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Under fire, Bonds eyes history

Congratulations to Barry Bonds -- in back-to-back games, the San Francisco Giants slugger has tied and surpassed his godfather, Willie Mays, for third place on the all-time home-run list.

Only four players in baseball history have hit 600-plus homers, and now Bonds (with 661) eyes the only two with 700-plus: Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714).

The 660 milestone probably doesn't mean as much to fans nationwide as it does to fans in San Francisco, who have always identified No. 660 with Mays.

Mays and Bobby Bonds, who died last year, were close friends -- which is why Mays became the godfather to Bonds' son, Barry. After starting his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Barry is now in his 12th season with the Giants. Mays said he was glad Barry hit No. 660 in a Giants uniform.

Certain home-run numbers in baseball stand out to me: 755 and 714, of course, but also 521 (Ted Williams) and 512 (Ernie Banks), among others. I couldn't tell you (without checking) how many home runs Reggie Jackson or Mike Schmidt or Harmon Killebrew hit, but I know they each hit 500-plus.

Steroid Accusations Fly Too Easily
Bonds' assault on these cherished home-run records has been tarnished somewhat by all the accusations and innuendoes he's faced regarding steroid use.

So far, all the fingers are pointing at the sluggers, but we don't know how many pitchers or non-sluggers have used steroids. MLB needs to identify and discipline every player who uses steroids, not just the sluggers who are having their names dragged through the mud.

My personal feeling is that if anyone uses steroids, I hope they get caught. But until it's proven that an individual is guilty, we should be more responsible in our reporting of the story. There have been lots of irresponsible accusations and reports thrown at Barry Bonds -- from former teammate Andy Van Slyke to pitcher Turk Wendell to writers who simply assume Bonds has taken steroids.

They might be convinced that their assumptions are correct, but we haven't seen evidence to back up their assertions. Until that evidence appears, Bonds should be perceived as innocent until proven guilty. If the FBI has proof that any players involved in the BALCO investigation are guilty, it should release the information outright instead of leaking information, as it has been doing.

Meanwhile, Aaron -- who I have the utmost respect for -- recently spoke out in anger because some of the great records from the past are being assaulted by players who use steroids. Aaron didn't mention Bonds or any other players.

But based on the numbers released by MLB from last year's testing during spring training, we know that 5-7 percent of players tested positive for steroids (this spring's numbers have yet to be released). And I believe the actual percentage is higher. These were anonymous tests, so baseball hasn't published the results or names.

Aaron is concerned not only with his record but also with baseball's other key records. He's frustrated, he said, because he and his contemporaries achieved their numbers naturally.

It also has been reported that commissioner Bud Selig met with Bonds and offered him leniency if he came clean now about his alleged steroid use. But I know with 100 percent certainty that this is inaccurate -- it's an example of irresponsible reporting. Selig and Bonds did meet, but it was a friendly meeting. They discussed some of the problems in the game, but nothing along those lines.

Better Testing Needed
The only way to prove anyone guilty of steroid use is to continue and broaden drug testing. MLB instituted testing last year and has administered tests this spring. Many say that MLB's drug testing is not up to Olympic or NFL standards, and that might be true. But it's the agreement that the players association and MLB made (as part of the collective bargaining agreement).

I would like to see a stronger testing policy, one which administers both scheduled and unscheduled tests. The current system employs only scheduled tests, but it's important to have tests where players have no advance notice -- not randomly at MLB's whim, but at a time players don't expect.


It definitely would bother me if it turns out that any of the big offensive numbers of the past decade were accumulated with the help of steroids. But even if that's true in some instances, I'm not in favor of altering the record book or putting an asterisk by those stats. It would be too difficult to determine where to begin, because we don't know for sure about steroid use five or 10 years ago.

Besides, an asterisk wouldn't solve the problem. The problem is that MLB waited too long to address the steroid issue, whereas other organizations (NFL, NBA, International Olympic Committee) have been testing for several years already.

I'll tell you what could solve the problem, though. If a player is guilty of two steroid-related offenses, he should be treated the same way the Olympic committee treats offenders: ban him from competition (not for life, but for a long time).

There's no question, MLB's testing system is not perfect. But I don't know how we can make it perfect overnight. We all would like it to be perfect starting tomorrow, but MLB can't go from where it was (no testing) to perfect in one short year.

Some argue that players who use illegal drugs should be banned, too. I understand such thinking, except that drug addiction has been demonstrated to be an illness, while steroids are used strictly to enhance performance. And illegal drugs usually harm on-field performance -- just look at the careers of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry -- while steroids are taken specifically to better one's achievement. Of course, steroids can do serious harm to the body, but a player takes them with the idea of gaining an unfair and illegal advantage.

Why is drug use considered an illness while steroid use isn't? I'm not exactly sure, but it might be because society considers drug use an addiction. Drug use can destroy the user, while steroid use can do that and potentially destroy the game of baseball and its cherished records.

In the meantime, let's ease off on the accusations unless there's definite evidence. And let's enjoy the ride as one of the greatest players in baseball history makes a run at the greatest record in sports.

An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back World Series and MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76. He contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.