It's not a hypothetical anymore. The days when it was an intense hot-stove argument are long past. There's no more wishing that something would happen in the offseason to prevent it.
The 2007 season is here, and so is Barry Bonds. And going into today's game, he is one home run closer to Hank Aaron's career record of 755 than he was at the end of last season.
It's real now. At some point this season, Bonds will be baseball's all-time home run king, with no asterisks and with him likely not caring whether the public recognizes it or not. His knee didn't blow up on him over the winter. His team and others did not collude and refuse to re-sign him. He wasn't indicted for perjury. He didn't fail a drug test. Former Sen. George Mitchell's steroids "investigation" didn't uncover anything new on him.
He didn't crack under the strain of the widespread bitterness or apathy about the upcoming milestone. Bud Selig didn't come up with a way to use his office's "best interests of baseball" powers to run him out. No crazed fan took him out with a hurled bottle of pills from 200 feet.
Bonds is still wearing No. 25 for the San Francisco Giants, and Wednesday night he hit No. 735. So he didn't lose his swing, his legs, his power, his timing or anything else that could have derailed him.
Once upon a time, I would have cheered all the aforementioned developments. I figured he was a victim of persecution, of the double standard that let Mark McGwire off the hook for so long and keeps all the other accused enhancers, or those associated with enhancers, relatively unscathed by fan and media hounding. Even now, Bonds doesn't deserve such a large share of the abuse he gets.
But he deserves the knot in the stomach that lots of fans surely got when the news came of the latest encroachment on Aaron's record.
OK, just the knot I got. But there's no way I could have been the only one.
It's hard to explain exactly why that feeling ran through me. To be honest, it's hard not to admire the fact that Bonds didn't buckle under the weight of resentment against him. Every player who has ever attacked a legendary home run record - except McGwire, and let's not go there again - has felt it for one reason or another. Aaron did; so did Roger Maris.
Bonds, being naturally arrogant, wavered only a few times in the past few years and not at all last offseason. Give him points for that. At 42, he got himself into good enough shape to make the Opening Day lineup, play his position, run the bases ... and keep hitting homers.
All of that still left me queasy the other night. It's not going to bring any pleasure to see Aaron's record being broken - not because it's being broken, but because of who is breaking it.
I'm embarrassed by that. After watching as a kid what Aaron was put through by the so-called protectors of Babe Ruth's legacy, I had grown up promising to myself that I would never automatically damn any player who dared threaten Aaron's record. I never envisioned this scenario, though.
Bonds didn't need to be a beacon of class and integrity, even if that's where Aaron set the bar. He was going to go through some abuse no matter what, and we likely would have seen the prickly side of his personality all the way through. But this chase comes with so much taint, so much shadow, so much baggage he simply didn't need to bring.
The gamble he is accused of having taken at the height of the home run craze in 1998 paid off on the field, but his accomplishments didn't result in the adoration of him, as Bonds had hoped. Instead, he's known as the guy at whom all the evidence points to as a cheater and a liar. Yes, more than 30 years ago the detractors said Aaron didn't deserve to be in the same sentence as Ruth, and that hurt. Now, it hurts me very little to say the same thing about Aaron and Bonds.
It appears that it hurts Aaron very little, too. In a rare interview, on ESPN on Friday, he said he did not plan to be there when Bonds approached No. 756 and further distanced himself from the entire unsavory situation.
"I've tried to stay out of anything having to do with this," he said, "and not because of resentment, but simply because there are so many things that this is attached to that I want to stay out of, that [aren't] my business right now. I have my reasons for that. I just don't want to get involved in something that I have no control over."
And what would he think if Bonds was proved to have used performance-enhancers after he'd broken the record? "I probably would come back and find you, and give you the scoop."
This is the man who did a commercial with Bonds just a few years ago.
If Aaron is soured on the whole thing, as it sounds, then I don't feel so bad about having a sour stomach about it, too.
David Steele -- Points after
Billy Gillispie weaseled a contract extension out of Texas A&M; after Arkansas came calling, then blew off the extension to take the Kentucky job. Bob Huggins got a gift of a job at Kansas State after leaving Cincinnati in disgrace, then bailed for West Virginia after one season. Here's how they might have explained their actions to their players: "No, I said 'stay in school,' not 'stay at school.'"
Caron Butler one day, Gilbert Arenas three days later. The Washington Wizards must have really ticked off the basketball gods. Maybe this is the delayed payback for drafting Kwame Brown first overall. But wasn't having Kwame there punishment enough?
Rutgers makes a stirring run to the NCAA women's basketball tournament championship game, and its reward was to hear a crusty New York radio host use his nationally simulcast show to drop not one but two unconscionably racist and sexist descriptions on the team. As usual, with age doesn't automatically come wisdom.
Billy Packer, that goes for you, too.
A fun game to play with your friends and keep up interest in the Orioles: How much will attendance drop from the home opener to the second game this year?