There has been little celebration this year in baseball as one of the game's most reviled figures is on the cusp of breaking its most revered record.
San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, just four home runs shy of the career mark of 755 set by Hank Aaron, is a hero in the Bay Area but mostly a pariah to the rest of America. There will be a wild ovation tonight in AT&T Park when he is introduced in the starting lineup for Major League Baseball's 78th All-Star Game, but that would only happen in San Francisco.
Instead of being given the reverence 751 home runs should bring, Bonds has been booed at every stop on the road for several years. It's largely because of the widespread implications that he used performance-enhancing steroids to give him the chance to become the game's home run king.
"It's my town, my friends, my people," Bonds said Monday as he was swarmed by media during a news conference in the Westin St. Francis hotel. "I'm having a good time, and I'm going to enjoy it."
Bonds has had a pretty good season, particularly for a 42-year-old. He's batting .295 and has team highs of 17 home runs and 42 runs batted in. But when it didn't look like he was going to get voted into the starting lineup in fan balloting, the Giants set up computer terminals in the ballpark to give Bonds a final push.
That move proved decisive as he was elected to one of the three starting outfield slots in the National League. He's going to bat second in the lineup tonight.
"I'm excited I have about 2 million friends that you guys didn't know about," Bonds said jokingly, referring to the number of votes he received.
Wearing a white shirt, a tie and a gray vest, Bonds was mobbed by several hundred members of the media Monday. As he does through all interviews, he held a digital recorder in his left hand to tape the session. His distrust of the media is often a topic on his personal Web site and has been a hallmark of his career. So has his churlish behavior at times with teammates and foes.
Still, few players have criticized Bonds. Fellow All-Stars roundly supported him Monday.
"This is awesome for baseball," said New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, the player most people -- including Bonds -- say will someday own the home run record. "He's an amazing athlete. He does things no one else in our game has done, and I don't think what he's doing should get caught up in all that [stuff]."
That, um, stuff is pretty serious.
For four years, Bonds has been one of the key figures in the BALCO scandal that has rocked the sports world and touched athletes in track and field, football and baseball. BALCO, short for the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, is a California company that has been under fire since 2003 for providing steroids and human growth hormones to athletes.
Bonds' record-setting 73-home run season in 2001 came after his trainer, Greg Anderson, met with BALCO founder Victor Conte. Bonds has yet to be charged in the mess (Anderson has served jail time), but Bonds' grand jury testimony was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004. In it, he admitted using substances supplied by the lab but claimed he did not know they were steroids.
Speculation persists he may be indicted at some point on perjury. Bring the subject up, and you get the wrath of Barry.
"Do you know me? Do you know what have I done? Do you know anything I've done?" Bonds said Monday, his anger growing with each question. "Have you seen me do anything wrong? I asked you a question, so how can you judge me? It's a game, man. I'm not changing the world."
Still, the shadow of Bonds getting the record in a tainted fashion is too much for baseball's old guard to bear. Fans routinely hold up placards with asterisks. Aaron has already said he won't be around for No. 756.
"If I chased behind Barry, then I would be endorsing everything Barry's doing," Aaron told the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post last month. "There are still allegations and court cases open, and I don't want to be part of it."
Commissioner Bud Selig is the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, the team Aaron finished his career with in 1976. Selig hasn't committed to being in the stands, either. Bonds said Monday he's not worried about their absences.
"Hank has a life, too," Bonds said. "Hey, it can go weeks. Do we expect the man to travel the entire continent and put everything he has on hold? It's not fair to him."
Bonds admitted he has dealt with racial threats this season, just as Aaron did in 1974 when he broke Babe Ruth's long-standing record of 714 home runs. Last week in St. Louis, a fan taunted Bonds by wearing a large, oversized helmet (steroid usage is often accompanied by growth of the head).
"Hey, I'm not treated that bad on the road," Bonds insisted. "You go out there on the road and you hear, 'Boooooooooooooo-click-click.' They're booing, but those cameras are all flashing.
"My thing is that I feel disappointed when so many people are influenced by third-party judgments. They don't try to know me. People in San Francisco know me. Fans in other cities only see me three days. I've done nothing wrong to you. I've gone to your stadium and tried to entertain you."
"If you find something on him, then I'll be right there with you guys," said Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter. "But you haven't found anything. Hank Aaron should be there. Bud Selig should be there. This is big. They should celebrate it."
Chasing baseball's greatest record
755 - Henry Aaron's mark for most home runs all-time.
751 - Barry Bonds, above, is just four home runs shy of Aaron's record.