Zev Chafets

This is, in a word, nonsense. Ruth broke into baseball when a dozen homers led the league. Then the grandees of the game decided to soup up the ball — a form of artificial enhancement at least as intrusive as steroids — and presto, the Babe (and, in his wake, others) hit 50 a season out of the park.

Despite this great break with the past, baseball venerated Ruth. When Hank Aaron, a black man, broke his record in 1973, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn didn't bother coming to the game. The snub left Aaron embittered. He (and millions of his fellow African Americans) correctly saw it as another example of baseball's Negro Problem.

Now it is Bonds' turn. He'll probably pass Aaron this season, a feat that will be greeted — outside of San Francisco — with near universal resentment and animosity by white fans and writers (the press boxes of baseball are even more monochromatic than the stands). Commissioner Bud Selig says that a new home run mark will be treated as a routine event, just another record being broken. He might not bother to attend.

Baseball's few remaining black fans will see the double standard. What's so bad about what Bonds is accused of, they will ask? He used drugs? See Jim Bouton's great baseball diary "Ball Four," on the rampant use of amphetamines in the Golden Age of Mickey Mantle. Bonds broke the law by allegedly taking illegal substances? The Babe himself openly boozed his way through Prohibition. Bonds broke baseball's rules? If that were a major crime, spit-baller Gaylord Perry wouldn't be in the great hall at Cooperstown.

Whether Selig and the writers and the fans like it or not, Bonds is the black Babe Ruth. If they demonize him, put a disqualifying asterisk next to his records and ban him from the Hall of Fame, a thousand Jackie Robinson Days won't bring back the missing millions of African American fans. It's fine to venerate No. 42, but Robinson is a page in the history books. It's what happens to No. 25 that will determine the next chapter in the star-crossed relationship between blacks and baseball.

Zev Chafets

Zev Chafets is a former columnist for the New York Daily News, as well as the author of nine books of fiction, media criticism, and social and political commentary, including "A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man's Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance," published by HarperCollins in January 2007.

Be the first to read Zev Chafets' column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.