Ken Garcia: Barry Bonds may be a jerk, but he’s not the devil incarnate

As Barry Bonds chases — and breaks — some of the most cherished records in baseball, the only thing growing faster than the number of press in attendance is the accompanying hyperbole.

Now that Bonds is in the company of the baseball gods — Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron — there are forces at work determined to make sure that the gimpy left-fielder gets his devilish due. If fear strikes out on the baseball diamond, it also strikes at those who would dare join a lineup of fabled heroes now held up as immaculate individuals who did everything with dignity, honor and grace.

You know, like Babe Ruth, who built the house at Yankee Stadium but liked to fill his primary abode with booze and hookers.

I could care less what the Babe did in his day or on his days off, and I’ll always have fond memories of the sports heroes of long ago, since their contributions framed American history with a certain innocence that has long since passed. I grew up in a household that held John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt in such reverence that we had pictures of them in the house next to Jesus’ picture — but the ensuing revelations about their personal lives over the years have shown them to be flawed and perhaps worse. I can still cling to the black-and-white memories but the truth is out there — in living color.

So it’s almost sad — and a tad amusing — that the press corps would be falling over itself to paint Bonds as an evil character who doesn’t deserve his place in

baseball’s hallowed halls — since he earned it long before there were rules about drugs in a sports hierarchy that is so hypocritical that it should be dismissed out of hand.

You think there’s no crying in baseball? Only if you got hit by a beanball several months ago and haven’t seen the latest flush of fire-breathing commentary.

It’s hardly a secret that Bonds is not a very nice guy, since the words arrogant, distant, cold, jealous, angry and self-serving show up on his journalistic stat sheet almost daily. But should he be hanged, as one ESPN radio host ranted recently? Or compared to Richard Nixon, as one Philadelphia writer did? Or likened to an alleged child molester or alleged murderer, as another scribe did in comparing him to Michael Jackson and O. J. Simpson?

The spate of stories outlining Bonds’ alleged atrocities usually don’t include one little fact — that he has never beenfound guilty of anything except being an imperious jerk. For fans and presumably less fanatic journalists to suggest that he alone should be held accountable for baseball’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy on steroids is as skewed as some of the rhetoric now foaming on mouths across the nation.

The bench of suspected cheaters in sports is deep and noteworthy — but no one has suggested that asterisks be placed next to legendary names like Mark McGwire or Gaylord Perry. Indeed, Major League Baseball hyped the McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race to help fans forget that the sport’s commissioner canceled the 1994 World Series — one of the more shameful and regrettable episodes in the history of modern sports. But now it wants to finally lift its head from the sand and investigate steroids in baseball? That truly does deserve a footnote.

I’m not defending any of Bond’s alleged actions. But the rush to judgment has now gotten so out of hand it borders on the ridiculous. The most sacred records in sports are not really sacred — they’re just milestones reached by average people with extraordinary athletic abilities. Bonds had Hall of Fame credentials years before there was even a peep about doping — but that slippery detail has been placed on the disabled list.

Bonds has managed to bring the world against him. But being hated and being sainted are two traits not far apart, at least with the passage of time.

Hank Aaron received some of the most horrible hate mail and death threats when he was closing in on Ruth’s records, and now “The Hammer” is only viewed as a man who coped with it honorably. Ty Cobb was arguably among the most wretched figures in sports history — yet his record batting average still stands, and likely will never be challenged.

But it could. Kobe Bryant came close to Wilt Chamberlain’s single-game scoring record this season. It didn’t make him a better human being. But nobody was talking about his alleged sexual assault that night or throwing hotel keys onto the court.

Time wounds all heels. Yet it often brings forgiveness as well.

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