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Downing comes to Bonds' defense

August 02, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

With one swing, Barry Bonds could put a kid through college.

If you catch the ball that Bonds hits to set the all-time home run record, he says the ball is yours, to keep or sell.

"I had a little kid come up to me and say he'd give it back," Bonds said, laughing. "I said, 'Are you stupid? You'd have more money than your parents. They'd owe you.' I said, 'I'll be your trustee.' "

Another day on Bonds Watch passed uneventfully on the field, with Bonds hitless in three at-bats. Another sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium booed him mercilessly throughout the Dodgers' 6-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants, although the loudest boos cascaded forth when the Dodgers walked him intentionally in the eighth inning.

Bonds stalled at 754 home runs, one shy of tying Hank Aaron's all-time record. He is hitting .161 in his last 10 games, with one home run in 31 at-bats.

Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said Bonds would "most likely" play tonight.

Off the field, as Commissioner Bud Selig dodged Bonds and hinted he might stop following him, former Dodgers pitcher Al Downing strongly defended Bonds. The crowd heckled Bonds with "Bar-roids" chants, behavior Downing criticized in the absence of irrefutable proof Bonds used steroids.

"Until people know something, they should just shut up," Downing said.

Downing, perhaps best remembered for giving up Aaron's 715th home run, said fans should not boo simply because they suspect Bonds might have cheated.

"That's because they cheat," Downing said. "A lot of people cheat in their lives. They think, because they cheat, someone else must be cheating.

"Give the guy his due. I think some people don't recognize greatness."

Bonds declined to rate Tuesday's crowd and said paying customers "can say what they want to say" but said his 8-year-old daughter had "a breakdown" at one game here -- before Tuesday -- over the treatment her father had received. He said his daughter was very distraught at the time but is fine now.

Still, he asked a group of reporters at his locker, "Do you want your child to hear some of those things about you?"

Selig maintained his ambivalence about Bonds, calling the record "the greatest record in American sports" and delighting in recalling the exact date Aaron broke Babe Ruth's mark -- April 8, 1974 -- but describing the saga of following Bonds' chase for the record -- and deciding whether to do so -- as "a tough experience."

After Bonds hit No. 753, Selig watched three Giants-Brewers games in his hometown of Milwaukee. He traveled to San Francisco for three games last week and to Dodger Stadium for games Tuesday and Wednesday.

He'll return home today -- he was scheduled to travel to Minnesota for the groundbreaking of the Twins' new ballpark, a ceremony postponed because of Wednesday's bridge collapse in Minneapolis -- then rejoin Bonds this weekend in San Diego.

If the chase is still on at that point, Selig might drop off. He was noncommittal about following Bonds beyond this weekend.

"I don't think there's anybody that can say I haven't made a Herculean effort," he said.

Selig spoke fondly of Tom Glavine and said he regretted missing the New York Mets' game in Milwaukee on Tuesday, when Glavine bid for his 300th career victory. Selig did not mention Bonds by name and said he had no plans to speak with him.

"At this point, there really is no reason to," Selig said. "He's got a lot on his mind."

In Milwaukee recently, Selig refused to answer the question of whether he would consider Bonds' home run record as legitimate.

"We won't get into that," he said then. "I'm not passing judgment, nor should I."

Downing scoffed at that response. His answer to the question was blunt.

"Did they go out of the ballpark?" Downing said.

For 33 years of replays, every time Aaron hits that home run, Downing gives it up. Yet, Downing said he has no regrets about serving up a piece of history.

"If you don't play major league baseball, you're not associated with the record," Downing said. "Do you know how many people would have like to have done that and have played in the major leagues?"

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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