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Artificial Giant

Sports | Just when Barry Bonds figured to make his move on Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron on the all-time home run list, his knee acted up

Issue: "Judicial filibuster deal," June 4, 2005

Barry Bonds returned to SBC Park in San Francisco in May. He wasn't roaming left field, but fortunately for the Giants, the limp from his surgically repaired knee wasn't as noticeable either as he helped the Giants unveil a statue. Just when Mr. Bonds figured to make his move on Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron on the all-time home run list, his knee acted up. So doctors operated on it-again and again. Doctors have cut on the slugger's knee three times already this year. But according to his website, Mr. Bonds said his doctor cleared him to begin rehabilitating that knee. That's good news for the Giants, who need Mr. Bonds's bat. But not so for Major League Baseball officials, who don't need Mr. Bonds's steroid baggage.

According to a leaked transcript of Mr. Bonds's Dec. 4, 2003, testimony, the outfielder told a grand jury in California that he had taken substances known as "the cream" and "the clear"-code names for the designer steroid THG. Other court documents suggest Mr. Bonds had wide experience with cutting-edge steroids and covert drugs. According to records uncovered by the San Francisco Chronicle, he used human growth hormone, Depo-Testosterone, insulin, and a drug for female infertility sometimes used to mask steroid use.

He paid his former trainer, Greg Anderson, $15,000 in cash in 2003 and a $20,000 cash bonus in 2001. Mr. Anderson has been indicted in the growing BALCO scandal. Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield testified to the same grand jury that Mr. Bonds mentored him in the use of steroids.

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This season was supposed to have been Mr. Bonds's most cherished. With just 11 home runs, Mr. Bonds could have tied the Sultan of Swat himself for second place on the home run list.

But Mr. Bonds's injury is a reprieve for baseball. Before his steroid use became front-page news, the league had planned on devoting its marketing of the 2005 season to the historic home run chase. But imagine now what scrutiny would have followed Mr. Bonds if he had chased the record this season. Instead of admiring his lifetime achievements, baseball fans would have been left wondering just how many home runs Mr. Bonds hit while on the juice.

What if fans came to watch Barry Bonds not to see him park balls in the right field bleachers, but to boo him? Mr. Bonds doesn't just need rehabilitation of his surgically repaired knee. His image needs rehab. Fans who once saw him as a surly star now see a man with something to hide. (Asked if he viewed using steroids as cheating, Mr. Bonds said, "As cheating? I don't. I don't know what cheating is.") He's alienated the press, chiding them at his now famous Feb. 22 press conference for asking about the steroid scandal: "Are you guys jealous? Upset? Disappointed? What?"

While Mr. Bonds may pass Ruth if he returns this season, he probably won't supplant Mr. Aaron until next year or perhaps even the year after that. He needs 53 home runs to move into first place. And the San Francisco outfielder has hit 50 home runs in a season just once in his career-his breakout season of 2001 when he hit 73.

Now, with the slugger out of sight (and almost out of mind), the young season has developed other story lines. Baltimore's Brian Roberts is an unlikely, but serious, MVP candidate. Arizona and the Chicago White Sox have put together a surprising two-month start of the season. It's just what baseball wanted: a change of subject.

AROUND THE HORN

· Here's one thing almost all Manchester United fans can agree about: no foreign investment. Tampa Bay Devil Rays owner Malcolm Glazer conducted a takeover of the beloved United Kingdom soccer franchise last month at the price of $1.47 billion and seemingly the hatred of an entire nation. When news spread of Mr. Glazer's intentions, Britain's soccer hoodlums protested, carrying signs that, among other things, read, "Yankee Go Home."

· Cleveland Browns hall-of-famer Jim Brown has found someone else to help. Mr. Brown will attempt to rescue Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. from the public-relations debacle he created when he seriously injured himself in a motorcycle accident. Mr. Brown, who has taken an official position with the Browns, said Mr. Winslow needs to communicate to fans how sorry he is. But some suggest that Mr. Brown's free advice is worth what it costs, citing his counsel to Maurice Clarett.

· Ricky Williams has had enough of retirement. The Miami running back who quit football last year after failing drug tests said through his agent that he would report to the Dolphins training camp this summer. Just like his timing in leaving the team just before training camp, Mr. Williams's timing in his comeback was ill-planned. Miami just spent the No. 2 pick in the draft on running back Ronnie Brown from Auburn.

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