Opening Day in San Diego provided the first indication of how fans will respond to Barry Bonds this season. After the bottom of the eighth inning, with San Diego leading the San Francisco Giants 6-1, somebody threw a syringe at Bonds as he was leaving the field.
"This has nothing to do with me at all," Bonds said, and he was right, because the syringe was empty and there was no needle attached to it.
The presence of Bonds in the San Francisco line-up will constitute the baseball season's greatest distraction, and if everything works out as preposterously as it might, Bonds will be at the center of the greatest, individually-inspired, on-field distraction in any baseball season, ever.
Will he hit a homerun and move closer to the records set by Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron, thereby making more imminent the weird spectacle of Major League Baseball simultaneously celebrating Bonds for his achievement and investigating him for drug abuse, income tax evasion, perjury, or all of the above?
By October, Bonds could be the greatest homerun hitter of all time. By Christmas he could plea bargaining.
When has any ballplayer pursued such fame and such infamy at the same time?
And when has baseball provided such a clear opportunity for people paying attention to the game to take opposite sides?
Determined fans of Bonds regard setting a homerun record as an end that justifies any means, and the evidence that he is worthy of their admiration is tangible: Bonds is rich and he's on television. If part of the fuel for the glorious ride to fame is steroids, shoot me up.
Indignant fans of the game are outraged that Bonds and the rest of the chemically-enhanced hitters have turned baseball's sacred record book into the comics section: a place not for homage, but for exaggeration, caricature, and ridicule. For them, no punishment is too extreme for fouling the temple of their game.
There is no room for compromise. Major League Baseball can no more take away the tainted homeruns Bonds has hit or prevent him from hitting more than it can pretend that he never played. But neither can baseball celebrate his achievements without tying whatever conscience it still has in knots. Since it looks as if Bonds won't go away this season unless his body rebels again against what he's done to it, the on-going distraction will make headlines everywhere the giant...and the Giants...go.
This program aired on April 6, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.