By Larry Beil, Yahoo! Sports
February 23, 2006
Barry Bonds is retiring after this season … or he might play another five years.
Barry's body is wracked with pain … or he feels great.
So what's true here? With Bonds, the answer is all of the above. It was classic Bonds this past week, with Barry fueling dueling headlines, supplying quotes about his imminent demise and his bright future.
The San Francisco Giants slugger clarified the mixed messages when he reported to spring training on Wednesday, saying, "One minute you feel great – the next you feel, 'Why am I doing this?' I'm just being realistic with myself … If I can still help the team, that's what I'm gonna do. If I can't do that anymore, then I say goodbye."
Bonds doesn't sound like a short-timer on the job, but clearly realizes the end is near. You can hear the retirement flip-flop in his voice when Bonds says, "You're gonna miss it all," but quickly adds, "I've spent a lot of time at home lately and been able to see the other side of the fence."
At this point, nobody really knows how long Bonds will play, including Barry himself. It all seems to hinge upon that creaky right knee, which kept him sidelined most of last season. When Bonds met the media in Scottsdale, the only insight he offered on the state of his knee was, "It's connected."
While Barry's health is in doubt, there is no question about the two most important numbers for Bonds this season: 47 and 230.
Let's start with 230, which is what Bonds said he weighed in his interview with USA Today. "I'm fat," joked Bonds. But it won't be funny for the Giants if the strain of that extra baggage puts Bonds on the bench again.
Bonds was told by his doctors that it would be wise to lose weight in the offseason with the goal being somewhere around 210. But Bonds arrived in camp at linebacker-size and the thought of him trying to carry that load for 120 games has to be troubling for Giants management.
Forty-seven is the number of homers Bonds needs to tie Hank Aaron as the all-time home run king. There are many baseball fans who don't want to see "BALCO Barry" break the record. Major League Baseball is trying to distance itself from the steroid era, so Bonds eclipsing 755 is not necessarily a good thing.
But tying Aaron would be perfect. MLB would get the excitement of another chase at history and Aaron would still hold a share of the title. Bonds would get his glory. Those who love him can cheer and those who loathe him can boo what they'd view as a tainted record.
While Bonds ponders what's ahead as he embarks on his 21st season in the majors, the Giants have to wonder themselves.
What if Barry hobbles his way to 30 homers this season and wants to keep playing? Bonds will make $18 million in 2006. Do the Giants ante up for one more season even if Barry's skills are declining? Do they even have a choice? Do they dare let George Steinbrenner or Arte Moreno swoop in and dangle big cash in front of Bonds for his run at Aaron? Not wise, even if Bonds' salary strangles the Giants payroll.
Bonds has maintained for years that he doesn't want to become a designated hitter and doesn't want to leave San Francisco. "Go somewhere else and DH? I don't really want to think about that at this time," Bonds said.
No, at this time all that matters is Bonds proving to himself that he can still play, limp or no limp.
Asked if the acquisition of Steve Finley meant Bonds could take more time off this season, Barry chuckled and responded, "Do you think they buy a ticket to NOT see me go on that baseball field?" Bonds knows he's the meal ticket. The question now is whether this season is feast or famine.
Larry Beil is a Yahoo! Sports analyst. Send Larry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Thursday, Feb 23, 2006 8:23 pm, EST
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