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Bonds New Home Run Record Draws Mixed Reaction

August 8, 2007 at 4:40 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Now a new homerun king, and the controversy surrounding his accomplishments.

DUANE KUIPER, San Francisco Giants Announcer: And Bacsik deals. And Bonds hits it high, hits it deep! It is outta here!

RAY SUAREZ: With his trademark lightning-quick swing, San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds belted homerun number 756, 435 feet into a cool San Francisco night, capping his march toward the most celebrated of baseball records.

DUANE KUIPER: What a special moment for Barry Bonds!

RAY SUAREZ: The historic homer came off Washington Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik, one of 446 pitchers who’ve served up homerun balls to Bonds in his 22 major league seasons.

The game was halted while Bonds and the Giants commemorated the moment. Joined by his godfather, hall-of-famer Willie Mays, Bonds basked in the cheers of the home fans at AT&T Park. While on the road, opposing fans have constantly reminded bonds of allegations he used steroids.

A surprise guest saluted Bonds by videotape, Hank Aaron, whose record he broke. The Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves and Brewers slugger held the all-time mark for 33 years. He broke Babe Ruth’s record in 1974.

HANK AARON, Former Baseball Homerun Leader: I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family.

RAY SUAREZ: Then Bonds spoke.

BARRY BONDS, Major League Baseball Player: I want to thank you all. I’ve got to thank my teammates for their support. Through all this, you guys have been strong, and you’ve given me all the support in the world, and I’ll never forget it as long as I live. Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: Noticeably absent from last night’s game was baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who made a very public show of ambivalence over the Bonds pursuit. He attended Bonds’ record-tying performance Saturday in San Diego but did not applaud that homer. He phoned Bonds after the game last night and issued a congratulatory statement that made glancing reference to the steroids controversy.

Bonds is a seven-time MVP; no other player has won more than three. He set the single-season homerun record of 73 in 2001. But the Bonds who began his career as a fleet-footed leadoff hitter is now a power-hitting cleanup man. The allegations that Bonds had “juiced” first surfaced in 2003 amid a federal probe of a company that produced performance enhancers for athletes in an array of sports.

At a post-game press conference, Bonds was asked pointedly about the sanctity of this record, which many fans and analysts consider sullied.

BARRY BONDS: This record is not tainted at all, at all, period. You guys can say whatever you want.

Sportscasters' views

Bob Costas
NBC/HBO Sports Broadcaster
He's totally wrong. It's obviously tainted. There is a mountain of evidence to that effect.

RAY SUAREZ: So how should fans view Bonds, his record, and his place in the history of the game? We get the views of two longtime baseball watchers: Bob Costas, sports broadcaster for NBC and HBO; and William Rhoden, sports columnist for the New York Times.

Well, Bob Costas, you heard Barry Bonds say it himself, "This record is not tainted at all." Is he right?

BOB COSTAS, Sportscaster, NBC and HBO: No, he's wrong. He's totally wrong. It's obviously tainted. There is a mountain of evidence to that effect. Common sense would tell you that just looking at the changes in his body and the quantum leap in his statistics, where he went from what he always genuinely was, an all-time great player, one of the half-dozen or so best all-around players in baseball history, went from that to some kind of superhuman player.

It would have been incredible and unbelievable enough had he done that in his late 20s or early 30s because it was such a quantum leap, but to do that in his late 30s and early 40s, to outstrip by miles anything he had ever previously approached or, for that matter, any player in any era of baseball history had ever approached, and then couple it with the specifics of the BALCO investigations and all the allegations in book, "Game of Shadows," what else would a reasonable person conclude?

RAY SUAREZ: William Rhoden, is Bonds onto something when he says, "You guys can write whatever you want," but for him this record is not tainted?

WILLIAM RHODEN, Sports Columnist, New York Times: Yes, I think he is on to something. That's the beautiful thing about Barry Bonds. He absolutely doesn't care what you guys or us, what we write. I mean, he's completely oblivious to that. I think that's the great thing about Bonds, how he shuts it all out.

And I'm sorry. We're going to have this debate, you know, until a conviction comes or something like -- which may or may not come -- but he has hit more homeruns than anybody in the history of baseball, period.

And I know Bob loves the game; I love the game. And I think what we both admire, whether it's, you know, a basketball player averaging 30 points over a 10-year career, or a football running back averaging, you know, five yards per carry over the course of an eight-year career, it's something spectacular to hit homeruns when you've got major league pitchers doing everything they can do every single day not to let you hit homeruns.

I mean, this is a phenomenal accomplishment. And I think that you really -- you could be a fan, you could be cynical, but you can't watch what unfolded in San Francisco last night and not be moved by it, moved by a guy who praised his father who had passed, who revels in the love of his mother, who has got kids.

I mean, we have been -- our industry has made this guy into some kind of monster that doesn't have feelings, doesn't have emotions. And I think we've been dead wrong. And what we don't want to do is let things unfold. He's either going to get indicted or he's not. We have to let it unfold. But this constant speculation and taking away from what is obviously tremendous skill, I think, is absurd.

Becoming "superhuman"

Bob Costas
NBC/HBO Sports Broadcaster
If a lesser player had juiced like Barry Bonds did, the result would not have been the same. He was a great, great player to begin with.

RAY SUAREZ: Bob Costas, go ahead.

BOB COSTAS: Well, first of all, I agree with what Bill said about Barry Bonds. It's foolish to make him into a one-dimensional villain. He's a complex human being with -- I've seen it; I'm sure Bill has seen it; and we saw it writ large last night -- with some very endearing qualities, despite some of the other lesser episodes in his life, the obvious affection and connection he has with his son, his adorable daughter, as Bill said, his mother, the fondness he had for his dad, his respect for Hank Aaron and for Willie Mays.

I think that Barry Bonds had a fine moment as a person last night, as well as, as a baseball player. And there's no taking away from his skill. If a lesser player had juiced like Barry Bonds did, the result would not have been the same. He was a great, great player to begin with.

But it doesn't suffice to say, "Well, it takes great skill and he was already great, and, therefore, none of this should be questioned." If Babe Ruth somehow took a spectacular elixir in 1927 and went from hitting 60 homeruns and batting .340 to hitting 100 homeruns and batting .440, it wouldn't suffice to say, "Well, he's the Sultan of Swat, he's the Bambino, he was the best ever to begin with, so what's the big deal?"

What's the big deal? He went from great to superhuman. That's what happened to Barry Bonds.

RAY SUAREZ: William Rhoden, does organized baseball's own ambivalence about the new record show that there's something they just don't quite know what to do with this guy? Yes, you're undoubtedly correct that he's now the all-time homerun king, but a problematic one for baseball, no?

WILLIAM RHODEN: I've got to correct you, though. You say baseball is ambivalent. If you hear the players, if you hear the players, the players almost universally are supporting Barry Bonds.

I think when you say that baseball's ambivalent, it's the face of Bud Selig. And this is not -- frankly, this is not Bud's finest hour as a leader. It's been ambivalence, and the ambivalence comes from the top.

And I mean, I respect Bud, but this has not been a great moment in terms of strong, forceful leadership. Yes, the game has grown under Bud and other things, but this moment is going to be one of the defining moments of his career and of his career as a sports commissioner.

And I just don't think -- you know, you looked at the picture of him with his hands in his pocket and that kind of stuff. Henry Aaron actually -- the moment, I think, is defined by what Aaron said. I think that was the greatest thing of this entire homerun chase. And what Aaron said, I think, should be -- it's about what he said, skill, determination, longevity. That's what all of us should take away from this moment...

Taking the heat for steroids

RAY SUAREZ: Bob Costas...

WILLIAM RHODEN: ... skill, determination, longevity.

BOB COSTAS: Skill, determination, skill, determination, longevity, and performance-enhancing drugs.

RAY SUAREZ: The drug issue, as you say, is clearly out there. But when you look at the 10 all-time homerun hitters of baseball, there are four people on that list who've been under a cloud at various times...


RAY SUAREZ: ... in their career, but Bonds seems to be carrying the freight for the whole steroids problem in baseball. How did that happen?

BOB COSTAS: It's unfair if you're just talking about his culpability as an individual. He may be no more guilty than anybody else on that list or, for that matter, than a minor league guy who juiced just to make it to the majors, or a journeyman who juiced to extend his career from eight years to ten.

But he is Barry Bonds. He is the symbol of all this. If the record had been 855 instead of 755 and all the evidence was the same, there wouldn't be the same hubbub because he wouldn't be eclipsing the universally admired Hank Aaron.

Look, if the president is charged with the same offense as a congressman, it is obviously and correctly a bigger story because he is the president. This is a bigger story, and the focus is on him because, a, Palmeiro and McGwire aren't active; b, Sosa is barely over 600 and not a threat to any single-season or career record; and, c, most importantly, he's Barry Bonds. He's one of the greatest players of all time, and now he's all-time homerun leader. Where else would you expect the focus to fall?

"The most celebrated record"

William Rhoden
New York Times
This is one of the greatest records in sports, and we have just witnessed one of the great accomplishments in sports, period.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Bill Rhoden, what about the record itself now? It's constantly being referred to as the most cherished, most celebrated record in baseball. Does this question mark around it have fans now looking toward another aspirant toward the title or even toward other records, to sort of settle on them and avert their gaze from Bonds and the questions around him?

WILLIAM RHODEN: I mean, I think we kind of perpetuate that nonsense in the media. I think, no, this is one of the greatest records, maybe the greatest record in North American sports. And it's a steep hill.

And now everybody is talking about Alex Rodriguez, and I'm just telling A-Rod, he doesn't even know how steep this mountain is, and he will not begin to appreciate what Bonds has just accomplished until he starts climbing level two. This is phenomenal.

I think, right now, we've got to -- we're right in the moment. We can't really see it. We're kind of wrestling about, you know, did he do drugs or whatever? For all you little kids out there, there is no pill that you can take -- trust me -- no pill that you can take that is going to turn you into a Barry Bonds with that kind of skill. It does not exist.

This is one of the greatest records in sports, and we have just witnessed one of the great accomplishments in sports, period.

BOB COSTAS: There is no pill and no performance-enhancing drug that will turn a non-athlete into a great athlete or a mediocre athlete into a great athlete. But, clearly, people take performance-enhancing drugs in all sports because they work, especially if they're combined with hard work and nutrition, and you get all the factors to come together.

So there is something that Barry Bonds can take -- and he did take -- to go from being a truly great player to a nearly superhuman player. Those are the facts. To deny it...

RAY SUAREZ: I'm going to have to end it right there, gentlemen.

WILLIAM RHODEN: We don't know what he took, Bob.

BOB COSTAS: I don't exactly what he took, but I know he took something.

RAY SUAREZ: Thanks a lot, Bill Rhoden and Bob Costas.