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Saturday, May 20, 2006
Bonds' historic homer met with mixed emotions

Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Tyler Snyder caught Barry Bonds' 714th homer on the fly Saturday, snagging it cleanly with his glove. The people around the 19-year-old Athletics fan cheered wildly, with nobody assaulting or gouging the holder of the latest Bonds souvenir.

Bonds got a standing ovation from the Bay Area's forgiving faithful -- and then Snyder got to speak the minds of millions of baseball lovers who see Bonds as the game's greatest antihero.

"I hate that guy," Snyder told reporters before he was whisked away. "I don't really care for the guy."

But Snyder's perfect catch was a rare moment of grace in this ragged, tainted quest for baseball immortality by Bonds, who ended a nine-game homer drought with a second-inning solo shot for the San Francisco Giants. Fans stood and applauded, and Bonds' peers acknowledged another milestone.

I hate that guy. I don't really care for the guy.
Baseball fan Tyler Snyder on Giants slugger Barry Bonds

"He finally hit it? It's about time," said Ken Griffey Jr., who entered the night with 539 career homers, in the Cincinnati Reds' clubhouse in Detroit. "Now I don't have to keep watching TV to see him do it."

Fans, players and managers across the majors reacted with the same mix of admiration and trepidation that's characterized Bonds' every achievement since his 73-homer season in 2001 and late-career power binge fell under strong suspicion of steroid use.

But nearly every fan in the Coliseum joined in a standing ovation when the homer settled into the stands -- even a guy right behind home plate wearing a No. 25 Giants jersey with the word "BALCO" stitched where "BONDS" should be.

Across the nation, the Mets posted a message on the Shea Stadium scoreboard moments after Bonds' homer -- and the Subway Series fans booed. When a similar message went on the scoreboard at Dodger Stadium, the boos from the crowd of 55,587 were more understandable, given the Giants' archrival status.

"I still remember Barry Bonds as a great player, regardless of steroids or what," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "How many home runs would he have hit without whatever people are saying is going on? I don't know. I know one thing: That player-wise, he's pretty good."

Giants fans packed their waterfront ballpark last week, hoping Bonds would reach another milestone at home. The scene atop the right-field arcade resembled a mosh pit most days, but no homers reached the fans.

His drought stretched through three games in Houston and the series opener in Oakland, where he made the last out in the A's win on Friday night. But Bonds wasted no time on a gorgeous East Bay afternoon, hitting a line-drive homer off Brad Halsey for No. 714.

"It's a shame that ... such a historic moment has a cloud over it," Marlins manager Joe Girardi said. "He's a special player for a long time. My rookie year was '89, he was a great player then. He accomplished a lot of wonderful things before people started speculating. I thought he was a greatest player I saw personally in the '90s."

As news of the homer trickled throughout the league, both points of view on Bonds' unique career were heard.

Even Bonds' enemies had a grudging respect: Astros reliever Russ Springer was suspended for four games Friday for hitting Bonds earlier in the week in the latest chapter of their feud.

"Neutral," Springer said of his attitude toward the accomplishment. "I'm not anti-Barry Bonds. I'm not pro-Barry Bonds. He's a good player. I enjoy watching him play. He's one of the better hitters. I'm just glad he didn't hit it here, and he can hit all he wants somewhere else."

Retired veterans expressed restrained admiration for Bonds, who passed Frank Robinson and Willie Mays while climbing the charts in recent years.

"I think if you're going to be a realist, the home run is certainly not what it used to be," said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, now an Orioles broadcaster. "If you ever saw Frank play or if you ever saw (Hank) Aaron play or if you ever saw Mays play, you realize that 580 home runs is a lot of home runs, and that 660 home runs is a lot of home runs. ... Because of what went on from '88 to 2003, it's a different era."

When asked if Bonds' accomplishments are tainted, Palmer said: "Of course. What (Mark) McGwire did was tainted."

As for Snyder, the teenage holder of the next horsehide lottery ticket, he was whisked from Section 146 to his home in suburban Pleasanton in an Oakland police cruiser.

Mets closer Billy Wagner, who served up one of Bonds' homers this season, is friendly with the slugger and was glad to hear about No. 714.

"I'm happy for him," Wagner said. "They should celebrate in baseball. There's no guilty verdict yet."