The Bonds story in perspective

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All big accomplishments in sports are seen through a contemporary prism, suggests John Thorn, a baseball historian and an editor of “Total Baseball.” “By definition, your view is distorted when you have your nose up against the glass,” he says.

In baseball, the plot has a cyclical familiarity. In almost every case, the new record holder is seen as a villain, an exemplar of new and dangerous times, while the previous record holder is an unburdened hero. “It’s such a simple story, you would think you’re watching Punch and Judy,” Thorn says. “There’s only two roles, and they seem to alternate.”

When Babe Ruth retired in 1935, he had hit 714 home runs, hundreds more than anybody else in baseball history. In his time, however, Ruth was not seen as the bumptious icon he was later made out to be. After the 1925 season, in which he played only 98 games, Ruth was publicly derided at a banquet by New York’s mayor, Jimmy Walker, who said that Ruth had let down the kids with his poor play. With his outsized girth and fondness for controlled beverages, Ruth epitomized the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, and like every baseball player then and now, his contract demands were deemed greedy and exorbitant.

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