San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds hits 755th home run, ties Hank Aaron's record

By: JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer
By: JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Barry Bonds swung, took a half-dozen steps and
clapped his hands. With no trace of a smile but a strong shot for
all the doubters, he caught Hank Aaron and tied the career home run
record Saturday night.
No. 755 was an opposite-field drive to left-center field, moving
Bonds within one swing of having baseball's pinnacle of power all
to himself.
Commissioner Bud Selig stood up and put his hands in his pockets
while Bonds' family hugged and high-fived. When Bonds crossed the
plate, he lifted his batboy son, Nikolai, and carried him several
steps in an embrace.
The Petco Park crowd stood and cheered, with some boos mixed in,
when the San Francisco slugger homered off Clay Hensley in the
second inning. Several fans held up asterisk signs.
Bonds was booed as he headed to left field at the end of the
inning. The 43-year-old star has been shadowed by suspicions of
steroid use for several years, which some fans feel has tainted his
chase for the home run record.
It had been eight days since Bonds hit his 754th home run, and
he came out for early batting practice Saturday, hoping to break
his slump. He did it quickly, homering to lead off the second.
Bonds walked his next time up, in the fourth inning.
Bonds hit the tying homer, in fact, off a former Giants draft
pick who was suspended in 2005 for violating baseball's minor
league steroids policy.
Earlier in the day, Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run. Like
Bonds, he took advantage of his first opportunity of the game,
connecting at Yankee Stadium.
Bonds' milestone shot came at 7:29 p.m. PDT and traveled an
estimated 382 feet. The ball clunked off an advertising sign on the
facade and fell into the navy blue bleachers below - right below
the main scoreboard featuring a giant photo of the smiling slugger.
A fan sitting in that area threw back a ball onto the field, but
that was not the historic ball. The man who ended up with the
prized souvenir was whisked to a secure area so the specially
marked ball could be authenticated.
After Bonds crossed the plate, teammate Ryan Klesko hugged him.
Bonds slowly walked through a greeting line of other Giants.
Moments later, he walked over to the field-level seats and kissed
8-year-old daughter Aisha and wife, Liz, through the screen.
Bonds then lifted his cap before going to the far end of the
dugout and hugging Sue Burns, the wife of late Giants ownership
partner Harmon Burns.
The godson of Willie Mays and the son of an All-Star outfielder,
Bonds seemed destined for greatness from the start. Funny thing,
his speed drew a lot more attention than his strength when he broke
into the majors as a lanky leadoff hitter.
Even when Bonds became a threat to Aaron's record, many fans
thought age would slow him down. Instead, his power numbers surged
- as did speculation about steroid use.
Bonds steadfastly denied that he knowingly used
performance-enhancing drugs and let the allegations bounce off him,
the same way fastballs deflected off his bulky body armor.
Choking up an inch or so on his favorite maple bats, No. 25
became the No. 1 target for boobirds outside the Bay Area. Bonds
was constantly shadowed by doubts rather than showered in affection
the way Mark McGwire was nearly a decade ago.
The whole baseball world - the whole country, really - joined
the celebration when McGwire broke Roger Maris' season home run
record in 1998. After Big Mac launched No. 62, he pointed to
heaven, hoisted his son and hugged Sammy Sosa.
Yet that story did not have a happy ending. Disgraced by a poor
performance in front of a congressional panel looking into
steroids, McGwire basically became a recluse and never came close
in his first bid to make the Hall of Fame.
Bonds broke McGwire's mark of 70, hitting 73 homers in 2001.
Ever since, he's been on a path toward Aaron, a journey that hasn't
been full of joy. Bonds has been hobbled by bad knees and bickered
with Giants management, and his chase was hardly backed by Selig.
A lot of fans, in fact, are already rooting for the day when
Bonds' record falls. While Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas
are next up among active players, Rodriguez is considered the most
likely successor. The Yankees star just turned 32 and is well ahead
of Bonds' pace at the same age.
That said, Bonds' quest was the main reason Giants owner Peter
Magowan brought Bonds back for a 15th season in San Francisco,
signing the slugger to a $15.8 million, one-year contract right
before spring training.
Even with Bonds at 755, there is bound to be a split among many
fans over who is the real home run champ.
There will be some who always consider Babe Ruth as the best -
those old films of him wearing a crown will last forever. Others
will give that honor to Aaron, as much for his slugging as his
quiet dignity in breaking Ruth's record in 1974.
While steroids tinged Bonds' chase, race was the predominant
issue when Aaron took aim at Ruth's mark of 714.
Aaron dealt with hate mail and death threats from racist fans
who thought a black man was not worthy of breaking the record set
by a white hero, the beloved Babe. Bonds, too, has said he deals
with racial issues and that threats have been made on his life at
times.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-08-04-07 2314EDT


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