AP Story of the Year: Barry Bonds finds fame, infamy
SAN FRANCISCO – Barry Bonds got what he wanted. So did the feds.What should have been a year of fame and adulation for Bonds had equal parts of shame and condemnation.As always, though, Bonds handled it his way: From that first day in spring training when he proclaimed himself up to the challenges that lie ahead; through the record-setting day in August when he hit No. 756 to become the all-time home run king; to that day in early December when he walked out of a federal courthouse in San Francisco after declaring himself innocent on charges leveled in a steroids investigation.In a year that seemingly revolved around news that belonged on the front page instead of the sports page, the trail left by Bonds was voted Story of the Year by members of The Associated Press.The Bonds saga received 1,352 points and 100 of the 146 first-place votes from sports editors and broadcasters.Michael Vick pleading guilty to a federal charge he ran a dogfighting ring was second with 1,154 points; former NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleading guilty to two federal charges he bet on games he officiated and made calls affecting the point spread in those games was third with 836.Florida winning both the NCAA football and men’s basketball championships added a purely on-the-field entry at No. 4; Patriots coach Bill Belichick being fined $500,000 for videotaping opponents’ signals, then leading New England to a perfect start completed the top five.Because it was released in late December, the Mitchell Report, which detailed doping in baseball, was not on the list. However, it received 17 write-in votes for top story and was No. 9 overall.Clearly, though, it was Bonds, the blemished home run king, who held everyone’s attention the longest.Feb. 20: “Let them investigate. Let them, they’ve been doing it this long. It doesn’t weigh on me at all – at all,” Bonds said after his first spring training workout.
Aug. 7: “This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period,” Bonds said just hours after hitting the home run that broke Hank Aaron’s record.Dec. 7: “I’m Barry Bonds,” he told a judge as he stood with his hands clasped behind his back.It’s not over for Bonds, either. There’s no telling how his case will turn out, or whether he’ll play in 2008 or someday make the Hall of Fame.”I think in many ways he is a challenge to all of us,” former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent said. “On one hand we admire what he’s done. The record. The performance. I think that the difficulty with Barry is we don’t have all the facts. We don’t know what went on. … The last chapter has not been written.”From diehard fans to the casual observer, Bonds stirred debate about whether the most hallowed record in sports needed an asterisk.Commissioner Bud Selig stood uncomfortably for the record-tying shot and was thousands of miles away from San Francisco when Bonds homered off Washington’s Mike Bacsik for No. 756.Aaron himself stayed away from the chase, opting instead to send a classy congratulatory message that was shown during a 10-minute, in-game tribute following the record-breaking home run.”It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity and determination,” Aaron said. “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.”Bonds appreciated the gesture, but in his news conference later, his mood wasn’t always celebratory. When steroids came up in questions, he went on the defensive yet again, saying his record was legitimate.No doubt Bonds was destined to be a target this year as he prepared to pass Aaron.
Fans, opponents, media and federal prosecutors took aim and, from the moment he arrived at Giants camp, Bonds took a defiant stance.His attitude: Come get me.And they did.On Nov. 15, Bonds was indicted on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice for telling a BALCO grand jury in 2003 that he never knowingly took illegal performance-enhancing drugs.”I truly believe I have been singled out. Definitely,” Bonds said on MSNBC that month.Perhaps, but a month later, he was named 103 times in the Mitchell Report.Bonds’ only public appearance since the end of the World Series came at the federal courthouse in San Francisco for his arraignment.He still seems confident – some would say even exhibiting his hallmark arrogance – that everything will be fine. Before that hearing, Bonds cleared the building metal detector, smiled, waved and flashed a Hawaiian hang-loose sign to the crowd waiting for a glimpse.A day earlier, he offered this message on his Web site: “Despite the charges that have been filed against me, I still have confidence in the judicial system and especially in the judgment of the citizens who will decide this case. And I know that when all of this is over, I will be vindicated because I am innocent.”He also knows this: He’s not going back to the Giants. Whether he plays anywhere remains to be seen.
Giants owner Peter Magowan told Bonds in September the club didn’t want him back. The Oakland Athletics had interest before the indictment came down; now, they say they want to rebuild and probably aren’t interested in an aging cleanup hitter with bum knees even if he has 762 home runs to his name.No other team has stepped forward, yet Bonds remains undeterred.”I’m playing till I’m 100,” he has said repeatedly.Given the potential roadblocks ahead, even playing until he turns 44 on July 24 seems in doubt.”I don’t bring baggage to a team, I’ve never brought any baggage to a team,” he said on MSNBC in November. “I’ve brought my baseball bag, but I don’t bring any baggage. I go on the field and I play.”However it was accomplished, Bonds has had one of baseball’s most successful careers. A record seven MVP awards, 14 All-Star selections, eight Gold Gloves, as well as the single-season records for home runs, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and walks.If he never plays again, Bonds will finish his career 65 hits shy of 3,000, four RBIs short of 2,000, and 69 runs scored from breaking another career record.Most notably, he would leave without the World Series ring he has coveted.Still, he always knew it all could end abruptly, perhaps under circumstances out of his own control.”There’s always just a little window of opportunity in baseball,” he said. “That window can close real fast. Sports are like that. Just a lot of luck comes with that, and good fortune.”
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