louder when their own pitchers walked him. Bonds insisted that it didn't matter to him what the fans did so long as they showed up to see him.
Howard Bryant discusses Bonds as symbol of the steroids era
Bob Costas discusses the media focus on Bonds in 2007
On August 4, 2007, Bond hit home run #755 off Clay Hensley, who had once been suspended for 15 games after testing positive for steroids. On August 7, a sellout crowd crammed into AT&T Park in San Francisco to see the Giants play the Washington Nationals. In the bottom of the fifth, with one out and nobody on, Bonds hit his 756th career home run off lefthander Mike Bacsik. Bud Selig, who not in the stands, released a statement, "While the issues which have swirled around this record will continue to work themselves toward resolution, today is a day for congratulations." "No asterisk," Henry Aaron said. "Let's just congratulate Barry and give him his due." Many baseball fans disagreed. Although dozens if not hundreds of other players had used performance-enhancing drugs, Barry Bonds had become the preeminent symbol of what was now being called the "Steroids Era."
Bonds finished 2007 with 762 career home runs.
Later that fall, he was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in the BALCO case.
Although he remained one of the toughest outs in the game, San Francisco decided not to offer him a contract for 2008. Other teams stayed away, too.
He never played again.
From THE TENTH INNING film script and the new chapter by Kevin Baker of Baseball: An Illustrated History.