Career home run No. 470 assumed no special place in Barry Bonds' heart, no enduring niche in his memory bank. After the baseball left Seth Etherton's right hand and Bonds connected, the slugger stopped briefly to assess his handiwork, then departed the batter's box with the businesslike air of a man who had done it that way 469 times before. The ball traveled high and breathtakingly far before coming to rest deep in the right-field seats at then-Edison International Field in Anaheim.
When news reports on June 7, 2000, recounted the distance at 493 feet, alarm bells rang, sirens wailed and dishes rattled at Bill Jenkinson's home in Willow Grove, Pa. On the Barry Bonds page of Jenkinson's logbook, the homer merited a red star -- a designation accorded to "historically significant" shots of 450 feet and beyond. But for Jenkinson, the quintessential detail man, something failed to compute.
As a long-distance home run historian -- the only one alive, to his knowledge -- Jenkinson is in his element reading stadium seating plans, poring through microfilm and analyzing weather charts in solitude. The payoff comes when he can say he has charted the distance for every homer hit by a Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx or Ted Williams.
But Bonds? From a long-distance perspective, he had no business being in the company of Ruth or Foxx.
In late spring 2000, Bonds was closing fast on 36. In two decades tracking tape measure jobs, Bill Jenkinson had determined that the peak age for long-distance home run hitting was 25 or 26, at which point sluggers begin a slow, inevitable descent toward the pack. The most notable exceptions, Jenkinson found, were the taller sluggers -- the Willie Stargells and Frank Howards -- who peaked at 28.
Jenkinson had always been fascinated with power. In 1956, at age 9, he begged his father to take him to Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium to see the Cincinnati Reds, and he sat enthralled as Wally Post, Frank Robinson and Ted Kluszewski hit moon shots in batting practice. As a fan, Jenkinson gravitated toward all-or-nothing types like Gus Zernial and Stan Lopata. His fascination with All-Star slugger Dick Allen led him to a local library and the newspaper microfilm accounts. His friends all laughed at his transformation into a self-professed "library geek."
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the odd prodigious clout started to send up red flags for Jenkinson. He heard rumors about Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez and Bo Jackson, and he couldn't help but notice when Jackson hit a ball in Kansas City that traveled 20 feet beyond Dick Allen's standard there. (Jackson has said publicly that he has never used steroids and is pursuing a defamation suit against a newspaper that claimed he did.) Jenkinson was more circumspect when Mark McGwire, known for hitting impressive, though not astronomical, home runs as a young player in Oakland, was smashing homers of 500 feet and beyond in St. Louis well after his 30th birthday.
Bonds' monster blast off Etherton was startling because it appeared, for want of a better term, out of thin air. Jenkinson checked his ledgers and found that in Bonds' first 14 seasons, he'd hit only three baseballs farther than 450 feet. All of them were wind-aided.
On the day of the Etherton shot -- which Jenkinson estimated at 480 feet -- the wind was a negligible 3-5 mph in Anaheim. Because Bonds had begun a diligent weight-lifting regimen a good seven years before, new training methods couldn't account for it, either. And all that seemed to confirm Jenkinson's deepest suspicion: He thought Barry Bonds was on the juice, and big-time.
It didn't require much work for Jenkinson to devise a theory. He believed that Bonds, a better player than McGwire or Sammy Sosa, found it galling that they had achieved so much acclaim from their 1998 home run race and succumbed to the temptation to use steroids to keep pace. Who could argue with the results? After the Etherton homer, the fourth "historically significant" blast of his career, at least by Jenkinson's standards, Bonds hit a mind-numbing 30 more long balls of 450 feet or beyond.
"To a person with reasonable intellectual clarity and emotional stability, this should tell you something very compelling," Jenkinson says of his findings. "Barry Bonds has almost certainly used steroids to achieve what he has achieved."
Initially, Jenkinson sat on his suspicions, but when Bonds trashed Ruth at the 2003 All-Star Weekend, the gloves came off. Jenkinson was so angry he picked up the phone and shared his research and opinions with Chris "Mad Dog" Russo on WFAN in New York, much to the delight of the station's listeners.
Some have said Jenkinson should have kept his decidedly unscientific theories to himself instead of trying to bring down one of baseball's greatest sluggers. But how could he be accused of trashing Bonds' reputation, Jenkinson argues, when the wounds were so obviously self-inflicted?
"I think Barry Bonds' legacy is tarnished beyond repair," he says.
And if this archivist can't set the record straight, who can?