Bonds hits home run No. 756

Now he is second to none.Barry Bonds joined the pantheon of the baseball gods Tuesday night at AT&T Park by hitting his 756th homer, passing the legendary Hank Aaron to take over perhaps Major League Baseball’s most hallowed record: first place on the all-time home run list.

The homer, Bonds’ 22nd of the season, ended Aaron’s more than 33-year reign as MLB’s home run king. Aaron has held at least a tie for the top spot on the homer list since he knotted Babe Ruth on April 4, 1974, Opening Day of that season at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.

“Right now, I’m very happy that it’s all over with,” Bonds said long after the Nationals defeated his Giants, 8-6. “I’m really happy with my teammates. That’s the most important thing. And the fans, like I said, the fans here are my family. No one will ever take that away. No one can ever take that away.”

The road to 756, paved with record-setting performances as well as controversy and suspicion about how Bonds got there, reached its destination at 8:51 p.m. PT with one out and none on in the fifth inning. Bonds’ record blast came off Nationals left-hander Mike Bacsik, who wasn’t born yet when Aaron’s once record-setting shot came off Dodgers left-hander Al Downing on April 8, 1974, in Atlanta. Bacsik became the 446th pitcher to allow at least one homer to Bonds during the course of the lefty-swinging slugger’s 22-year career.

It was one of his trademark blasts, traveling 435 feet into the bleachers just to the right of center, setting off a wild scrum for the ball. Matt Murphy, a tourist from Queens, N.Y., traveling with a friend to Australia, came up with it, the Giants announced, and Murphy left the ballpark declining to speak to the media.

The crowd, ripe with anticipation all evening as Bonds opened with a double and single in his first two at-bats, quickly began the celebration after Bonds unleashed on the full-count fastball. The hometown fans responded as expected while Bonds rounded the bases to a cacophony of cheers, met his son, Nikolai, as usual, at home plate, and then was swarmed by his teammates.

Even the Nationals stood at their positions and applauded the new home run king. Bonds mother Pat, his wife, Liz, and daughters Aisha and Shikari were also there for that brilliant moment.

Bacsik, whose father of the same name pitched to Aaron in 1976 after the Hammer hit his last homer and before he ended his career at the end of that season, visited the Giants clubhouse after he was removed from the game at the end of the fifth inning. Like San Diego’s Clay Hensley who allowed No. 755 on Saturday night at PETCO Park, Bonds gave Bacsik an autographed bat to commentate the occasion.

“I went over there and told him he was the best I’ve ever faced and probably was the best of all-time,” Bacsik said. “I told him I wanted to go after him and challenge him if the situation presented itself. I was trying to get him out. I threw him a pitch that he really like to hit and he did. I honestly didn’t even watch it land. I watched Barry’s reaction and by the sound of the bat, I knew that it was gone.”

For Bonds, who turned 43 on July 24, it was the zenith of what has been a long and controversial career that should ultimately land him in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., alongside the Hammer.

Following his historic blast Tuesday night, on-field festivities lasted 10 minutes and included a surprise video from Aaron, who heretofore had remained mostly silent and aloof during Bonds’ pursuit of his record.

“I would like to offer my congratulations to Barry Bonds on becoming baseball’s career home run leader,” Aaron said. “It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity and determination.”

Willie Mays, Bonds’ godfather, was on the field, and Major League officials Jimmie Lee Solomon and Frank Robinson were in the house and said earlier in the game that they would visit Bonds in the clubhouse after he hit the milestone home run.

Commissioner Bud Selig was not in San Francisco, having been in attendance for 11 of the games while Bonds inexorably marched toward Aaron. Selig was there Saturday night when Bonds hit No. 755 to tie.

Selig called Bonds to congratulate him and released the following statement: “I congratulate Barry Bonds for establishing a new, career home run record. Barry’s achievement is noteworthy and remarkable.

“After Barry came out of the game, I congratulated him by telephone and had MLB executive vice president Jimmie Lee Solomon and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson — both of whom were at the game and witnessed the record-breaking home run — meet with him on my behalf. While the issues which have swirled around this record will continue to work themselves toward resolution, today is a day for congratulations on a truly remarkable achievement.”

Don Fehr, the longtime director of the Players Association, released a statement that read: “For more than two decades, Barry Bonds has been one of the game’s most dominant players. This is truly one of those moments that all fans will remember.”

Bonds said he was pleased that the Commissioner had made the effort.

