Hot on the heels - or should that be pedals? - of the doping scandals which engulfed last month's Tour de France, which saw both the pre-race favourite, Alexandre Vinokourov, and the then yellow jersey, Michael Rasmussen, leave in disgrace mid-race, comes another, largely unwelcome, high profile drugs-related story.
Last night, in a Major League Baseball game against the Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants' slugger Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run. In so doing, he broke Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755 which had stood for 33 years. It is the most revered statistic in baseball; perhaps the single most notable stat in all American sports. It would be like someone beating Dixie Dean's 60 goals in an English top-flight season, or surpassing Pele's career goalscoring record - if anything, it's even bigger than that.
It had to happen eventually. Despite the constant torrents of boos from opposition fans all over the US and the clamour from some fans and media calling for him to retire before breaking the record, the only thing likely to ever stop Bonds from achieving his goal was serious injury to his 43-year old body. And that simply didn't happen.
He has beaten the record with agonising slowness, a combination of being regularly rested by his team and his own poor form contributing to progress which has been more of a crawl than a sprint finish. It is almost as if he has been taunting all the naysayers by dragging it out over the longest possible time.
Why is Big Bad Barry so despised?
Well, there is the clear association between his trainer, Greg Anderson, and the Balco scandal in 2003, which revealed the widespread use of illegal performance-enhancing substances such as THG across athletes in all American sports. Bonds himself has always testified that he has never knowingly - what a loaded word that is! - taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs, but the fact remains that Anderson himself was jailed for his part in the Balco operation. Read into that what you will.
And, over the course of his professional career, there is the visible evidence that Bonds has grown in several key dimensions - chest size, neck size and so on - which, in fairness, can be reasonably attributed to hours invested in the weights room and the natural process of ageing. But perhaps more telling are claims that his shoes are three sizes larger than in the early days of his career, not something which is commonly seen through natural growth or gym work. Draw your own conclusions.
I must say, I've seen Bonds play, both live and on TV. He has always been brutishly strong which, coupled with naturally exceptional hand-eye co-ordination and fast hands mean that he would always have been an outstanding talent. But for his home run productivity to accelerate sharply beyond the age of 35, when the effects of ageing clearly start to outweigh any benefits of experience, is - to say the least - highly questionable.
Like any accused person, Barry Bonds is innocent until proven guilty. But although nothing may ever be proven against him, his reputation among the majority of fans is irreparably tarnished, and his entry into baseball's record books will always be accompanied by an unwritten asterisk.
Having said all this, despite the growing hysteria this story has created in the US over the past few months, it is also important to keep things in perspective. This is not a tragedy in the way that Heysel or the Munich air crash were.
And yet, for true fans who want to believe in the pure, unaided talent of our sporting heroes, it IS a tragedy.
One final footnote. In spite of Bonds' efforts, San Francisco lost the game 8-6. That is a matter of recorded fact. Symbolically, many fans will feel that baseball as a whole was the loser last night, and will wish that the most memorable record in baseball is now one best forgotten.
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3 years ago