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The Bonds era: Not the best of times in baseball

Olbermann: Barry Bonds represents a time in which the fans’ confidence in what the game means has been shaken and not merely by steroids or human growth hormone.

He is accused of using illegal performance enhancing drugs, to such effect that, he, in the season he turned age 37, hit nearly three times as many home runs as he had hit, in the season he turned age 27.

That, his head in that same span, grew one hat size; his feet, three shoe sizes.

Barry Bonds represents a time in which the fans’ confidence in what the game means has been shaken.

And not merely by steroids or human growth hormone.

In just two decades: the gambling on baseball by, and banning from baseball of, Pete Rose; a strike that led to the cancellation of the World Series; and the decline of African-Americans like Bonds, in the first sport in which they became transcendent (there were more American blacks on the 1950 Dodgers than there are on the 2007 Dodgers).

Collectively, we do not know if he is more sinned against than sinning.

Thirty-seven percent of all fans in a recent survey still say they want him to break Hank Aaron’s record; 73 percent of black fans do.

Even baseball’s commissioner is flummoxed.  Bud Selig has still yet to decide if the solemnities of the game demand his presence when Bonds hits his record-breaking 756th career home run or if they demand his absence.

But behind this oscillating controversy is baseball’s hidden idiosyncrasy.

As Barry Bonds nears the summit, he is not the first to hear booing.

As Roger Maris approached Babe Ruth’s old record for home runs in a single season, the then-commissioner ruled that since his season contained more games than did Ruth’s, Maris’s record would not really count.

When Hank Aaron vaulted Ruth’s career record, there was racism and death threats and the Commissioner of that time not attending the record-breaking moment.

As Cal Ripken marched inexorably towards the consecutive games played streak of Lou Gehrig, there were lamentations that perhaps Ripken should not break it because Gehrig’s streak had ended due to fatal, unspeakable disease.

And even as Mark McGwire bulldozed past the Maris and Ruth single-season home run records just nine years ago, there was a queasy subtext: dangerous supplements, in his locker, in plain sight.

Baseball’s past simply will not give up its records gently.

In the best of times, to applaud Roger Maris is to be somehow seen as booing Babe Ruth.

In the best of times, displacing Lou Gehrig is to be somehow forgetting Lou Gehrig.

And, as Barry Bonds displaces Hank Aaron, and baseball fans try to decide whether or not to applaud him ... these are not the best of times.