FOR MANY of us, professional sports becomes that mythical getaway. We transform otherwise mere mortals into something just south of god-like.

So when one of these divine humans falls short of our unrealistic expectations, it can create an Armageddon of the psyche.

This brings us to Barry Bonds' assault on Major League Baseball's hallowed home run record. What could possibly be said about the Bonds affair that has not already been mulled over by sports journalist near and far? But in a most bizarre manner, baseball needs Barry Bonds.

Of the three major sports, the Bonds home run chase in lieu of his possible steroid use to achieve it can rank no better than third on the current problem meter. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is attempting to clean up what has become a criminal element within the football league.

The latest newsworthy infraction being quarterback Michael Vick, the league's former No.1 overall draft pick from Virginia Tech, recently indicted by a federal grand jury alleging his involvement in dog fighting and gambling while operating Bad Newz Kennels on property Vick owns in Virginia. The indictment also alleged that losing pit bulls were executed by hanging, drowning, electrocution, shooting and beating.

Yet the pains NBA commissioner David Stern is experiencing trump Goodell's off-the-field headaches. It has been alleged that former NBA referee Tim Donaghy bet on games at the behest of organized crime, according to an ongoing FBI investigation.

Under this light, Bonds' possible infraction hardly compares to the tawdry escapades of Vick and Donaghy. But baseball has a faux puritanical aura surrounding numbers. Hank Aaron's home run record of 755 happens to be one of those numbers.

Bonds breaking Aaron's record while under the cloud of steroids is apt to make one forget that Aaron's chase for Babe Ruth's all-time home run record of 714 was paved with a hatred and bigotry that required FBI protection for him. America was not exactly standing en masse in support of Aaron.

But baseball long has run a parallel course with the larger society. When at its best, it ran ahead of society offering a self-reflective mirror of what can be — as Jackie Robinson's integrating the major leagues bears witness. Right now it is treading the same mediocre course along with the rest of society, preferring to cowardly examine things as they wish them to be as opposed to seeing them as they are.

Baseball needs Barry Bonds. His reputation for his surly, arrogant, it's-about-me-and-only-me mentality makes him the perfect foil, allowing baseball to hide behind the shadow of ignorance. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had been coy about being in attendance when Bonds breaks the record as testimony to his loyalty to Aaron, his longtime friend. He has subsequently announced he would attend.

But Selig was gladly on hand in 1998 as St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire and the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa brought fans back into the stands with their epic home run derby. Both men now live under a similar steroid cloud as Bonds.

With all due respect, it is laughable to witness fans in St. Louis, Chicago and Oakland, for example, unmercifully booing Bonds when he comes to town. Assuming the credibility of former Oakland Athletics player Jose Canceso's book, Oakland was to steroids what Jerusalem is to religion.

Bonds, however, is representative of the Old Testament practice whereby communities would place their collective sins on the back of a goat, sending it into the wilderness as a way of purging itself. That practice did not work then anymore than it does now.

More than ascertaining whether Bonds used steroids (he has yet to test positive), baseball must alleviate all doubt that it currently exists in a steroids era. Is it Bonds and a few bad apples, or is it more widespread? Can someone explain why 62 percent of those suspended under Major League Baseball's steroids policy are pitchers?

Baseball has two choices: Find out the whole truth and be prepared to offer contrition, or throw Bonds under the bus and hold its breath. Either way, the game already has lost the mystique that its hallowed statistics once possessed.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. E-mail him at byron@byronspeaks.com or leave a message at (510) 208-6417.