HAIL YES or HELL NO: Bonds hits 756th to become new home-run king to some but not all

Posted: August 08, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — For some, it will be a moment to remember. For others, a day that will live in infamy.

For Barry Bonds, it was joy and vindication all rolled into one.

"This record is not tainted at all," he said in response to a question, shortly a 22-year quest ended with one long flyball that made him baseball's all-time home run king. "At all. Period."

The moment that so many had anticipated and so many others dreaded finally came to pass at 8:51 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time last night. With a mighty swing of his 43-year-old arms, Bonds drilled a 3-2 fastball from Washington Nationals lefthander Mike Bacsik into the right-centerfield seats in the bottom of the fifth inning at AT&T Park.

It was the 756th home run of his career, a 435-foot shot to the deepest part of the stadium, moving him past Hank Aaron.

That touched off a 10-minute celebration highlighted by a classy video tribute from Aaron, a man who previously had indicated he wanted no part of honoring a player many believe used illegal performance-enhancing substances to capture one of baseball's most important records.

"I would like to offer my congratulations to Barry Bonds on becoming baseball's career home run leader," the dignified Aaron said. "It is a great accomplishment which requires skill, longevity and determination.

"Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historic achievement. My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams."

He did not mention steroids.

Commissioner Bud Selig, who had been in attendance when Bonds tied the record Saturday night in San Diego – and stood glumly with his hands in his pockets when it happened – was not at last night's game.

He issued a statement that touched on the controversy, however. "I congratulate Barry Bonds for establishing a new career home-run record. Barry's achievement is noteworthy and remarkable," it said.

"After Barry came out of the game I congratulated him by telephone and had [major league baseball's executive vice president] Jimmie Lee Solomon and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson – both of whom were at the game and witnessed the record-breaking home run – meet with him on my behalf. While the issues which have swirled around this record will continue to work themselves toward resolution, today is a day for congratulations on a truly remarkable achievement."

Bonds was clearly touched and surprised by Aaron's gesture. "It meant everything," he said. "It meant absolutely everything. I'm at a loss for words. It was absolutely the best."

He also defended Selig's absence. "Bud Selig called me after the game," he said. "He congratulated me. That meant a lot to me."

Even at the pinnacle of a career that has included unprecedented triumphs, including an amazing seven Most Valuable Player Awards, Bonds jabbed back at those who he believes have been unfair to him. "Don't believe [the media]. That's the worst thing you can do," he said at one point.

As soon as he hit the ball, Bonds knew it was gone. He raised his hands and watched intently the ball as it rose majestically toward the stands. He then took a few steps toward first, clapped his hands four times and began a regal trot around the bases.

Fireworks exploded over McCovey Cove. The sellout crowd of 43,154 roared its approval and his teammates swarmed him as he reached home plate. Also waiting to greet him were his family and his godfather, legendary Hall of Famer Willie Mays.

Bonds took the microphone and thanked the crowd. He trotted to leftfield to take his position in the top of the sixth, but was immediately replaced by manager Bruce Bochy and got another ovation as he came off the field.

That home run gave the Giants a 5-4 lead. His early departure turned out to be an unstated comment on the relative priorities of Bonds breaking the record and winning games. After he left, the Nationals rallied to win, 8-6.

"This is the greatest record of any record in sports," Bochy said. "We were all fortunate to be able to witness it. I know how much pressure and stress he's been under. If people feel [that the record is tainted], I feel for them. You can speculate, but baseball has its special moments, and this is one of them.

"It's time to move on. No matter what you think, that's a lot of home runs. This is a time to celebrate."

Nationals centerfielder Nook Logan jumped at the wall, but had no chance to deny Bonds his moment in history. As soon as the ball landed, Bonds stood facing the fans and clapped.

The ball was caught by 22-year-old Matt Murphy from Queens, N.Y. According to the Giants, he flew into San Francisco yesterday, on vacation on his way to Australia. He bought a ticket for the game and emerged from a massive dog pile with a souvenir that could be worth up to a million dollars.

The Giants immediately issued a congratulatory statement. "Barry's remarkable record is one of the most cherished in baseball history and is perhaps the greatest achievement in all of professional sports," it read in part.

The reality, however, is that while Bonds has expressed a desire to play beyond this season, most insiders are convinced that the Giants have little interest in having him back in 2008.

Bonds had doubled and singled in his first two at-bats against Bacsik. When he came to the plate in the fifth, the theme from "Phantom of the Opera'' played and a note of desperation began to creep into the crowd's rooting.

The first two pitches were outside for balls, and the crowd booed. "Most teams are trying to pitch him away," Bochy observed before the game. "They're trying to be careful, but they make mistakes."

With a full count, Bonds hit a grounder down the first-base line that was barely foul.

The crowd began to chant, almost pleading now. "Bar-ry! Bar-ry!"

And, on his next pitch, Bacsik made a mistake. A fastball that was supposed to be down and away was up and in the middle of the plate, and Bonds didn't miss it.

Bacsik dropped his head and then stood behind the mound, hands on hips, as the festivities began.

A 29-year-old lefthander with his fifth different organization – he pitched in the minors for the Phillies in 2005 – was ready to accept his place in history.

"You either have to be a really special player to be remembered in this game or be part of a special moment," he said. "I didn't want to give up the home run, but I was lucky enough to be part of a very special moment.

"Me and Al Downing [who gave up Aaron's 715th homer in 1974] will be linked for a long time. Hopefully now I can be an All-Star and win 20 games like he did someday."

After he came out of the game, he went to the Giants' locker room and congratulated Bonds, who gave him an autographed bat.

"I dreamed of this as a kid," Bacsik quipped. "Unfortunately, when I dreamed about it, I thought I'd be the one hitting the homer, not giving it up."

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