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Sooner or later, Bonds will have to answer

Sports views

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2005

Barry Bonds talks a game every bit as good as the one he plays, and that's really saying something.

For 37 minutes during a televised news conference Tuesday, the San Francisco slugger talked about truth, justice, race, threats to the public health, the working man, jealousy, envy and fairness, pausing at one point to insist ''Don't edit this, make it live.''

He was, by turns, articulate, engaging, funny, informative, smooth, slippery, calculating and — since context is so important — very, very angry.

He was also in denial.

''I don't know,'' Bonds said, ''what cheating is.''

Here's hoping the federal prosecutors in the BALCO investigation do, since the next time Bonds sits still for that many questions about steroids will take place only after he's been served with a subpoena. He won't set the ground rules then, won't dare dismiss the people questioning him as ''liars,'' and he won't be able to punctuate every answer with a lecture about it being ''time to move on.''

During the grand jury phase of the BALCO investigation, those same prosecutors confronted Bonds with documents alleging he used a cocktail of performance-enhancers — steroids, human growth hormone, insulin and more — dating to his record-setting season of 2001. According to testimony leaked to a newspaper, he told them he didn't know what was in any of the concoctions his longtime pal, personal trainer and BALCO bagman Greg Anderson handed him, and that he never checked out any of the ingredients with the Giants trainers or medical staff because he didn't trust them.

If that sounds hard to believe, consider this: When Bonds was asked Tuesday whether anybody else in baseball knowingly used steroids over the past 15 years, he replied, ''You know what? I never — truthfully — I never really paid any attention to it, nor did I really care because I worried about me.''

Apparently, Bonds just assumed all those teammates and opponents whose physiques blew up until they resembled inflatable dolls were spending just as much time in the weight room as he was. And further, that all of them had pals like Anderson always at the ready, with a remedy for whatever ailed them. Viewed that way, the supersizing of baseball looks no more suspicious than what happens in a class at Jenny Craig, only in reverse.

Except almost nobody is buying it. Even those fans Bonds said have finally warmed up to him.

''I have probably gotten the best relationship with fans through all of this,'' he recalled, ''than I ever have in my entire career ... coming over to me — the things that I've always wanted, to come over to me and just shake my hand and say, 'You know what? Who cares. You're a good ballplayer. You proved it. You know, you've done this, you've done that. We're all supporting you.'

''I've never heard that before,'' Bonds said.

Funny he'd say that, since just about every other disgraced ballplayer has heard it at one time or another.

Keith Hernandez was cheered when he returned to the ballpark after being involved in a cocaine scandal that plagued the game in the 1970s. Pete Rose got the loudest ovation at the All-Star game a few years back, despite being drummed out of baseball for gambling on his own team. Wil Cordero was accused of beating his first wife, pleaded guilty to assaulting his second and, because he knows how to hit a baseball, too, had little trouble finding jobs in several towns with ''supportive'' fans. As recently as Monday, Jason Giambi was warmly received at the Yankees complex in Tampa, Fla., despite telling the BALCO grand jury tales about injecting steroids into his own butt.

But the hometown fans cheering for all those ballplayers didn't believe they had been wronged, just unappreciated. No one seriously doubts Bonds' immense talent, work ethic, or even his dedication, just his contention that the sum of those parts is all that went into the whole.

''If that's the case, we're going to go way back into 19th, 18th centuries in rehashing the past and we'll crush a lot of things in a lot of sports if that's what you guys want,'' Bonds said. ''If you just want a lot of things out of the sports world, then we can go back into the 1800s and basically asterisk a lot of sports if that's what you choose and that's what you want to do.''

He's right, of course. Blacks and Latinos were excluded from the major leagues when Babe Ruth set his home run mark, and rumors of widespread use of amphetamines — known as ''greenies'' — were around when Henry Aaron set his.

And so the crucial difference might be that it is much tougher to look away at the moment than to look back — no matter how much or how often Bonds counsels otherwise.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.



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