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Thomas Boswell

The Truth Lies in the Numbers

By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, December 4, 2004; Page D01

Now we know how much of Barry Bonds was real and how much was fake. Half was a fraud.

Bonds's reputation has lived by his statistics. Now, let it die by them. Forever. Before Bonds hooked up with his old friend and alleged steroid merchant Greg Anderson in '98, he had 411 homers in 6,621 at-bats, one per 16.1 at-bats. The next two years, as he acquired and adjusted to a new body, he hit 83 in 835 at-bats, one per 10 at-bats.

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In the past four seasons, from ages 37 to 40, as he has done the deeds and committed the offenses against his sport for which he will always be remembered, Bonds hit 209 home runs in 1,642 at bats -- one every 7.9 at-bats.

In those four years, Bonds won four straight National League most valuable player awards, two batting titles and set the all-time single-season records for home runs, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, walks and intentional walks.

All those records are now a steroid lie. Without Anderson's illicit help, there is no reason whatsoever to believe Bonds could have approached, much less broken, any of the all-time marks for which he lusted so much that he has now ruined his name.

Throw every record that Bonds has set in the past four years into the trash can that history reserves for cheats.

We need no asterisks or erasures. Word of mouth, from box seats to bleachers, from generation to generation, will suffice. Bonds's 21st-century deeds have been obliterated in the eyes of anyone who knows baseball. Nothing will ever bring them back.

Let Bonds keep his 411 homers and three MVPs before he linked his fate to Anderson in '98, though we can't be sure what he might have used to aid his play before that. At least we now know what he's willing to use: anything that's put into his hands.

Bonds still claims he didn't know what he was taking. If you read the grand jury transcripts in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle and still believe Bonds, then look outside your door. A line of bridge and swampland salesmen may stretch to the horizon. In baseball at least, sticking to the Big Lie as a winning strategy just isn't what it used to be. Pete Rose devalued the market.

There is no reason Bonds should ever again be considered one of the top 10 hitters who ever lived. The true elite -- including Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Willie Mays -- are back where they belong. If you seek current players to keep them company, start with Alex Rodriguez and his 381 home runs at age 29. At that juncture, Bonds had 222.

The career of the authentic Bonds was long and well defined, lasting 12 seasons until he was 35. After that point, almost all players decline in productivity. Without Anderson in his life in recent years, Bonds's production would probably have dwindled. We'd be grouping him now with other 500-homer hitters, such as Rafael Palmeiro (551) and Ken Griffey Jr. (501), who coped with age and injury all by themselves even as Bonds, the glory thief, stole their headlines.

The jaw-dropping irony of Bonds is not that he used steroids to improve himself or slow athletic aging, but that the particular cocktail Anderson handed him actually worked too well. While other cheaters merely prospered, he rose to the skies like a god. He became so great so suddenly and stayed so young so long that his lie became larger and easier to read than the 25 on his back. His deceit and its results were so obvious that other players such as Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi flocked to him. Sheffield's tissue-thin defense is that he merely asked Anderson to give him what Barry gets and didn't know exactly what that was -- the "clear," the "cream" and a side order of "red beans." As for Giambi, he chose honesty over perjury before a grand jury and rolled over on himself. In time, by coming clean, Giambi may eventually wash some of the dirt off himself.

They call it a devil's bargain for a reason. Because when the price comes due, it's no bargain at all. There's just hell to pay. Other BALCOs in other cities may have their own lists of sinners. That's irrelevant. Society only jails the crooks it can catch.

Few in baseball loved Bonds, who has always resented the sport for the shabby way it treated his troubled father during his own career. Armchair psychologists can wonder whether Bonds's intense and tangled relationship with his alcoholic dad spurred him to make his late father's last years, riddled with catastrophic illnesses, into a kind of son's tribute tour at any cost.

That falls into the category of explanation, but not excuse. "To know all is to forgive all," it is said. Perhaps. Understanding Bonds has always been a full day's work. Still, his manner has ensured that few hearts within the game will break for him now.

Barry wears his demons on his sleeve and has used them as an excuse throughout his career to put his ambitions and ego, his personal pain and problems, ahead of anything else. So, he shouldn't be surprised if baseball now values its own good name above his shame and discounts much of what he has done by a factor of 25 pounds of muscle that he never earned.

The glory of Roger Maris's 61 home runs, which felt heavy to him in life, became a buoyant legacy to his family after his death. The disgrace of Bonds's 73 tainted home runs will become heavier with time until even fake muscles may not bear the weight. What will the future make of all Bonds's vainglorious finger-to-the-sky home plate celebrations as if heaven was on his side when it was more likely that hell had just called a holiday?

If Bonds plays next season, many fans will boo his 500-foot homers and cheer his intentional walks. As for a 715th home run to pass Ruth, much less a 756th to surpass Aaron, the thought of it is now almost too revolting to endure. If nothing else, maybe Bonds can find the decency to retire before he passes Aaron. Last season, he raised that possibility. Now we know why.

In time, Bonds will realize that both he and his sport would have been better off if his feats of the last four years had never happened. The longer he lives, the more his "unbreakable" records, protected by better drug testing, may seem like a curse. As he ages, he will wish, perhaps even pray, that he could extinguish them all. But they will never disappear from the game's history.

For Bonds, the number 73 will only loom larger. Even as, for the rest of us, it moves toward the horizon of memory and shrinks until it finally takes its place, remote but still distinct, next to that other sad number that never entirely fades: 1919.


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