Barry Bonds is the new home run king, having passed Hank Aaron on the all-time list. But with allegations of performance-enhancing drug use swirling around the controversial slugger, how should we view Bonds' accomplishment? Some of ESPN.com's experts offer their perspective on Bonds' No. 756.
Jerry Crasnick: "Why should anybody care?"
I've never been comfortable with the knee-jerk label of "cheater" to describe every athlete who stretches the moral boundaries for an edge. Willie Mays liked red juice, Pete Rose took "greenies" to lose weight, and Barry Bonds, we're told, used performance-enhancing drugs because he was jealous of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Pass around the truth serum, and you'll find it's not a very exclusive club. Was Bonds' decision regrettable? Sure. Did it tarnish his achievements? I'll buy that. But the lure of public acceptance, money or immortality can entice men to do strange things. When we're talking about drug use in relation to NFL linemen, Tour de France participants or home run hitters, we can be awfully selective with our outrage. Personally, I'm as put off by Bonds' lack of human relations skill as the contents of his medicine cabinet. Few athletes in history have been as consistently boorish, joyless, self-absorbed or seemingly oblivious to the impression they create. Yes, we know Bonds has emotional baggage. But does the rest of the world constantly have to lug it around for him? Record-setting runs are as much about the warm feelings and enduring memories they generate as the numbers in the Baseball Encyclopedia. If we can't embrace Bonds because of his personality and we can't admire him because of the short cuts he took, why should anybody care that he's baseball's home run champion? The answer is, lots of people don't. Now that Bonds has No. 756 in the bank, most folks outside San Francisco wish he would just pack up his bats and size 8 hats and go away. Are you happy with that legacy, Barry?
Pedro Gomez: "Trust your eyes"
The record book may now indicate Barry Bonds is the new home run king. But that doesn't mean fans -- both outside and inside the game -- have to recognize Bonds' spot above Hank Aaron. The beauty baseball has always maintained over other sports is accountability in the fans' perspective. You can trust your eyes in baseball. An error is an error. A missed bunt attempt is just that. What you see is, well, what you see. A pitcher who is throwing 88 mph at the end of one season and is magically hitting 98 on the gun the next spring? That's just not humanly possible, at least not without some form of help. Same goes for home run hitters, and Bonds tops this list. Not just because the only time he ever hit more than 49 home runs was when he reached 73 in 2001, but also because of the numerous allegations that Bonds used chemical help to reach late-career highs. Whether baseball or its fans want to admit it, these last 15 years will forever be viewed as the steroids era. Some say Bonds is being unfairly picked on. Maybe, but remember, the lab he used, BALCO, was the one the federal government raided. Bonds' name was front and center in the BALCO investigation and it's front and center among a large faction that simply does not believe he is the new home run king.
Tim Kurkjian: "An imaginary asterisk"
I will acknowledge Barry Bonds for what he has done: hit more home runs than anyone in history. It is a fascinating accomplishment, one that's worthy, on some level, of celebration. We have never taken records away in baseball history, and we should not take this one away unless we're prepared to take away a whole bunch of records and achievements during this era. We shouldn't put an asterisk next to it, either. There already is -- and always will be -- an imaginary asterisk next to this era. We should do what baseball has always done with its records and controversies: attach a story to them, and then let our best baseball fans -- they believe something fishy went on here -- decide how to recognize this achievement. As for Hank Aaron, he no longer will have the most home runs of anyone in history, but his legacy will not be lessened. Bonds' chase has given us another chance to celebrate the greatness of Aaron's career, and the strength of his purpose. His legacy might even be strengthened because, as far as we know, he hit 755 home runs naturally, legally and honestly.
Keith Law: "The home run king, period"
Barry Bonds is the new home run king, period. Record books should be free of moral judgments or other subjective criteria. Unless Major League Baseball intends to go back and invalidate some of Bonds' home runs, he'll have the highest total until someone else (whether it's Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr. or someone else) breaks his record in turn.
Rob Neyer: "A product of his times"
I've got a clipping from ESPN The Magazine on my bulletin board: two photos, one snapped in 1993, the other in 2004. In both photos, the subject is Barry Bonds. Without the captions, though, you might not guess you're looking at the same person, 11 years apart. It's clear that Bonds has "improved" himself in a way or ways that simply were not available to the great sluggers of the past. Does this mean his record is somehow not "valid" or well-earned? Like it or not, he's a product of his times. If Bonds has broken the rules (and yes, probably the law), the only real difference between him and many of his peers is that he's broken the rules better than everybody else. If you're a Giants fan, you're probably glad he cared enough to be the very best player he could be, whatever the means. Which does not mean the rest of us have to be happy for him. For different reasons, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron were sympathetic figures, and so it was easy to enjoy their successes. For various reasons, it's not easy to take pleasure in Barry Bonds' many feats of strength. Whether you choose to blame him or us, that's just the way it is.
Steve Phillips: "Sitting and clapping"
I've been asked frequently about what I would do if I were at the game when Barry Bonds broke Henry Aaron's record: Would I stand and clap or sit on my hands? In fact what I would have done is sit and clap. Barry Bonds is an amazing player. He is one of the best players of all time regardless of what he might have taken. He is a superstar player and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I have tremendous respect for him as a player and talent. He has done it all in his career. He deserves to be recognized as one of the best ever. For a day or a week or maybe even a month I would like to just celebrate Bonds and his greatness. I want to stand and cheer and salute him for how truly amazing he is. I want to have the feelings for him that take me back to my youth when I got goose bumps when Henry Aaron circled the bases after hitting No. 715. But I just can't get there. I can't help but feel that this remarkable accomplishment has been diminished by the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Bonds cheated. I cannot boo the man because he is a remarkable, unbelievable player who I often wished had played for my team. But I cannot celebrate the way I really want to either. Instead, I am the one sitting and clapping.
Jayson Stark: "What we've lost"
The biggest tragedy of the steroids era is that it has robbed us of the magic -- the magic of the greatest numbers in sports. People used to walk down Main Street -- in your town, in any town -- and hear those numbers rattling around their brains. They knew what 60 meant. And 61. And 714. And 755. They weren't just baseball numbers. They were milestones from our entire culture. You didn't have to be some geeky baseball fan to know them. Women and kids and grandmothers knew them. They were numbers so powerful, you could hear the home run calls in your head if you listened hard enough. No other sport had any numbers like them. And no one should ever underestimate the importance of that. It's because of what those numbers used to mean that No. 756 and the man who hit it are still enough to make that home run a momentous news event. But it's what we've lost that's the bigger story, to me. We've lost the ability to witness these moments and hear our hearts thumping, or feel our emotions flowing. Too many people now are cynical about what just happened and why it happened for these numbers to feel the same again. And not just 756. All of them.