WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush congratulated Barry Bonds on Wednesday for his record-breaking 756th home run and insisted history would judge whether the slugger dogged by steroids controversy is the legitimate home run king.
Bush, an avid baseball fan and former part owner of the Texas Rangers, did not watch Bonds set Major League Baseball’s new home run mark in San Francisco on Tuesday -- it happened past the president’s normal bedtime.
White House aides said Bush’s congratulatory call was delayed by time-zone differences with the West Coast, and that between meetings on Wednesday he had caught up with Bonds.
“He is a great hitter. He broke the record of another great hitter, Hank Aaron,” Bush told Fox News Channel’s “Your World” program. “And I congratulated him on breaking that record.”
But Bush, who talked about the problem of steroid abuse in his 2004 State of the Union address, made no mention of the steroid allegations against Bonds in their call, aides said.
Asked on Fox News if he recognized Bonds as the legitimate home run champion, Bush said, “There is a lot of speculation about Barry Bonds, and my only advice for people is to just let history be the judge. Let’s find out the facts, and then everybody’s opinion, one way or the other, will be verified or not verified.”
“In the meantime, however, I think it’s appropriate to recognize this man can hit the baseball,” Bush added.
The San Francisco Giants outfielder broke one of the most hallowed records in American sports, but his achievement drew a mixed reaction because many baseball fans suspect he may not have spoken truthfully when denying steroid use in the past.
Bush suggested that if Bonds is later proven to have gained strength through steroid use, he could be denied entry to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Asked whether Bonds record should then be marked with an asterisk, Bush said, “Well, that’s going to be up to baseball.”
Bonds denied his home-run record, which beat the mark set by Aaron in 1974, was tainted.
Bush used the opportunity to condemn steroid use in baseball, saying there was a risk of children emulating their sports idols.
“I love the sport. Obviously, I‘m dead set against steroids being in baseball. I think it’s bad for the game,” he said. “How we behave as adults will influence how children behave.”
He said after facing congressional pressure on players’ steroid use “baseball has been adjusting their policy.” But critics have accused Major League Baseball of acting too slowly.