Miss-Lou fans weigh in on Bonds pursuit of home run mark

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 28, 2006

You&8217;ll probably see him. There you are, flipping channels one evening and stumble on a live feed on a Barry Bonds at-bat. There he is, the left-hand hitting muscle-bound slugger with the elbow pad taking hacks.

Either of two things come to mind.

Can he do it? Can he crank career home run No. 715 and surpass Babe Ruth?

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Who in the world cares? Look at him &8212; he had to have cheated.

The debate will go on for years. It&8217;s whether or not Bonds breaks the record, whether or not he&8217;s so juiced up on steroids he can hit a ball clear across the San Francisco Bay or whether or not he&8217;s a legend who&8217;s taking a bad rap for all things that are wrong in baseball.

Bonds claimed he never willingly took steroids. But now that he&8217;s nearing on the holy grail of career records &8212; Hank Aaron&8217;s 755 career homers &8212; the debate will intensify.

And people will watch.

&8220;I think with all of the hoopla that he probably did,&8221; said Merriel McCelleis, who umpires local high school and summer baseball games. &8220;But he&8217;s kind of being a scapegoat for others baseball didn&8217;t pursue. Baseball should still be indicted because they allowed it. They ignored it. He&8217;s been punished for all the other guys. There&8217;s not a lot of choir boys in baseball &8212; you&8217;ve got corked bats and guys using razor blades to cut the ball.&8221;

Bonds hit career home run No. 714 a week ago today to sit tied with Babe Ruth. Each time he&8217;s to bat, you can catch it live on some cable channel. If you&8217;re lucky, you&8217;ll hear the taunts or see the homemade signs from fans who accuse him of cheating.

Is he the best hitter in the game today? Quite possibly. Did he cheat to become the best home run hitter of this generation?

Therein lies the debate.

&8220;I don&8217;t have much doubt he&8217;s a cheater,&8221; said Glenn Carroll, whose son, Dustin, plays first base at Adams Christian. &8220;I think he&8217;s a legend who cheated. I don&8217;t think it&8217;s fair to throw everything he&8217;s done out of the window, but some of the records he&8217;s broken need to be thrown out in some way. I don&8217;t think he&8217;s done anything a lot of other people aren&8217;t doing. But he has to be an exceptional athlete to do what he&8217;s done.&8221;

The numbers themselves are astonishing.

To do what he&8217;s done &8212; or what Ruth or Aaron did, for that matter &8212; you&8217;ve got to be consistent. Bonds has been that since he entered the league with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1980s as a power hitter with the ability to steal bases.

The argument, however, lies in the fact that his production shot up in his late 30s. He set the new mark of 73 homers during the 2001 season while turning 37. He followed that up with seasons of 46 and 45 homers.

According to a poll from the Associated Press and AOL Sports, 61 percent of 793 baseball fans said Bonds shouldn&8217;t be allowed into the Hall of Fame if he is found to have used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.

Results on a poll on The Democrat&8217;s Web site had 54.9 percent of the 133 who voted considering Bonds a cheater, 27.1 percent said he was doing what everyone else did and 18 percent thought he is still a baseball legend.

&8220;I don&8217;t hear much talk on it. I don&8217;t hear much talk on baseball anymore,&8221; former Natchez mayor Tony Byrne said. &8220;Baseball used to be the national pastime, but I don&8217;t think it is anymore. Bonds could be a hero figure to a whole lot of people. Now high school students think, &8216;I can take steroids and build myself up before I get caught doing it.&8217; I just don&8217;t think you need that in sports.

&8220;I think he&8217;s a cheater. I just think if they&8217;re going to give him the record, they should put some asterisk behind it.&8221;

Yet there&8217;s no doubt, some argue, that Bonds has talent and was already an outstanding hitter before he reached the period in his career that&8217;s in question. He&8217;s spent most of his career hitting above .300, including hitting .370 the year after hitting 73 homers, and is nearing 2,000 career runs batted in.

You can hit a ball farther by taking performance-enhancing drugs. But it does nothing for your hand-eye coordination and ability to slap a double in the hole to drive in runs.

&8220;He&8217;s an outstanding hitter, and you&8217;ve got to give him credit,&8221; former Cathedral baseball coach Ken Beesley Sr. said. &8220;You still have to have a good eye, and you&8217;ve got to be able to hit the ball. As you get older, power is supposed to go down. His went up. That right there should be an eye-opener. It&8217;s hard to make a judgement one way or the other.&8221;

In the books published prior to the start of this season, Bonds allegedly sought out substances to gain an extra edge in the era of the longball during the 1990s when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had an entire nation glued to the TV to see who would break Roger Maris&8217; record of 61 homers in a season first.

Years later, allegations of steroid use swirled around both of them. McGwire wouldn&8217;t discuss the subject under oath in front of members of Congress. And don&8217;t forget the sad saga of Ken Caminiti.

And at the time, MLB said, there was no steroid problem.

&8220;You&8217;ve got to have the ability to go along with that,&8221; McCelleis said. &8220;(Bonds&8217;) ability was already there. It&8217;s just like adding it to your gas tank. You can cruise around at 80 (mph), but you want to go 90.&8221;

Others, however, point to Bonds&8217; boorish behavior as being a root to all the fan backlash. Even the guy who caught Bonds&8217; 714th, 19-year-old Tyler Synder, admitted he couldn&8217;t stand the slugger.

Vidalia mom Beverly Winston, whose summers include trips to ball parks with baseball playing son Jake and coaching husband Tam, recalled an encounter with Bonds in a hotel lobby that validated the slugger&8217;s less-than-personable image.

&8220;I don&8217;t think (the kids) hold him in high regard,&8221; Winston said. &8220;I don&8217;t hear them talk about Barry Bonds at all. I think they&8217;ve heard enough of the steroid issue. If you&8217;ve got to cheat to win, that doesn&8217;t mean anything in my book.&8221;

Natchez High assistant baseball coach Dan Smith, a former pitcher at Alcorn, said he still hears some kids pulling for Bonds. He&8217;s innocent until proven guilty, they say, while he is quick to point out that the best way to succeed in anything is through hard work.

If and when Bonds gets to 755, maybe baseball will be able to answer that question then.

&8220;That personality kind of hurts him, too,&8221; Smith said. &8220;You don&8217;t see him in commercials or signing autographs. If they come come back and prove he has taken steroids, they&8217;re probably going to take all the home runs from 1998 to the present.

&8220;The world today is a forgiving world. They might, but it&8217;s still going to be in the backs of their minds. They always give you a second chance, but I think it will still put a blemish on it. When they think of Bonds, they&8217;re going to think of steroids.&8221;