Muted cheers for Bonds

Why is there so little joy in Mudville or just about anywhere else now that the mighty Barry Bonds has become baseball's new home-run king? The tepid response to Bonds' new record may say more about the state of sports in general than simply Bonds himself.

On Tuesday, Bonds hit No. 756 over the right-center field wall at home in San Francisco to break Hank Aaron's 33-year-old record. It should have been a moment for even non-baseball fans to savor.

But the reaction was subdued not only from the public but also from major league baseball's officialdom. While Commissioner Bud Selig had been on hand for the tying homer three days earlier in San Diego, he was conspicuously absent when the record-breaker sailed over the wall.

Aaron also gave the event a pass, having said earlier that he wanted nothing to do with Bonds' effort to break his record. In typical gentlemanly fashion, however, Aaron had taped a message congratulating Bonds that was played Tuesday.

That is one reason why fans are not dancing in the streets over Bonds' accomplishment. While Aaron always has been a class act, Bonds is a surly, self-centered player who ignores the fans and, to some extent, even his own teammates.

But the big cloud hanging over his head is the question of whether he used steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to achieve this record. While no investigation to date has determined that he has, his increase in muscle mass and his ability to continue playing at such a high level even at the age of 43 have fueled suspicions.

For example, while Aaron never hit more than 50 home-runs in a season, Bond repeatedly has, sometimes swatting more than 70 a season, even after turning 35 when he naturally should have been slowing down.

One can take the view that because he has not been caught using performance-enhancing drugs, he is entitled to his record and a spot in baseball history. Or one might take the cynical view that everyone does it, the sport has changed, and Bonds is just an example of what the 21st-century athlete will be like. And even if he did take steroids, his athletic prowess still is extraordinary.

But for purists who watched Aaron break the record of baseball legend Babe Ruth on natural talent and determination -- despite constant death threats as he closed in on Ruth's record -- watching the crown pass to Bonds is a sad moment.

This should have been a great season for baseball. Tom Glavine won his 300th game; sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas hit their 500th home runs; Craig Biggio reached the 3,000-hit plateau.

But the Bonds controversy, Michael Vick's indictment on dogfighting charges, accusations that a basketball ref was on the take, and the doping scandal in the Tour de France have poisoned the atmosphere. No wonder the celebration for Bonds is muted at best.

Bonds may be a magnificent athlete, but as a role model and a public figure, he's a strikeout.

While Hank Aaron was a gentleman, Barry Bonds is a surly, unlikeable player.

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