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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Spring training is in full swing. And Barry Bonds is working his full swing into a groove down in Scottsdale, Arizona. Bonds needs to connect the sweet spot of his bat with 22 pitches this season to surpass the great Hank Aaron and claim the all-time homerun record. Meanwhile, the federal government continues its investigation into Bonds' possible perjury to a federal grand jury, to whom he stated in 2003 that he unknowingly used steroids called "the clear" and "the cream."

Three years ago, you could find me ranting on a soap box about sticking asterisks next to all of Bonds' records. Yesterday I watched Bonds on his first day at the Giants spring training camp and I stepped right down off that cynical soap box. The man is 42 and still carves a more fluid arc with his bat than anyone playing the game today. Big hitters rarely step into a live batting situation the first day of spring training. They take dozens of swings in the batting cage and only when they've found their rhythm do they step to the plate and face a live pitcher. Yesterday, after some five months of staying in shape, yes, but swinging a bat, no, Bonds stepped up against the Giants' biggest gun on the mound last year. Matt Cain tossed two fastballs. Bonds ripped the second one 420 feet.

What more do we want of this guy at this point? Let's say he used steroids but that was back in the day before the sport had any anti-steroid policy. Let's say he lied to the Grand Jury and he was plenty aware of just what "the clear" and "the cream" were. Let's say he violated the amphetamine rules last season and can't really come up with an excuse. By all means, if he's a player violating the substance policies of his sport, he should be subject to all League punishment deemed commensurate with his transgressions. But to leap to the overarching conclusion that he's a fraud, that all his accomplishments are the product of unnatural juice, is nonsense. Bonds is not a rogue cheater. He's a sign of the times. It's underground, unspoken locker room lore that juice, steroids, and greenies, amphetamines, have infiltrated professional baseball over the past 15 years. If every athlete in the modern sports records books were traced down for illegal performance drug use, we would have to add a long, long list of asterisks. We barely slow the turning of the sports page when we read that a mediocre relief pitcher has been caught with a positive 'roid urine test. For Bonds, we want him erased from the record books, banished with a capital "J for Juiced" on his chest.

Bonds is tested vigilantly, yet even at his advanced age, even hobbling the past three seasons on a bum knee, even in that tricky AT&T Ballpark, considered the hardest locale for left-handed hitters in the country, he has clobbered the heck out of the ball. There is no doubt that he is the real deal. His teammates, one after the other, none necessarily complimenting him on a likeable personality, echo each other in speaking in awe of Barry's special talents. One after the other, they say being part of this season, bearing witness to Bonds' climb to the summit of the home run kingdom will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Bonds' situation is in some ways akin to Lance Armstrong's. In France, allegations of Armstrong's illegal use of EPO during his 1999 Tour victory continue to swirl through cycling publications. We may never know what really went down in '99 but Armstrong subsequently became the most drug-tested athlete in the world and never tested positive. Is there any doubt that Lance was the real deal over his next six Tour de France wins?

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig says he may not attend the game when Bonds passes Aaron, given the delicacy of the steroid issue. Well, send me your front row ticket, Mr. Selig. I'll stand up and heartily applaud Barry Bonds when he hits number 756.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.


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