Bud's in the house

July, 25, 2007
07/25/07
1:32
AM ET
SAN FRANCISCO -- Such is the state of sports in the past week that Bud Selig suddenly finds himself in an unfamiliar spot. He's finally the commissioner with the least amount of controversy in his lap.

No umpires are under investigation for fixing scores in his league. None of his players have been charged with running dogfighting rings. And best of all, it's been weeks since Donald Fehr last publicly complained about how underpaid the players are.

On the other hand, Selig does have this one little nagging issue: Barry Bonds is about to break Hank Aaron's all-time record. Under normal circumstances, such an event should be cause for celebration, with big numbers hanging on warehouse walls, families tying yellow ribbons around old oak trees, and sailors kissing nurses in Times Square. But because of the surrounding circumstances -- did Bonds use illegal performance enhancers on his way to the game's most cherished record? -- it is a murkier situation. For months the commissioner refused to even say whether he would show up for the historic moment, saying he would wait for the "appropriate time" to make his decision.

That appropriate time turned out to be Monday night while he sat at home in Milwaukee watching Bonds and the Giants play on TV.

"I felt it was the right thing to do," Selig said of joining the Bonds chase Tuesday in San Francisco. "I decided I would rather be here than sitting at home watching the game on TV and listening to my wife grumble about me watching the game on TV."

That's hardly a ringing endorsement of Bonds -- I'd rather watch Barry break the home run record than listen to my wife nag -- but it will have to do for now. Selig said he will watch the next couple games here in San Francisco, fly to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction this weekend, then "probably" rejoin the home run chase if Barry hasn't broken the record by then.

He could be in for a long road trip. Tuesday was Barry's birthday, and he looked every bit his 43 years. He grounded out in his first at-bat, singled his second time up, struck out looking his third time up on a beautiful pitch, popped up in the ninth, struck out looking again in the 10th, and walked in the 13th. He let an easily catchable fly ball drop in for a single in Atlanta's three-run fourth inning but made a nice sliding catch in the 10th.

Bonds has eight home runs in the past 10 weeks. At that pace, the record home run might not come until San Francisco's next homestand in two weeks.

Manager Bruce Bochy said he would wait to see whether Bonds needs a day off Wednesday.

Selig released an official statement announcing his decision, in which he went out of his way to say that "every citizen is innocent until proven guilty." What is interesting about that is Bonds hasn't been charged with any crimes.

A baseball official confirmed that Ari Fleischer, the former presidential press secretary, had a hand in crafting it. When you call in a presidential spokesman to release a statement about someone in a plastic helmet hitting baseballs, you know people are taking things a little too seriously.

Selig declined to say whether he will take part in an on-field celebration when the record is broken, deferring the decision to the Giants. Asked whether his presence is an endorsement of Bonds, he replied, "Everyone has to make their own evaluation on that."

Which is the way it should be. Whether you support Bonds or not, you don't need the commissioner's endorsement or approval. Make up your own mind, then root or boo as you see fit. As Selig himself put it, "I always say to all of you that the focus should be on the field. And whether the commissioner is there won't change the fate of the western world."

So it isn't crucial that Bud be here, but it is good the commissioner is on hand now. After all, he and everyone else credited the pumped-up Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for "saving baseball" in 1998 and increasing the game's popularity, so it would be hypocritical to distance ourselves from such players now.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
Author of "The Devil Wears Pinstripes" and winner of a Sports Emmy. Reported from 17 World Series, 9 Olympics, 6 continents.

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