“Bud Selig called me after the game,” Bonds said. “We had a chance to talk. He congratulated me. I was very happy about that. I thanked him. He told me it was a great accomplishment, ‘You’ve endured a lot, and I have a lot of respect for you.’ And I have a lot of respect for him.”

After the fireworks went off and he’d made the rounds, Bonds took the microphone and told the San Francisco fans he has played in front of for 15 seasons that he loved them. He nearly broke down in tears as he remembered his late father, Bobby, the former Giant who passed away from the ravages of cancer nearly four years ago.

“I miss you,” said Bonds, who trotted out to left field for the sixth inning, but was quickly removed from the game in a double switch by Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Bochy said that Bonds deserved the curtain call.

“Yeah, I wanted him to go back to left field,” he said. “Those fans, they love him. They’re always chanting, ‘Barry, Barry.’ So I wanted him to go out there so they could acknowledge him and congratulate him before I took him out of the game.”

Bonds has had his dark moments. In recent years, his on-field heroics have been played out under the shadow of the investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, widespread speculation about his part in the use by Major League players of performance-enhancing drugs, and a grand jury continuing to consider an indictment against him for perjury relating to his testimony in the BALCO case.

It was also noted to Bonds that along the way this year alone, Selig wasn’t supposed to show up for the chase, but he did. Aaron wasn’t going to recognize the feat, but he did. The crowd was going to be hostile if he hit one of his landmark homers on the road, but it certainly wasn’t on Saturday night in San Diego.

Bonds, who has never shied away from the controversy, said it all didn’t really dignify a response.

“I don’t throw stones for throwing stones,” he said. “That’s not my style. It’s never been my style. Just because I’m a quiet, to-myself kind of person, it doesn’t mean anything. That’s how I was raised, that’s just how I am. It’s just not me.”

The record was 22 seasons in the making, beginning in 1986 when Bonds came up as a 21-year-old with the Pirates. He joined the Giants in 1993 as a free agent and has hit 580 homers in a San Francisco uniform, second only to Mays, who hit 646.

Ironically, Bonds’ first homer was hit on June 4, 1986, against the Braves at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium more than 12 years after Aaron hit his record-breaking shot into the left-field bullpen in the same now-defunct ballpark.

Bonds now holds the record for most homers in a career, most in a single season (73 in 2001), most for a 42-year-old (26 in 2006) and most as a 43-year-old, a number that is still ascending. His 73 homers since he turned 40 are the most by any player from that age on, and that includes the off-year of five he hit in 2005, the season in which he had a trio of surgeries on his right knee.

He’s the only other player in Major League history, aside from Ruth, to hold the career and single-season home run records at the same time. And Ruth, who set the records with 19 in 1919, 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and finally 60 homers in 1927, relinquished his single-season crown in 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61. Ruth took the all-time lead with his 139th homer on July 18, 1921, and thus held both the career and single-season records for a little more than 40 years.

Bonds is also quickly approaching the 2,000-RBI and 3,000-hit plateaus (he’s 19 and 85 away, respectively). And when he does, he’ll become only the second player in baseball history aside from Aaron to collect more than 700 homers, 2,000 RBIs and 3,000 base hits.

Aaron’s 2,297 RBIs are baseball’s all-time best and his 3,771 hits are third behind Pete Rose (4,256) and Ty Cobb (4,189).

Bonds already has the all-time record for walks (2,540) and intentional walks (679).

He’s the only player ever to amass more than 500 homers and 500 steals (514).

His seven National League MVPs are by far the most by any single player in baseball history. Plus, he’s a 14-time All-Star, having on July 10 started in the outfield for the National League at AT&T Park because more than 2 million votes put him into the starting lineup.

Bonds’ 71 multi-homer games are second only to Ruth, who had 72. And 19 times he has hit 20 or more homers in a season, one behind Aaron’s record.

Adding No. 756, most of Bonds’ landmark homers have come at AT&T Park, which opened in 2001 on the banks of what has been dubbed McCovey Cove.

Those include Nos. 71-73 in 2001 to set the single-season record; No. 500; No. 600; Nos. 660 and 661 to pass Mays into third on the all-time list; No. 700; and No. 715 on May 28, 2006, to pass Ruth into second all-time.

Despite all these records and Bonds ascending to the record on Tuesday night, he said he has great respect for milestones established in every sport.

“I think all records are great,” he said. “I’m not going to sit there and say this is the best record. All these records, there’s no one record – we can’t all play the same sport. Football has its records, basketball, and hockey — with Wayne Gretzky’s records [for most goals, assists and total points]. I think they are all great records, regardless of what sport it is.”

From San Francisco Giants

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