Sympathy for Bonds long shot, but not all the way out of park

The Kickoff

June 14, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

I never thought this could happen, but I'm actually starting to feel sorry for Barry Bonds.

The guy is a handful of home runs from replacing Hank Aaron at the top of the all-time list, and he's having a pretty good year for a player who's into his 40s, and now there's talk that he might get stiffed for the All-Star Game at his home ballpark.

Bad News Barry's All-Star status suddenly became an issue when he dropped to fourth in the fan balloting for the National League's three starting outfield positions. If he fails to make the top three and isn't among the eight reserves chosen by his fellow players, it would be up to All-Star manager Tony La Russa to decide whether he gets one of the remaining three position slots for the 78th midsummer classic at AT&T Park.

When La Russa was asked about that possibility Tuesday, he basically dodged the question, partly because he may never have to answer it and perhaps partly because that decision would be made in consultation with baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

"I'm not going to get into whether Barry Bonds is in," La Russa said. "He might get voted in."

I suppose you can't blame La Russa for wanting no part of this issue. He spent a large chunk of his managerial career one degree of separation from baseball's growing steroid problem, managing Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire during their formative years, which could make it more difficult for him to have mercy on Bonds with one of his discretionary position picks.

Some might call that justice, but I'm not going to let Major League Baseball off the hook so easily.

Selig still hasn't made it clear what he's going to do when Bonds gets within a home run or two of Aaron's record. Aaron has already announced he will not be present to honor the man who breaks it.

Baseball's ambivalence about Bonds' home run chase is understandable considering Bonds' apparent link to the BALCO steroid scandal, but Selig's wait-and-see approach to the situation only reinforces the notion that he is incapable of exercising any moral authority over the game.

It appears to all the world that Selig's either waiting for lightning to strike Bonds before he reaches 756 home runs or is still holding out hope that the BALCO grand jury will indict the slugger for perjury, though that could happen tomorrow and not go to trial in time to prevent home run No. 800.

Selig needs to make a strong statement about the questionable legitimacy of Bonds' pending achievement or he needs to hold his nose and show up for the celebration. Those really are the only two acceptable choices.

If he's waiting around to see if the problem solves itself, well, that's the mind-set that got us into this mess in the first place.

Don't get me started on the George Mitchell investigation, which many believed at the outset was intended to build a case that would allow Selig to suspend Bonds before he reached the mountaintop. No such luck. The only thing Major League Baseball is going to get for the millions it spent on that boondoggle is a huge compilation of all the tawdry steroid revelations of the past two decades and the opportunity to wallow in the sport's steroid shame one more time.

In the meantime, the voting public, Bonds' fellow major league players and La Russa all might get a chance to weigh in on whether Bad News Barry should play in the All-Star Game at the one ballpark where he is certain to get a huge ovation during pre-game introductions.

Personally, I don't think it's a tough call. Bonds is just one of dozens of major league players suspected of beefing up their bodies and their statistical profiles with performance-enhancing drugs. The reason he is the focus of our disapproval is that he is unrepentant and unlikable and unequaled when it comes to the not-so-simple act of launching a baseball into the stratosphere.

I don't think you can have an All-Star Game in San Francisco without Barry Bonds, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

As I said, I'm actually starting to feel sorry for the guy.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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