When Barry Bonds breaks the most famous record in American sports, there won't be much anyone can do besides cheer or boo. Sure, we can speculate on how he developed this amazing power at 35 and on why his head seemed to morph from cantaloupe to watermelon along the way, and we can even go beyond speculation and pass judgment one way or the other.




But we can't prove he did anything wrong. And unless unquestionable evidence comes along that proves Barry broke the rules, baseball won't be able to do anything except put his name beside the record.




Nothing, however, can stop us from playing the hypothetical card. Let's assume, in fact, that ironclad proof surfaces that Bonds indeed has taken illegal performance enhancers. Let's say we find out, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that somewhere along the trail to 756 that he was juicing.




If that were to happen, then the most famous record in American sports would belong to a known cheater. The most famous record in American sports would be tainted. Baseball then would have options:




Option No. 1: Strike Bonds from the record books. Completely. Just leave Henry Aaron and 755 on the top line. As far as the record book is concerned, it would be as though Bonds had never hit a home run. Sounds tempting, eh?




Well, as much as those who view the world in black and white would like that, wiping Bonds from the record book would not work.




If baseball decided to strike his home run mark, would it also wipe out Bonds' walks, hits and runs? Would it also delete the numbers of every major leaguer who has tested positive for performance enhancers, or would only the record setters disappear? What records are we talking about, anyway? Would they be limited to major league records, or would American League, National League and team records also be included? That could get messy.




Then there's the issue of numbers. In no game are numbers more ingrained than in baseball. Part of the game's beauty is to be able to compare the career stats of Bonds, Aaron and Babe Ruth. Part of the beauty in stats is the manner in which they balance out. For every Bonds home run, some pitcher's home runs allowed went up. If Bonds were struck from the books, how would such an imbalance be rectified?




A simple wipeout of Bonds' statistics poses too many problems.




Option No. 2: Do nothing. Bonds would not be the first cheater, and there has been no outcry to subtract Rafael Palmeiro's 569 home runs or 3,020 hits from the books. If baseball started deleting the numbers of all cheaters, the record book might look noticeably thinner.




Besides, doing nothing to Bonds' record would be in line with what the game did about steroids for many years. That is, not a thing. So why get all high and mighty now?




Well, doing nothing would be akin to denying the steroids era existed, and Bud Selig has admitted too many times (though it took him a while) that, as much as he hates this fact, steroids have been abused on his watch. Selig has made plenty of mistakes in his 15-year stewardship, but he has tried to do what's best for the game. He knows doing nothing about the record would not be the right thing.




Option No. 3: Bring out the asterisk. Yes, for the first time, baseball should use it. As much as legend indicates otherwise, baseball did not go with an asterisk when Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961. Instead, a line was added in the record book to denote the record-setter in a 162-game season as well as in a 154-game season.




In our hypothetical, another line wouldn't be necessary. An asterisk would be the answer. Something like: Home runs, career: 756, Barry Bonds (asterisk) (used illegal performance-enhancing drugs).




Or: 756, Barry Bonds (asterisk) (some home runs were hit with the assistance of steroids).




Or maybe something more to the point: 756, Barry Bonds (asterisk) (proven cheater).




That tiny asterisk would say a great deal, no matter what words followed.




The asterisk would not be limited to Bonds, either. It would be used alongside the name of any certified cheater. What would be wrong with an asterisk beside the name of Palmeiro and others who have been (or will be) caught using performance enhancers? An asterisk would be a clear and simple way of distinguishing the cheaters from the clean players.




Considering the dark cloud steroids have cast over baseball, such a distinction is needed for the sake of the clean players &

and the record book.




Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service