Sun, May 07, 2006 - Page 23 News List

It's a lot easier not talking about Bonds

AP , IRVING, TEXAS

Barry Bonds, while playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, slugs his 31st home run against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Sept. 19, 1990. Bonds, now with the San Francisco Giants, has 712 career home runs.

PHOTO: AP

Harmon Killebrew knows records are made to be broken. That's OK with the former American League MVP who hit 573 home runs in Major League Baseball -- as long as those records aren't tainted.

With Barry Bonds close to catching Babe Ruth for second place on the career home run list behind Hank Aaron, while also facing lingering questions about doping, Killebrew isn't sure what to think.

"If they're doing something that is an illegal situation, that's different," Killebrew said on Friday. "That's why I say there's a cloud over baseball right now. You hate to point any fingers at anybody because you don't really know for sure."

A federal grand jury in San Francisco is investigating whether Bonds lied under oath when he said he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.

"You look at some of his pictures in 1998, and you look at him now, it doesn't look like the same ballplayer," Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers said. "The court is still out on whether he did it or whether he didn't do it, but I'm sure we'll find out in the end what the real story is."

But that's not likely to happen before Bonds catches Ruth at 714 homers, a mark the 41-year-old San Francisco Giants slugger was two shy of going into Friday's game at Philadelphia. Aaron hit 755 homers.

"It was going to be broken sooner or later. The guys are just too big and too strong today," former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver said of Ruth's mark. "Dave Winfield and Frank Howard, they were monsters in baseball at their time. Now look at guys, they're all big and strong."

Killebrew, eighth on the career homer list, Fingers and Weaver were among a group of Hall of Famers at a golf fund-raiser to benefit the hall's educational programs. They got a chance to play on the course where the US PGA Tour will be next week for the Byron Nelson Championship.

And a chance to answer questions about Bonds.

"It's a lot easier not talking about it," longtime Pittsburgh second baseman Bill Mazeroski said, though he acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding Bonds hurts baseball.

"I think Bonds is getting penalized for being a fantastic hitter, too," seven-time All-Star pitcher Robin Roberts said. "I never saw a better hitter than Bonds. He was an all-around ballplayer. Of course, he got older and he's not quite so athletic as he was.

"And you can see it's a struggle for him more now physically."

While not specifying Bonds or anyone else, Roberts said there obviously has been a change in the way players take care of themselves, ``something they got involved with.''

Roberts recalled a visit with a former teammate who was a coach in Oakland after playing in an old-timers' game there. When a bulky player walked by them in the clubhouse, Roberts' former teammate said, "Oh, that's steroids. ... He knew what did it."

Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, speaking on Friday at an appearance in Omaha, Nebraska, said records he and others set could be tainted by future Hall of Fame inductees dogged with questions over steroid use.

"My records, Hank Aaron's records, Mickey Mantle's records ... anybody's records you want to pick out -- there's a chance any of them could be tainted to some degree," said Bench, a two-time MVP, 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner who hit 389 home runs.

Ruth held the home run record for more than a half-century before Aaron passed him in 1974. Still, MLB isn't planning any on-field celebration when Bonds hits No. 715 to pass Ruth for second place.

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