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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Let's set the record straight

By Ferd Lewis
Staff Columnist

Judging by recent events, dumping on Barry Bonds has become more fashionable than pitching to the San Francisco Giants slugger.

Not only is Bonds' record quest not gathering universal support beyond the Bay Area, he has become an anti-hero of sorts and a target of jibes from the present owner.

The more Bonds crowds Mark McGwire's single-season home run record, the shriller the hue and cry grows. The more his home run total mounts, the more yeah-but qualifiers there are.

By now you know how the refrain goes: Sure, Bonds might hit 71, but, hey, even a shortstop can hit 50 these days. OK, he might break the record, but how many World Series rings does he have? He has had a great run, but how many friends does he have in his own clubhouse?

Bonds' heinous crimes? His assault has come a mere 36 months after McGwire set the record instead of the 37 years that separated Roger Maris and McGwire. And Bonds is not as embraceable as Sammy Sosa. Or, for that matter, even Daniel Snyder.

Why any of this would — or should — take away from his pursuit of the record book at the moment is curious indeed. For the home run record is sports' most celebrated standard, a mark that stands alone. Not a component of validation.

It is not a popularity contest but a 162-game test of hitting, power, endurance and focus, which is all it has ever been.

And to this pursuit Bonds brings an array of remarkable skills to be marveled at and appreciated on their own terms no matter what you might think of his personality.

As for the no-championship, no-validation suggestion, it is a stale replay of what was said about Dan Marino, Pete Maravich and a dozen other so-called ringless superstars — that while their numbers were glossy and their records staggering, the overall body of work is somehow incomplete and unvalidated without a championship ring on at least one finger.

It was a baseless argument then and it remains so now. Especially in this context. There is a limit to what one player can do even when he is perhaps the best left fielder in the history of the game.

If there had ever been any validity to this line of thinking, it was once upon a pre-expansion time when there were but 16 teams in all of major league baseball, none of them west of St. Louis. But not now. Not when there are 30 teams.

That Bonds' charge on the record comes in an era when home runs are measured by the bushel rather than the handful should not detract from what he is poised to accomplish. For he is being measured against a standard set in his time and place, and in a pennant race.

Part of baseball's enduring hold is that it is an evolving game and if Bonds succeeds in taking its most visible standard to new heights, it would be a deed deserving of celebration, not criticism.