Miami The most controversial, disliked, scandalized, mistrusted figure in all of sports chases the most hallowed, historic record in all of sports, to the awful tune of a season-long soundtrack of booing and derision if not outright hatred.
Nothing about baseball overrides Barry Bonds in 2006.
Nothing comes close.
The experimental World Baseball Classic disappears to insignificance now. The supposed retirement of Roger Clemens is relegated to afterthought. The latest installment of Yankees-Red Sox shrinks by comparison. Particular soaps such as the sale of the Washington Nationals and the Marlins' future are parochial matters off the broad radar. The long, arduous hunt for October, for the World Series, plays out as background stuff.
Bonds is our national sports theater for the spring, summer and fall, and likely beyond. We shall take a seat and find what we are seeing as impossible not to watch as a train wreck unfolding in slow motion.
Nothing happening in any other sport will equal the drama and chaos, and it will be terrible and delicious, all at once.
Poor Bonds? No. Please, no. If he is painted into a corner, the brush is in his own hand, dripping.
His defenders see a virulent crusade against him, perhaps one tinged with racism. They note, rightly, that he never has tested positive for steroids. But the new investigative book, "Game of Shadows," buoys suspicions with documents and evidence, and leaves little reasonable doubt that he used steroids beginning in 1998 for about five seasons.
Juries might convict on circumstantial evidence; so can this baseball jury.
A dilemma is presented, though, to perpetually beleaguered baseball commissioner Bud Selig. He got to preen and crow for a little while over the better-than-expected debut of his WBC, but now reality hits him, and won't soon stop.
Bonds' chase is no-win for Selig, and for the sport.
Selig comes off as naive or willfully blind if he acts like the ugly cloud isn't there, like the book doesn't exist. The San Francisco Giants might be expected to do that, but baseball comes off like a Bonds co-conspirator if it recognizes and honors his historic climb up the home run chart as business as usual.
The alternative, though, is even more ominous.
If Selig treats Bonds like a suspect, if the MLB investigation is ongoing as the season continues to play out, it will be tantamount to a declaration: What's happening is dirty. The record will be tainted.
Selig appointed an independent investigator to probe the veracity of the book, a rote layer of bureaucracy. No matter the outcome, it's lose-lose for Bonds and for baseball.
Imagine if Pete Rose already were being accused and investigated for betting on baseball during his chase for the lead in all-time hits.
This is like that, but bigger. Worse.
This is the home run record. This is steroids.
Baseball, too, owes it to itself - to Ruth, to Aaron, to its history and integrity - to note Bonds' eventual career home run total with an asterisk, an official acknowledgement of the steroid scandal that enveloped the chase.
The asterisk would be unfortunate. It would look ugly.
It would be an accurate reflection of this mess we'll be watching unfold.