Rosenthal: Like it or not, home run record belongs to Bonds

Bud Selig helped to honor Hall of Famer Hank Aaron on Tuesday.

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Here’s what Commissioner Bud Selig should have said:

"We all love Hank Aaron and revere him for his accomplishments. But we cannot hide from the fact that Barry Bonds, while breaking Aaron’s all-time home run record, played within baseball’s rules at the time.

"The fault lies with all of us, and all we can do now is enforce the toughest drug policy in professional sports with the goal of reducing questions of legitimacy in the future."

Of course, that is not what Selig said Tuesday night in Atlanta at the 40th anniversary celebration of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record.

No, Selig took the bait when asked to respond to the comments of Braves chairman Terry McGuirk and retired broadcaster Pete van Wieren, both of whom played to the crowd while citing Aaron as the "true" home run king.

Aaron is Selig’s longtime friend, Bonds a recent thorn in the commissioner’s side.

"I’m always in a sensitive spot there, but I’ve said that myself and I will leave it at that," Selig told reporters.

Darned right Selig is in a sensitive spot – he was the commissioner at the time while Bonds and others allegedly were juicing and the sport was powerless to stop them.

Listen, I can’t say I’m any happier than Selig that Bonds passed Aaron using heaven knows what. But let’s not deny reality here. Let’s not run from responsibility – all of us, including baseball writers who initially were slow to pick up on the extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

Much of the blame for the initial PED problem rests with the union for regarding testing as a civil-liberties question rather than a fairness question in which some of their members were gaining a competitive advantage over others.

But Selig, as commissioner, was part of the problem – just as he and the union are now part of the solution. Trying to whitewash history by saying that Bonds is not the true home run king is a slippery slope, considering that Bonds was not the only user.

Heck, this is all a slippery slope. Aaron, in his autobiography, acknowledged a one-time use of amphetamines, a popular drug in his era (and more recently as well). I don’t view amphetamines as the same type of performance enhancer as steroids, but some see little distinction, arguing that a PED is a PED.

The bottom line: Purity is elusive, in baseball and every sport.

 

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: "Ken, if you’re so keen on acknowledging reality and offering a strict interpretation of history, why don’t you vote for Bonds for Hall of Fame?"

My answer to that, as I’ve written before, is that the Hall is a privilege, not a right. Bonds, in my opinion, lost his privilege, at least for the moment. I do not rule out voting for him eventually. I’m just not comfortable supporting him right now.

None of this is simple. Much of it is emotional. Selig, in fairness, simply voiced what most of us feel.

But if baseball did not discipline Bonds for PED use while he was hitting his 762 home runs, baseball cannot take the record back, even in a figurative sense.

All the sport can do is continue pushing forward while acknowledging its mistakes of the past.