Like him or not, legitimate or not, Barry Bonds is baseball's new home run king.
Bonds hit career homer No. 756 on Tuesday, breaking the record held for 33 years by Hank Aaron.
Bonds connected with a full-count fastball from Washington's Mike Bacsik, sending the ball high into the San Francisco night, 435 feet (133m) into the right-center field seats.
Later, he answered the query on everybody's mind, rejecting any suggestion that this milestone was stained by steroids.
"This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period," Bonds said.
Conspicuous by their absence were Major League Baseball's commissioner Bud Selig and Hammerin' Hank himself.
Though he was on hand for the tying homer three days ago, deciding to put baseball history ahead of the suspicions plaguing the Giants slugger, Selig wasn't there for the record-breaker.
As for Aaron, he said all along he had no interest in being there whenever and wherever his mark was broken. He was true to his word, but he did offer a taped message of congratulations that played on the stadium's scoreboard as the game paused for 10 minutes.
"It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity and determination," Aaron said.
"Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historic achievement," he said.
"My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams," Aaron said.
A woman who answered the phone at Aaron's home in Georgia shortly after Bonds' homer said Aaron was asleep.
"When I saw Hank Aaron that made everything," Bonds said. "We've always loved him. He's always the home run king."
With a long, satisfied stare, Bonds watched as the ball sailed over the fence and disappeared into the scrum in the first few rows. Then he raised both arms over his head like a victorious prize fighter, fists clenched, and took off to round the bases.
"I knew I hit it," Bonds said. "I knew I got it. I was like, phew, finally."
His 17-year-old batboy son Nikolai was bouncing on home plate as Dad rounded third. After a long embrace, the rest of the family joined in -- his mother, two daughters and wife. And then there was baseball legend Willie Mays, who removed his cap and congratulated his godson.
Bonds saved his most poignant words for last, addressing his late father, Bobby.
"My dad," he said, looking to the sky and choking back tears. "Thank you."
Bonds got his wish of breaking the record at home, perhaps the only place where he knew the cheers would outnumber the jeers from those who strongly suspect him of steroid abuse.
Those suspicions mean Aaron, or the great Babe Ruth -- who now sit below him in the homer record books -- will still be regarded by many as the true slugging kings.
The unfortunate pitcher Bacsik received a footnote in history and autographed bat from Bonds for his part in the moment.
"I dreamed about it as a kid, but when I dreamed about it, I was the one hitting the home run and not giving it up," Bacsik said.
"I didn't really want to be part of history as a bad part, but I am," he said. "I'm OK with it."
A fan wearing a New York Mets jersey wound up with the historic ball, valued at US$400,000 to US$500,000. Matt Murphy of New York emerged from the stands with the souvenir and a bloodied face, and was whisked to a secure room.
A seven-time NL MVP, the 43-year-old Bonds also holds the single-season homer record of 73, breaking Mark McGwire's mark in 2001.
The promise of this big night was the main reason Giants owner Peter Magowan compromised on tough contract negotiations to bring back his star left fielder for a 15th season in San Francisco, signing him to a US$15.8 million, one-year deal.
Bonds' once-rapid quest for the record had slowed in recent years as his age and balky knees diminished his pace. He hit 258 home runs from 2000 to 2004, but has only 53 since then.
Bonds was destined for stardom at an early age. The son of All-Star outfielder Bobby Bonds and the godson of one of the game's greatest players, Bonds spent his childhood years roaming the clubhouse at Candlestick Park, getting tips from Mays and other Giants.
In a matter of years, Bonds went from a wiry leadoff hitter with Pittsburgh in 1986 to a bulked-up slugger. That transformation is at the heart of his many doubters, who believe Bonds cheated to accomplish his feats and should not be considered the record-holder.
There are plenty of fans already hoping for the day that Bonds' total -- whatever it ends up -- is topped. New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez may have the best chance, with his 500 home runs at age 32 far ahead of Bonds' pace.
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Bonds hits No. 756, but Washington win
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