Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2007 | Barry Bonds said thank you. That should have been the headline after he hit career home run No. 755* against the Padres Saturday night at Petco Park.

The incredible inflated hulk saying thank you to San Diego’s fans — or anyone, for that matter — was more startling than if Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and the real home run king, Hank Aaron, had greeted Bonds as he crossed home plate.

Selig watched No. 755* from the Petco stands with his hands in his pocket and a yawn. He didn’t congratulate Bonds, preferring to release a statement. Aaron, fine gentleman that he is, wasn’t in attendance. He has made no public comments rather than offer faint praise.

In other words, the silence was deafening.

Silence would have been the best response from San Diego’s fans, but that’s not realistic. Rather than boo, they politely applauded the moment. I’ve told you before that San Diego’s fans are the best in sports, and here’s another reason why. They watched the game rather than detract from it as irrational fans.

Baseball, with its hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil awareness of a controversy that dates back two decades to Boston Red Sox fans chanting “Steroids!” at José Canseco in the American League playoffs, can only blame itself that there is no joy over Bonds’ home runs.

Baseball is commonly forgiven for the steroids era with the excuse that the fan frenzy created by the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to break Rogers Maris’ season record of 61 saved the sport following the strike in 1994 that canceled the World Series.

But there were honorable men in baseball that weren’t being listened to long before the 1998 season.

Here’s what Tony Gwynn, the Padres’ Hall of Famer, said on March 21, 2006, when he appeared at the Hall of Champions (my day job) for Sports at Lunch.

“If you go back to 1994 when we went on strike, everyone thinks money,” Gwynn said. “That was one issue — money. But you never hear talk about the fight for testing. Being the player rep, I can tell you we were talking testing. We were concerned the game was headed down the wrong path and nobody paid attention to us. Now it’s 2006 and we have testing. If there is a positive test, everyone will know about it.”

Gwynn described baseball from 1987 to 2003, before testing, as the “steroid era.” He said in the future, kids will have to be explained that the reason players don’t hit 50, 60 and 70 home runs as they did during that period is because steroids were part of the game.

“We’re just going to refer to it as the steroid era,” Gwynn continued. “I played in the steroid era and I had 3,000 hits, but I can tell you they were all clean. I really feel good about that. During the course of my career, from 1982 to 2001, yeah, that conversation came up. If you have a chance to improve your numbers and make more money, would you do it? The answer for me was no. I want people to look back and say I did it the right way.”

St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa says in his book, “Three Nights in August,” that he addressed the issue when he realized minor league players began to believe the only way they could make it to the majors was to use steroids to keep pace with the users. But LaRussa, like Gwynn, was ignored.

Sports such as football, track and field and cycling have taken strong measures to preserve their integrity with testing. Track and cycling have suffered for their integrity, but football has overcome its steroid issues. That’s because fans cheer for the team first and the players second.

A year ago, Roger Maris’ son, a high school baseball coach in Florida, was in San Diego as the East coach in the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic that returns to town Saturday at San Diego State’s Tony Gwynn Stadium.

I took advantage of the moment to tell Kevin Maris his father is the real home run king. I figured he would casually say thank you to something he’d probably heard hundreds time. But he looked me in the eye and offered a sincere thank you, suggesting he’s never tired of hearing it.

The appreciation in his voice is the only moment of satisfaction I’ve experienced with baseball home run records since that April night in 1974 as a high school kid when I watched on television as Hank Aaron hit No. 715 to break Babe Ruth’s record.

Someday Alex Rodriguez or another player may pass whatever final number Barry Bonds finishes with. Let’s hope by then Barry Bonds admits he cheated and never deserved the record. Then we can say thank you to Barry Bonds.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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