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Last Updated: Monday, 29 May 2006, 06:01 GMT 07:01 UK
Beating the Babe
By Alex Trickett

Barry Bonds surrounded by a wall of legends
Bonds has long been in the shadow of Babe Ruth (left)
Following in the footsteps of Babe Ruth has never been easy.

Just ask Hank Aaron, who had the temerity to pass the "Bambino's" career home runs record in 1974, or Roger Maris, the first man to topple Ruth's single season home runs mark in 1961.

Barry Bonds finally joined their club against Colorado Rockies on Sunday, when he smacked his 715th career homer, one better than Ruth managed and 40 behind the all-time leader Aaron on 755.

And he - like Maris and Aaron before him - has been much maligned for threatening Ruth's mark.

The precedent was set 45 years ago.

When Maris hit his 61st home run, he voiced his regret at having eclipsed Ruth's record of 60.

"I wish I had never broken that record. I wish I had gotten to 59 and just stopped right there," said the New York Yankee, who also confessed that his hair had fallen out due to stress.

I got Ruth's slugging percentage and I'll take his home runs and that's it - don't talk about him no more
Barry Bonds

Maris was vilified by the nation and even had to deal with baseball commissioner Ford Frick putting an asterisk by his new record to reflect the fact that he had played in more games than Ruth.

"They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. What did I get for hitting 61? Nothing," said Maris who died in 1985, six years before the asterisk by his name was removed.

He had it easy compared to Aaron.

At a time when America was still gripped by the demons of segregation, the black star found himself the target of terrible abuse.

He was sent thousands of letters per day as he closed in on Ruth, many of them from racists threatening to kill him for chasing down the milestone of a white American icon.

"I just thank God it's all over," said Aaron after hitting homer number 715.

CAREER HOME RUN RECORD
Aaron is now revered and not reviled for his feats with the bat
755: Hank Aaron
715: Barry Bonds
714: Babe Ruth
660: Willie Mays

Bonds, the subject of angry newspaper columns across the USA all year, has done more to cast himself as a villain than Maris or Aaron, who were both simply victims of circumstance.

The San Francisco Giants slugger is inextricably tangled up in the Balco drugs scandal through his coach Greg Anderson, who was convicted of steroid distribution.

Bonds now draws extra security wherever he plays to prevent booing fans from throwing items, including syringes, at him.

He has denied ever knowingly using banned substances, but few fans outside of San Francisco are prepared to accept his denial.

Bonds' public persona was tainted long before the Balco saga came to light. He rarely conducts interviews and invariably comes across as brash and arrogant when he does.

"The only number I care about is Babe Ruth's," said Bonds at the 2003 All-Star Game.

SINGLE SEASON HOME RUN LEADERS
73: Barry Bonds
70: Mark McGwire
66: Sammy Sosa
61: Roger Maris
60: Babe Ruth

"In the baseball world, Babe Ruth's everything, right? I got his slugging percentage and I'll take his home runs and that's it. Don't talk about him no more."

No amount of bad press changes the fact that Bonds is one of the most devastating batters to step inside a baseball diamond.

And Bonds took a less provocative approach on Sunday after finally eclipsing Ruths mark.

It's a great honour, it's a wonderful honour," Bonds said. "Hank Aaron to me is the home run king and I won't disrespect that ever.

"Babe Ruth has 714 home runs but Hank has 755. I have a lot of respect for Babe Ruth and I have a lot of respect for what he's done for the game of baseball, but I have to give the head up to Hank Aaron because he is the home run king."

Bonds - like Maris and Aaron - has had the misfortune to feel the weight of Ruth's shadow at a key moment of his career.

Despite the controversy surrounding him, Bonds has a place high up on the ladder of baseball legends.

But that place will always be on a rung below Ruth, the first great home-run hitter and the man who changed the way baseball was played forever.



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