Winter Meetings: Bonds A Hot Topic

<b>ANAHEIM –</b> There was a time, Felipe Alou says, when certain young ballplayers would turn to substances to help their production on the baseball field.

Sounds a lot like today, except the substance Alou was talking about was whiskey.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, there was a myth filtering through the minor leagues that downing a shot or two before a game would help your performance in cold weather.

You know, baseball could use a few myths like that again.

In recent weeks, the cloud over the sport has been much, much uglier than shots of Jack Daniels, bat-corking, ball-scuffing or any of the other pedestrian infractions the San Francisco Giants manager mentioned in an interview Sunday.

Though players like Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield have already taken falls of varying degrees this winter, it is Alou's star player, Barry Bonds, who is at the center of the legal firestorm concerning illegal steroids and supplement use.

Ever since the leak of Bonds' testimony, in which he admitted to using steroids but claimed he didn't know what they were, the spotlight has switched to the big fish.

"He's the guy," Alou said. "I don't see those names any more. I only see one name."

While Giambi's grand jury testimony in the BALCO case has placed his standing with the Yankees - and ultimately, his career - in serious jeopardy, Bonds will have his own problems to counter.

This summer, he'll do battle with a ravenous army of reporters and photographers intent on tracking his every move, then contend with vicious, foul-mouthed fans who will soundly boo his mere mention in ballparks across the land.

Basically, it'll be just like 2004. And 2003. And …

"He's been going through this the last couple of years," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "Every time you saw him, he had the media around him and the fans on him. He has a remarkable ability to stay focused on the game and tune out the distractions around."

Still, now that everybody in the English-speaking world knows that at least some of Bonds' majestic home runs were hit with laboratory assistance, the San Francisco slugger's entire pursuit of Henry Aaron's career long ball mark hangs in the air like a sacrificial curveball.

Which homers were chemically juiced? Should they be considered different than any of the 755 homers hit by Aaron, or the 714 by Aaron's predecessor, Babe Ruth? One of Bonds' former managers, Chicago Cubs skipper Dusty Baker, didn't think so.

"The record is not going to be tainted unless there is proof that it should be tainted," Baker said Saturday. "We're not at that point yet. Right now, everyone is kind of guessing. ... It's hard to taint something unless it starts stinking.

"Once it starts stinking, then you know it's tainted. Now, it's not stinking enough."

Perhaps not for Bonds, or for his still-numerous supporters (some of whom shelled out $7,500 in New York over the weekend for the privilege of speaking to Bonds and Alex Rodriguez).

But the amount of people who feel strongly about Bonds' so-called illegitimate homers only figure to multiply in the coming months, and with that will come even more intense scrutiny from the press.

Alou said Sunday that he doesn't believe it will affect his team's play on the field.

"I just can't see a reason to be concerned," Alou said. "There's been some things going on for the two years that I've been there [with the Giants]. We have some veteran guys [in the clubhouse]. They're in their mid-to-late 30s. They live life on and off the field quite well."

Besides, the 'cream'? The 'clear'? What is it? How do you use it? Who the heck is Victor Conte?

And why was a certain young prospect Alou scouted in the Dominican Republic caught with supplements intended to make racehorses gallop faster?

For the wise old man in charge of the Giants, there are just too many questions to possibly even contemplate answering.

"I am an old fart," Alou concedes. "It's better to wait and see rather than make a mistake with something you don't know about."

Bryan Hoch is in Anaheim covering the MLB Winter Meetings for

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