For the sake of argument, here's hoping Barry Bonds' next home run ball travels 500 feet, minimum.
In these days of inflated baseball, something monstrous for No. 700 would be just about right. It would meet everybody's expectations -- his, ours and history's -- and clear up absolutely nothing.
Supporters could go on arguing there's never been a home-run hitter like Bonds. Critics could cite it as further proof of better hitting through chemistry. Everybody else will go on reserving judgment. That uncertaintly is exactly what the game deserves.
Heading into Milwaukee for a three-game series that begins Tuesday night, Bonds stands one homer shy of becoming just the third member of baseball's 700 club -- and the first to join in 31 years. The last man to cross that threshhold was Henry Aaron, who also happens to own the last signpost on the way to the all-time home run record (755). He has no doubts about waving Bonds past.
''I think it's just a matter of time,'' Aaron said Monday outside a Manhattan restaurant. ''Maybe a year, two years. I think he will.''
A moment later, recalling the death threats and racist hate mail that piled up as Aaron made his grim march on Babe Ruth's career mark of 714 homers, he added, ''I went through a lot more than he's going through now, but that doesn't make any difference. That's over with, done with. I'm sure he's gone through his share of agony and pain to get where he is.''
Only Bonds knows how much that is to date. He's been tagged as the poster boy for the supersizing of baseball, dogged by rumors of using performance-enhancers for several years, and without a doubt the beneficiary of a pitching corps diluted by several rounds of expansion and a trend of bandbox-sized ballparks coming on line in the last 15 years. More vexing of late has been the refusal of opposing pitchers to throw him anything to hit.
None of it has slowed him down. Bonds is going to walk more than any player ever has in a single season -- with 203, he's already five ahead of the record he set two years ago -- and when he does get to swing, he's hitting home runs at a pace that neither Ruth nor Aaron ever matched. The most damning bit of evidence is that everybody else around him is doing it, too.
With three weeks left to play, the average number of homers in the majors this year is 2.26 per game, which falls almost exactly on the five-season average. Bonds is smacking a home run, on average, for every eight at-bats, the best ratio in baseball. In Ruth's most efficient season -- 1920, when he hit 54 home runs -- he averaged one in every nine; in Aaron's -- 1973, when he totaled 40 -- he averaged one in every 10 at-bats.
But even more revealing might be what other hitters were doing around the three men. In 1920, the first year of the co-called ''live-ball'' era, the average number of home runs per game was .5. In 1973, what some consider the game's golden era as black and Latin players made their presence felt, the average was 1.6 per game. None of that dissuades Aaron from calling Bonds better than he or Ruth were at their most potent.
Barely two weeks ago, the reigning home run king was sitting in the broadcast booth in Atlanta and watched Bonds hit two of the longest shots ever at Turner Field for Nos. 695 and 696.
''He has to be the greatest hitter that I've seen,'' Aaron said then, ''or heard of.''
His rationale was simple.
''I think some people say Ted Williams, and Ted was good, because he was the last to hit .400. But who knows? If they had pitched to Barry, he may have hit .450. I don't know. That's a possibility.''
Aaron has seen nothing in the intervening days to change his opinion. He doesn't plan to be on hand when Bonds reaches the 700-homer plateau, but he reiterated that's only because ''traveling is not something that I like doing right now.
''I'm 70 years old and it's hard to get on a plane at 6 o'clock in the morning and travel all the way across the country,'' Aaron said. ''I just wish Barry the best of luck.''
It's hard to know at the moment how many baseball fans would second that request. Bonds hasn't gone out of his way to endear himself to doubters. When he zeroed in on the single-season mark of 70 homers two seasons ago, someone asked whether the fans' appreciation would ever catch up to his already considerable achievements.
Like lots of other questions, Bonds didn't answer it directly. Instead, knowing he was headed for the Hall of Fame either way, Bonds said he already had come up with the opening line of his induction speech.
''You,'' he plans to tell his critics, ''missed the show.''
It resumes Tuesday night in Milwaukee. The only guarantee is that it won't be dull.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com.
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