When the National League starters take the field during tonight's All-Star Game in San Francisco, Barry Bonds will trot out to left field.
That's because fans voted Bonds into the starting lineup, perhaps for the final time in his 21-year career.
Bonds has the numbers (.304 batting average, 16 home runs and 40 RBIs). He has the fame, owning the record for most homers in a season and being just four shy of tying Hank Aaron for most in a career perhaps baseball's most hallowed records. And the crop of NL outfielders is weak this year, adding to the legitimacy of having the Giants sluggers be one of the starters.
As it turned out, Bonds is the Giants' lone representative in the game being played in their stadium the hometown favorite.
But Bonds comes with baggage lots of it.
He is portrayed as a selfish jerk.
He has a reputation of not playing nice with the media.
And he remains under investigation for possible perjury charges involving his denial of steroid use. (In 2003, according to reports, Bonds told a federal grand jury that he used a clear substance and a cream supplied by Balco, but said he was told they were flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm, not steroids.)
"He admitted that he used steroids," Boston pitcher Curt Schilling told the Boston Globe earlier this year. "I mean, there's no gray area. He admitted to cheating on his wife, cheating on his taxes and cheating on the game ... It's sad."
Baseball purists don't like the idea of a cheater being honored, especially with ownership of cherished records.
But baseball has always been about cheating.
Batters add a little more spring to their swing by filling their bats with cork. Pitchers use spit, petroleum jelly or some other foreign substance because it causes the ball to move atypically during its approach to the plate. Runners try to steal bases and steal signs between the catcher and pitcher.
There are plenty of other ways players have cheated. In fact, for as long as the game has been played, there have been cheaters. And for as long as there have been preventive measures against cheating, people have found new ways to give themselves an edge.
Prior to 2005, anabolic steroids were not illegal. So players such as Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco and Bonds took hormones in an attempt to boost their level of play on the diamond. They utilized a new method of cheating.
We need to remind ourselves that professional athletes are nothing more than entertainers. Fans buy tickets to be entertained. So, at the end of the day, what difference does it make to fans whether those athletes took steroids before they were illegal? It's the athletes who will suffer health problems down the road, and they knowingly took that risk.
Apparently, fans don't mind as much as some in the media and government might think. After all, the fans voted Bonds into the All-Star game.
"I think we all believe it's the fans' game," Giants president Larry Baer told The Associated Press, "and to not have (Bonds) involved would have arguably robbed the fans."
Added Bonds: "I'm forever thankful, grateful. To be able to represent my hometown is great. This is the one I'll remember all time. It'll probably be my last, too, so it's awesome."
While we might think Bonds is a bum, we cannot deny his impact on baseball or his right to play in tonight's game.