boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Would-be record-breaker a rule-breaker

Here he is, ladies and gentlemen, Barry Bonds -- No. 25 in your program, No. 2 on the all-time home run list, and a Big Zero in the hearts of those who love baseball and its most cherished records.

Bonds has never hit a home run at Fenway Park. He has never played at the Hub's hardball theater. He was injured for part of the 1999 season when the All-Star Game came to Boston, and the Giants haven't played here in a game that counts since the 1912 World Series. Those were the days when Nuf Ced McGreevey, Smoky Joe Wood, and Tris Speaker were kings of New England.

Tonight we witness one of those intersections of history as Bonds -- eight homers shy of Hank Aaron's magical 755 -- takes his first swings from the very same batter's box where a young pitcher/slugger named George Herman Ruth tapped his cleats, dug a toehold, and waited for a pitch back in 1914.

This is Boston's chance to deliver a message to a wildly talented ballplayer who is destined to be remembered not as the home run king but as the flag carrier of the Steroid Era. No doubt about it, folks, when fans in future generations look back to the fool's golden era of home run hitting, Bonds will stand at the top: King of the Cheaters. BALCO's hood ornament.

No proof, you say? Get a grip. Bonds admitted to a grand jury he used the stuff, claiming he didn't know what it was. If you need more, check out "Game of Shadows" by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. It's all in there, and Bonds hasn't taken any legal action against the authors. In the absence of the above, you could just look at the numbers and go by what your eyes tell you. That's usually a pretty good instinct.

Bonds was already a three-time MVP but had only one season with more than 42 homers when he saw what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were doing in 1998. He got jealous. Then he got pumped. With considerable help. His head got bigger than the MIT Dome. He looked like a man who swallowed barbells. Then he hit 73 home runs in a season. It was the beginning of his assault on the home run marks of Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, and now Aaron.

It is a fraudulent and joyless pursuit. The theme song of Barry's march to 755 should be Neil Young's "The Needle and the Damage Done." Bonds is up to 747, a jumbo-jet number for a guy with a jumbo head. Thankfully, he won't break the record at Fenway. Barry's hit only two homers since May 8 (only two since Curt Schilling put the whammy on him) and he's not going to hit eight this weekend. We are at least spared that awkward moment.

There are awkward moments all around Barry's quest. He's fallen to fourth place in the National League All-Star balloting for outfielders and will need help from his fellow players, NL manager Tony La Russa, or Internet voting to make the squad. Coincidentally, the Midsummer Classic will be held in San Francisco's AT&T Park, the only ballpark where Barry is not openly scorned.

The Giants didn't even put him on the cover of their 2007 media guide (manager Bruce Bochy and pitcher Barry Zito share the honor), but the media relations staff explained that Bonds's absence is owed to his late signing last winter.

The estimable Mr. Aaron has already said he has no interest in being on hand when Bonds breaks the record, and commissioner Bud Selig would rather board an airplane full of folks infected with TB than declare his intentions regarding the dreaded Barry Moment. Call it Bud's Rope-a-Doper. It's actually good strategy for Selig. Why say anything until it's absolutely necessary? There's always the possibility that Barry will be indicted or otherwise sidelined before he gets to 755. Not likely, but possible.

Barry hit No. 747 Monday night against the Blue Jays, had two singles Tuesday, and came off the bench for one at-bat (a strikeout) Wednesday. The Giants did not play yesterday, which gives him virtually two days of rest before he gets a chance to DH at Fenway. The Giants' PR staff said he may meet with the media in the third base dugout before tonight's game. That's been his policy on the first day in a new town this year, but Bonds did not submit to the exercise when the Giants played in New York late last month. He relented and spoke the next day.

Sure, there are plenty of other cheaters and coconspirators in this sordid story. McGwire gave his virtual confession on Capitol Hill, then went away forever. Sosa hid behind the language barrier and suddenly got smaller and less powerful. Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro got caught. Plenty of less famous players tested positive. Selig looked away, and then hoped the problem would go away. Players' union head Donald Fehr and his minions fought to protect privacy and wound up endangering their membership and tainting the successes of many clean players. And those of us in the press box celebrated the home run chase of '98 without challenging its authenticity.

But Barry's the one who hit 73 homers. He's the body-by-BALCO slugger. He's the one who will soon sit alone atop Mt. Home Run, the one who has consistently behaved as if he doesn't want you to like him.

It's not hard to guess what kind of greeting Bonds will get here. Boston baseball fans know when something's not on the level. They respect and celebrate the history of the game. They appreciate the hard-earned record set by Hammerin' Hank Aaron.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES