How Will MLB Market Bonds' Run at History?

League Isn't Rushing to Celebrate Slugger as He Nears Home-Run Record

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Major League Baseball is a game of records, and the biggest one of all -- perhaps the biggest in team sports -- is about to broken. Under normal circumstances, that would be a cause for huge marketing celebration, but in the case of Barry Bonds' breaking Hank Aaron's home-run tally, it's far from a normal situation.
Major League Baseball wants to distance itself from the steroids controversy that has engulfed Barry Bonds, who needs just 22 home runs to surpass Hank Aaron's record of 755.
Major League Baseball wants to distance itself from the steroids controversy that has engulfed Barry Bonds, who needs just 22 home runs to surpass Hank Aaron's record of 755. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn

MLB begins its 2007 season in earnest today, confronted with the thorny issue of whether to market and publicize the San Francisco Giants star's chase to shatter Mr. Aaron's historic record. But the accomplishment is clouded by Mr. Bonds' being accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, chronicled in the best-selling book "Game of Shadows," though he has never publicly failed a steroids test.

What to do?
The suspicion has been enough to taint his pursuit of the record, leaving the league in a precarious position. So far, MLB has not tipped its hand, but a spokeswoman said Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig stands by what he told Advertising Age in January: "When and if we arrive at such a time, Major League Baseball will acknowledge the record in an appropriate manner."

The question appears to be: What's appropriate?

"The problem is this: Barry Bonds becomes the face of baseball for however long it takes him to break the record," said Don Hinchey, VP of sports-marketing firm Bonham Group. "Baseball wants to distance itself from the steroid controversy, but how do you do that when Barry -- rightfully or not -- has been accused of using steroids and, thus, cheating to break the record?"

The MLB spokeswoman said the league has not prevented the Giants from doing any local marketing or promotion in San Francisco. But the Giants said they have yet to decide what they will do, because they don't know when or even if the record will be broken. "It's not a standard promotion," a spokeswoman said.
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Alice Z. Cuneo contributed to this report.
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