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08/05/07 1:31 AM ET
Bonds joins Aaron on mountaintop
Maybe, someday, technology will unite Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. If we can see Nat King Cole duet with Natalie 30 years after his death, perhaps one day we will see Aaron embrace Bonds. For the time being, they're in the same place only historically, while physically thousands of miles apart. And Aaron can only brace himself, for Bonds to knock him down a peg in the baseball pantheon. Bonds reached Aaron's pedestal Saturday night in San Diego, but The Hammer wasn't there to welcome him. That was a lamentable aspect of a compelling evening, one which stirred emotions, challenged cynics to cheer with their hearts and not with their heads, and left you with a lump in the throat for the sheer magnetism of the occasion. Bonds scaled the final stories into the homer penthouse as the most polarizing player of his generation. But whichever pole flies your flag, is he now a co-holder of the greatest individual record in American sports? You bet your asterisk. And you San Franciscans: Start getting your party groove on. The sign hanging from Mayor Gavin Newsom's balcony flipped to 755 Saturday night, but that was just the start of the civic blowout. Not expected to play in Sunday's series finale against the Padres, Bonds will be coming home with his 755 for a gala celebration in AT&T Park prior to Monday night's series opener against Washington. Among those in his reception line will be Willie Mays, who all along has promised to join his godson's posse at 755. And Bonds will have all week -- first against the Nationals, then the Pirates -- to torch the ultimate shindig with the record-breaking No. 756. So, Dave Roberts, the world indeed can be perfect. Prior to the beginning of the Giants' last homestand, the center fielder had said, "In a perfect world, this is where we'd like it scripted. This is something the fans of San Francisco deserve." But this odyssey has not been about merit as much as about credit. Bonds has been playing to a reluctant crowd that included the man in his cross-hairs. Thirty-three years ago, on the night Aaron homered his way past Babe Ruth, The Bambino's daughter was available to comment on the feat. "The Babe loved baseball so very much," Claire Ruth had said. "I know he was pulling for Hank Aaron to break his record." Ruth passed away 26 years before Aaron passed him. Now, the two greatest home-run hitters of all time are both alive but couldn't be together for mutual bows. Just one of the elements that qualified Bonds' 755th homer as one of the most conflicted episodes in baseball history. Fans in PETCO Park temporarily got swept up in the tide of history to flash and cheer and fist-pump over No. 755, but they and the game's devotees everywhere are confused and cautious about unabashed celebration. Portrait of conflict: The guy in the left-field bleachers triumphantly waving the 755 ball, while people all around him wave asterisk signs. Fans have repeatedly been taught caution, perhaps most flagrantly a couple of years ago. We all went nuts for Rafael Palmeiro's 3,000th hit -- and two weeks later he was in the steroids hoosegow, his career done. So the baseball gods didn't know whether to laugh or cry over No. 755. Rejoice for a grandiose moment in its history? Or lament the insinuations blurring Bonds' portrait on its wall of immortals? It was a seminal moment ... and sobering, too. Except for the little longer it took Bonds to make his way back to the Giants' dugout, the game went on uninterrupted -- another sharp contrast to the road scene when Aaron pulled into his own tie with Ruth in Cincinnati. Then, there was a seven-minute ceremony in which Aaron received plaques from the Reds as well as the Braves, and heard Vice President Gerald Ford hail "a great day for you and a great day for baseball." This one was hardly a grave night for baseball, but the joy definitely felt restrained. Bonds' blow off Clay Hensley was as anticlimactic as they come. We have looked forward to it for more than a week, since he neared within one trot of his destination. He had come across a parade of resolute gunslingers on baseball's Main Street. After escaping him, Florida's Dontrelle Willis had said, "If he did it, I would have been the answer on a game show." The exit line of San Diego's Greg Maddux was, "You don't want to be that guy. I know I didn't want to be that guy." Well, Clay Hensley became that guy. Alex Trebek is already practicing the pronunciation of his name. In the public's love-hate relationship with Bonds, love briefly won out at a half-past seven. At the instant he connected, and maybe only for that instant, all the antagonism felt for him gave in to the sheer majesty of the accomplishment. PETCO Park rocked in salute. The snide signs and thumbs-downs would come out when Bonds assumed his left-field position between innings. But while he circled the bases and bear-hugged Nikolai into the air and kissed wife Liz and daughter Aisha and walked through a gauntlet of teammate high-fives back into the dugout ... the majority of fans cheered. Maybe not for Bonds. Maybe for the number. Maybe especially for Aaron, with the sand dripping out of his hourglass atop the home-run pile.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.