Barry Bonds may end his career with many of the greatest records in baseball history, the most home runs and the most MVP awards. But in recent seasons, suspicion about steroids has enveloped Bonds, fueled by his exploding physique, his unprecedented dominance well past his 35th birthday, and now, by Friday's San Francisco Chronicle story that Bonds used a steroid cream. Unknowingly, according to Bonds.
While Jason Giambi is thought to be sensitive, concerned about how he's perceived, Bonds has always led with his chin, forever defiant about whispered accusations.
"Like I tell everybody, you want to be on top, you have to have broad shoulders to be on top, let me tell you that right now, because as fast as you get there is as fast as they try to knock you down. And so I have broad shoulders. I can deal with it," Bonds said in February.
Bonds never hit more than 46 homers in any season before his 35th birthday. But in 2000, with his body suddenly transformed into something a power lifter would want, Bonds slugged 49 homers, and in 2001, he launched a record 73 homers -- at age 37. Bonds credited his workout regimen.
"Anyone in San Francisco who knows me knows I train every day, five days a week," Bonds said in May of 2002. "You can even ask Gary Sheffield, who stayed with me ... You can ask everyone throughout the organization. You can ask the fans of San Francisco -- they go to Stanford at 7:30 in the morning, they'll see me on that track.
"And after December and January they'll see me every single day at Pac Bell at 8:30 in the morning, five days a week training. I've been doing this for 12 years."
But as Bonds grew older, maintained his massive physique and his bat speed, the questions about the source of his power have gotten louder. Pitcher Turk Wendell once suggested what many in the game have suspected: That Bonds is using steroids.
"I have a lot of respect for Turk Wendell, I have a lot of respect for every baseball player in this game," Bonds said during spring training. "Just to disrespect other people like that, or talk through the media, I think that's chicken s---. You've got something to say, you come to my face and say it and then we'll deal with each other. But don't be a b---- and go talk to the media like you're some tough guy."
According to the latest report, Bonds was informed during his grand jury testimony in December, 2003, that the cream and the clear were, in fact, steroids. Yet two and half months later, Bonds denied using any illegal substances in this interview with ESPN's Pedro Gomez.
"My family and the people around me know the truth," Bonds said last February. "I really don't think we're gonna have to talk about it much when all the testing comes out. It's going to come out and you'll be able to see it and there won't be any questions after that point."
Question from Gomez: "Do you think it's possible you may have, without your knowledge, ever been given an illegal steroid, or a human growth hormone?"
Bonds' reply: "One, that's still an illegal question and its something that I won't answer. Two, I don't think it's something that we need to be discussing at this time."
Gomez: "How much testing do you welcome in baseball?"
Bonds: "They can test me every day if they choose to."
Gomez: "I mean for the game."
Bonds: "I think it's fine. I don't see anything wrong with that at all."
But now that Bonds has acknowledged using a cream -- though he testified he didn't know it was a steroid -- there will be more questions about his late-career success, his records, his legacy. He is the best player in an era in which there have been steroid whispers about many stars.
"I know who I am. I know what I stand for and what type of ballplayer I am and I'll prove that on the field," Bonds has said.
When Commissioner Bud Selig gave Bonds the Henry Aaron Award at this year's World Series, there was no standard press conference, no question-and-answer session -- probably because this would have evolved into a steroid debate that will undoubtedly follow Bonds into retirement.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is a New York Times best seller and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.