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Break your silence, Bud
Commissioner not allowed to take intentional pass on stance toward Bonds.
By JOHN ROMANO
Published April 26, 2007
Barry Bonds watches a solo home run against the St. Louis Cardinals. Commissioner Bud Selig has yet to decide baseball's stance if Bonds passes Hank Aaron's all-time home run record of 755.
He was hoping it would go away. That the decision would somehow be made for him.
I'm sure Bud Selig was hoping Barry Bonds would show up this April looking like a 42-year-old coming off knee surgery should. That is, creaky and stiff.
But, Bud, it just ain't happening. Bonds is averaging a home run every eight at-bats and, barring injury, should be baseball's home run king by early June.
So, now, here is your question, Mr. Commissioner:
What should we do?
Should we applaud the breaking of one of the most recognizable records in all of sports? Or should we turn a cold shoulder, suspecting the milestone is tainted?
In the absence of indisputable evidence, it would be nice to have unmistakable leadership. And, for Selig, the time has come to deliver.
For months, the commissioner has been asked whether he will be in attendance should Bonds break Henry Aaron's standard of 755 home runs. And, for months, Selig has dodged the question.
He has said the decision will be made in the future. He has said baseball will celebrate this record the same way it has celebrated past milestones. He has danced and sang around the issue as if he were a long-lost Pip.
That is no longer acceptable. The steroid era is now an indisputable part of baseball's history, and it would be nice if the commissioner put it in proper perspective for us.
Granted, it is not an easy chore.
On one side of the argument, you could say circumstantial evidence makes it appear as if steroids helped Bonds enjoy a career boost beginning at age 36.
On the other side, it is valid to say every era has advantages and disadvantages and Bonds' accomplishments are remarkable no matter the circumstance.
So, no, I do not expect Selig to make a summerlong campaign to change minds and create a national consensus on how fans should feel about Bonds.
But it is his responsibility to establish Major League Baseball's position on the topic. And ducking questions is not the way to do that.
Aaron has made his position quite clear. While not criticizing Bonds directly, he has said he will not be anywhere near the ballpark should his record fall. His stance seemed a tacit rebuke of Bonds' alleged shortcuts.
And that's fine. Aaron has that right. The record has been part of his life for 33 years, and he endured hate mail and death threats to get it.
I don't blame him if he does not want to celebrate its demise at the hands of a player who probably took performance-enhancing drugs to get an edge. And I respect the understated way in which he has expressed his disapproval.
The commissioner does not have that luxury. It is up to Selig to come up with baseball's party line on how to treat Bonds. His attitude will play a part in determining whether the event is a celebration or a circus.
If he is conflicted, Selig might want to look at choices made by past commissioners. There were similar controversies, albeit without the moral implications, when Babe Ruth's season and career home run records were in peril.
In 1961, Roger Maris had the benefit of a 162-game regular season as opposed to 154 games when Ruth hit 60 home runs. Commissioner Ford Frick announced Ruth's record would stand if Maris did not reach 61 homers in 154 games. Maris hit No. 61 in the final game of the season, leading to the so-called asterisk.
And Frick came out looking like a fool.
A decade later, Aaron was approaching Ruth's career mark of 714 home runs. The argument was Ruth's career lasted only 8,398 at-bats. Aaron hit No. 714 in at-bat No. 11,289, leading critics to say his record was tainted. Bowie Kuhn did not weigh in, but he failed to show up in Atlanta the night the record was broken.
He, too, looked foolish.
Now you might say the Bonds case is completely different. The argument isn't the number of games or at-bats, but the ethics of using performance-enhancing drugs.
This is true. But it is also true that Bonds has never been caught using steroids. And baseball never even had a steroid policy during the first 19 years of his career.
It is fine if you or I choose not to recognize Bonds as baseball's greatest slugger. We have the luxury of allowing personal feelings into the argument.
For Selig, that is not an option. He has been friends with Aaron for more than 50 years, but that should not matter.
Selig was the commissioner during the rise of the steroid era and he could have expressed his feelings more strongly a long time ago. He did not then, so he must now.