The culture of baseball is evolving, some say, while others are waiting for results from legal proceedings.
When the moment finally came, AT&T Park in San Francisco was filled with cheers, fireworks, and streamers. Barry Bonds's 756th career home run, a prospect that had previously elicited mixed reaction from both baseball officials and fans, even drew kind words from the sport's commissioner. "[T]oday is a day for congratulations on a truly remarkable achievement," Bud Selig said in a statement.
But while Tuesday's momentous game and celebration have ended, the debate over the record-breaking feat – and the suspicions that Bonds might have long ago bulked up on steroids – continue unabated.
Some pundits feel that Bonds's record should stand no matter what because the culture of baseball is always changing. Other baseball players have used illegal drugs, they point out, and did not achieve such milestones.
But on the other side, some ask if the magnitude of this record crosses a threshold that potentially requires a different response. Already, the pressure on baseball and other sports to enforce stronger drug-use policies has increased, experts say.
For now, Major League Baseball will recognize the record with no asterisk, says spokesman Mike Teevan. But if any legal proceedings link Bonds with steroid use, momentum could build to remove the achievement from the record books.
In a broad sense, the high-profile moment raises fresh questions about the pressure on athletes to succeed at all costs. And such questions go well beyond sports: Many see an increased national compulsion to bend rules for personal gain.
"If Bonds is proven guilty in court, the commissioner of baseball should take a very strong stance on this issue and deny Bonds the record," says George Gardner, a spokesman for the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston.
Some draw a connection with other recent scandals in professional sports: allegations of score-fixing by a referee in the NBA, dogfighting charges against one of the NFL's highest-paid stars, and doping in cycling's Tour de France.
"It is more than coincidence that so many of these episodes are happening all at once," says Gardner. "They should force a real discussion by both public and press calling such practices into question, about what is right and wrong, and what lessons can be learned by heroes in sport who get into trouble by pushing too hard for excellence."