SAN FRANCISCO – The new number is 756.
The new man is Barry Bonds.
The controversial slugger set the major-league career record for home runs Tuesday night at AT&T Park, passing Hank Aaron with a fifth-inning home run to right-center field.
Thirty-three years after Aaron passed Babe Ruth, Bonds, at 43, cut through broad suspicions of steroid use and a perceived slight from Aaron himself to take ownership of the most revered record in American sports. Aaron later appeared on a taped message of congratulation, played on the center-field video board.
When his short, powerful stroke struck the record-breaker off Washington Nationals left-hander Mike Bacsik, Bonds thrust his arms in the air and the sellout crowd roared. He clapped four times and initiated the ceremonial portion of his 756th home run, carried by the fans who adore him.
"It was absolutely the best," Bonds said post-game, sitting on a stage that also held his wife, Liz, and three children. "Absolutely the best."
Bonds and his San Francisco Giants manager, Bruce Bochy, urged an acceptance of the record at its face, Bonds deflecting the sobering questions that followed the affectionate celebrations on the field and in the clubhouse.
On speculation and reports the record is tainted, because of his alleged steroids use, Bonds said, "This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period. You guys can say whatever you want."
On the circumstances that led to the imprisonment of his childhood friend and former trainer, Greg Anderson: "Why are we in that conversation? Just another negative question. I'm not going to condone that."
On the likelihood of his returning to San Francisco next season, which he is believed to desire: "We'll see what happens next year."
Bochy said he felt sorry for those who refused to recognize the validity of Bonds' 756 home runs.
"I think this is a time to celebrate," he said. "You can speculate. … [But] I would hope that everybody who loves this game, has a passion for it, would celebrate. It's time to move on. … The fact of the matter is, that's a lot of home runs."
The Bonds family and entourage wore black caps and T-shirts that commemorated the milestone. The Giants toasted Bonds with champagne. And a ballpark's population first rejoiced, then grappled for the record-breaking ball – Matt Murphy, a 22-year-old from Queens, N.Y., left with it – and then cheered some more.
Bonds matched Aaron's 755 three days before in San Diego, drawing a mixed reaction from a typically leery road crowd.
He said the most difficult part of the process was over and, 10 plate appearances later, he was alone in history.
Not long after Bonds crossed home plate, greeted there by his son Nikolai, who held up his forefinger to signify his father's place on the all-time home run list, Aaron himself appeared on the video board. The image drew a loud cheer.
After months of speculation over his attendance, some of it generated by his apparent disinterest, Aaron congratulated Bonds in a recorded message.
"It is a great accomplishment which requires skill, longevity and determination," Aaron said. "Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historical achievement. My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams."
Bonds appeared touched.
"It meant everything," he said. "It meant absolutely everything."
Bonds' teammates, coaches and family mobbed him near the plate. Nationals players stood at the rail of the dugout, applauding. Catcher Brian Schneider, who'd not caught the fastball Bacsik threw, was on one knee, clapping. Bacsik watched from the Nationals' dugout.
"He's the greatest of all time," Bacsik said. "There's nothing more I can say."
Bonds tipped his cap to the crowd. He hugged his godfather, Willie Mays. And when he thanked his father, Bobby, who passed away almost four years ago, he nearly broke into tears.
"My dad," he shouted into a microphone, "thank you for everything."
In his father's absence, Bonds said, Mays has been most influential.
"To be able to play out my baseball career and have him have the opportunity to see it is one of the greatest gifts I could ever have," he said. "He's been there for me since my dad's been gone."
Amid the trappings of his home park, not far from where he idled his toddler years in the Candlestick Park clubhouse and attended high school in San Mateo, the eldest son of Bobby Bonds was again in a place where his popularity was near unanimous.
Surrounded near the Giants' dugout in the moments after his home run landed several rows into the bleachers, not far from the all-time home-run standings (listing Bonds, Aaron, Ruth and Mays) that have become a part of the ballpark, Bonds accepted a microphone and thanked his family, his teammates and the Nationals.
Bonds looked into the crowd, scanned the tiers that rose above the playing field and said, "I want to thank you all."
To his teammates, he said, "Through all this, you guys have been strong … and I'll never forget you."
The park echoed with chants of "Bar-EE! Bar-EE!"
After a 10-minute delay, and when the inning concluded, Bonds retook his place in left field, where he was again greeted with cheers. But, his presence was fleeting. After a few minutes, fellow outfielder Dave Roberts jogged to his side. The two embraced and Bonds headed back to the dugout waving his glove, done for the night.
By then, Aaron had spent 12,173 days as the home-run leader, and Bonds had spent 15 minutes as his successor. Bonds drank it in, as did his fans.
When allegations of steroid use surfaced, AT&T Park and the people in it became his refuge. Giants ownership exercised an option on his contract for 2006, then re-signed him in 2007, and it was repaid with sellout crowds and brisk sales of No. 25 jerseys. Where he once made Candlestick Park bearable, he made AT&T Park possible. The park itself was built with Bonds in mind. The brick right-field wall that guards the bay, tall but seemingly generous to left-handed hitters, plays instead generously to only one left-handed hitter – Bonds.
He won five of his seven National League MVP awards in San Francisco, became a legendary home-run hitter in San Francisco and is defended – or forgiven – in San Francisco.
So it was they fit the green-and-white panel into its place in right-center field, the "6" in 756, with great ceremony. And Bonds waved and smiled and threw kisses and told them, yes, he loved them back.
And so, while many, including commissioner Bud Selig, have serious misgivings about the validity of Bonds' 756 as compared to Aaron's 755, many Giants fans appear to view him as a victim of media slant, or simply the best of the tainted. Bonds has not tested positive for steroids; Major League Baseball instituted testing with discipline in 2004.
Selig was not in attendance Tuesday night after standing by for most of Bonds' swings over the past two weeks, excluding last weekend's Hall of Fame induction. He sent league officials Jimmie Lee Solomon and Frank Robinson to San Francisco in his place, while he met with Sen. George Mitchell and his team, who are investigating baseball's association with steroids. Selig intended to return Thursday if Bonds had not homered.
In a statement released by Major League Baseball on Tuesday night, Selig said he telephoned Bonds when Bonds was removed from the game, their first contact since Selig began attending Giants games 2½ weeks ago.
"I congratulate Barry Bonds for establishing a new career home-run record," the statement read. "Barry's achievement is noteworthy and remarkable."
It concluded, "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."
Bonds described their phone conversation as congratulatory.
"He told me it's a great accomplishment, you've endured a lot, I have a lot of respect for you," he recounted. "And I have a lot of respect for him."
In the days before Bonds reached 756, Bochy spoke to its significance.
"This is one that's never been hit," he said.