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Thomas Boswell

The Crash of a Titan

By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page D01

Last Friday, in an online chat with readers, I wrote, "Did you see that Barry Bonds had another knee surgery yesterday? I've been saying to friends ever since his use of steroids -- the clear and the cream -- was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle last winter that I thought there was a chance that he would never play another game.

"Just a gut feeling. Never pass Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron. Just a chance, not a probability. But it's increasing."

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That chance increased enormously Tuesday, when Bonds said he didn't expect to return from his most recent knee surgery (his third since last season) until the middle of this season or, perhaps, next year. When you turn 41 in four months, next year is eternity.

"I'm done," said Bonds. As usual, he said it dramatically but ambiguously, drawing the most attention to himself. Bonds added (14 times, by one count) that he was "tired" and that "the media . . . everybody" had "finally brought me and my family down."

If you think that Bonds will ever play another big league game, just because he won the National League MVP award last year with the best all-around offensive season in baseball history, then you haven't been paying enough attention.

Bonds has been giving hints, amid outbursts of defiance, since an impromptu news conference last season at Shea Stadium. That night, Bonds said that he might retire after the '05 season. Not "would," just "might." But some of us have wondered if Bonds was preparing for an unexpected but widely welcomed exit from baseball before he could break Hank Aaron's record of 755 home runs.

Baseball has endured enormous self-inflicted damage from its indulgence of steroid cheaters since the late '80s. However, for Bonds, with his "clear" and "cream," to break the mark of Aaron, the sport's gentleman of gentlemen, might shatter the all-time record for most disgusting career "achievement" by any athlete in any sport at any time. Do you invite Hank to the game?

That night at Shea, Bonds was asked if he was concerned that he might have perjured himself before a grand jury in the BALCO case. "You couldn't get me if you tried," Bonds shot back.

What if the Justice Department got ahold of past urine samples? "What do I care what they do? What do I care what you think?" said Bonds. "I don't have to prove to you or anyone else in this world. . . . When you come up with the truth, then you write your [expletive]. Until then, shut up."

Long ago, Ted Williams spit at the press box after his 400th home run. You can get away with that. But going on TV and spitting at the Justice Department, the FBI and a grand jury just months after the president has talked about steroid abuse in baseball in his State of the Union address is not a real smart strategy.

Last week's congressional hearing on steroid use was merely another example of the government's power being arrayed against athletes who made the mistake of thinking they wouldn't get caught if they got fabulously rich and sinfully famous by gaining 25 pounds of muscle from a syringe.

Who knew a pendulum swing of pious reform would arrive so fast? The sinners of the '90s, plus a few scooped up in the seine by accident, are being humiliated these days. If powerful CEOs can be jailed or fired for infractions that practically drew praise in boom times, why can't we enforce the rules on a few jocks, too? Or, switch the rules, some of them might say. After all, who was praising Mark McGwire's 70th homer or Bonds's 73rd, if not the fans and media? Who was marketing them, if not baseball itself? And who was shielding them from tests to protect their own health if not their shameful union?

The same day McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro were testifying on Capitol Hill, Bonds was having a second surgery on his right knee. It was hardly the sharpest cut Bonds felt last week. Kimberly Bell, who says she was Bonds's girlfriend for nine years, reportedly described to the grand jury Bonds's use of steroids and his gifts of cash to her. So, the feds may now be pursuing Bonds on perjury and tax charges.

"You couldn't get me if you tried."

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