Bonds hammered as he nears Hank

Unlike Aaron and Ruth, Bonds has garnered little respect or adulation.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Baseball’s home run record ranks as the most prized in all of American sports, coming with a title that reflects its regality.

Is Barry Bonds so worthy?

Babe Ruth was a true Home Run King, reaching the feat in a fashion fit for the excesses of the Roaring Twenties — a big-swinging, big-eating, big-drinking lovable slugger who was among the country’s first sports heroes.

His mark spanned the decades and different social attitudes until 1974. The man who broke it did so during a new era in baseball, while the issue of race still smoldered after the tumultuous 1960s.

To this day, Hank Aaron is respected more than adored as his reign nears its end. Bonds approaches the Hammer’s record of 755 shrouded in controversy.

And there are many who believe Bonds’ crown will never shine so brightly.

Unloved athlete

Bonds is getting little respect or adulation from the public as he nears the mark — and for that he might have himself to blame, despite recent efforts to be more personable.

He has long been known for a prickly, selfish personality and a strained relationship with the media, which has only grown more contentious since allegations of steroid use began overshadowing his long list of accomplishments on the field.

“That’s too bad, because Barry is such a great and unique talent. He should be celebrated for that,” said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the player widely thought to be the next challenger for the home run record.

“His numbers are mind-boggling. If you see some of those numbers he had going back five, six, seven years ago, those numbers are Babe Ruth-like, if not better,” A-Rod said. “There’s no one comparable in the game.”

But instead of being remembered for the home runs, a record seven MVP awards, 500-plus stolen bases, eight Gold Gloves, more than a dozen All-Star selections and countless other on-field achievements, the words most observers will always associate with Bonds are BALCO and steroids.

Top talent

Like him or not, Bonds’ powerful swing, acute hand-eye coordination and ability to block out all of his off-field distractions are what his peers constantly praise.

“No one does it like him,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said. “He has the best eyes I’ve ever seen.”

Health concerns, accusations and any perceived slights aside, Bonds is still the most feared slugger in the game.

“Records are made to be broken,” Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. “I don’t deal in hearsay. I look at what a guy does on the field. I don’t deal with what people say. What he did in the 2002 World Series, I never saw anyone dominate like he did. He’s unbelievable, what he’s done.”

Whenever he does it, Ruth’s legacy will live on. A hefty man whose game-day diet consisted of hot dogs and beer, Ruth pitched in two World Series and always will be considered by most aficionados as the greatest home run hitter ever.

“In my mind, Babe Ruth is the greatest home-run hitter of all time. Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player of all time,” said Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Eric Byrnes, who grew up a Giants fan in Northern California.

“But, of the modern-day era, dating back to and including Hank Aaron’s era and now today’s era, I believe Barry Bonds is the greatest home run hitter of all time. What he’s done at the ballparks where he played — taking into account Pittsburgh back in the day, Candlestick Park, and now at AT&T — not one of those parks was a hitter friendly park.

“He’s done that all the while being one of the most selective and patient hitters in all of baseball. The numbers aren’t going to lie. He’s going to pass Hank and he is going to go on to hit probably 800-plus home runs.”

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