Bonds’ injury, mood may derail the race to 756

Brian Sabean, Felipe Alou, and many fantasy owners won’t be sleeping too well tonight because today was the day that the beleaguered Barry Bonds – All Star and fantasy stud extraordinaire – shocked the baseball world. Facing a bum knee and intense media scrutiny, Bonds announced on Tuesday that he may not play this season.

As the Associated Press reported, Bonds described himself as physically and mentally “done.? Blaming his knee, his age, and the pressure put on him by the media, Bonds seemed dejected and dispirited leaving many to wonder if the one of the game’s biggest stars wants to leave the spotlight of the steroid scandal and the hunt for Hank Aaron’s home run record.

The timing of Bonds’ announcement came after a tumultuous week and tumultuous off-season for the slugger. Many in the media were disappointed that Bonds did not testify in front of the Congressional committee panel last week as part of the investigation into steroids. Then, on Sunday, the news broke that Bonds’ ex-girlfriend pointed the needle at him during her grand jury testimony. Kimberly Bell apparently told the federal grand jury that Bonds had begun to use steroids in 2000.

These were just the latest developments in the steroid scandal that has enveloped Bonds and Major League Baseball seemingly since the minute after the Keith Foulke and Jason Varitek were celebrating on the mound in St. Louis last October.

To make matters worse for Bonds, he has been under intense media scrutiny over the last few months as he has begun to zero in on one of baseball’s most vaunted records. Sitting at 703 home runs, Bonds is just 11 home runs away from the Babe and 53 away from becoming the all-time home run king. As his pursuit has continued, baseball fans and media members alike have wondered if the record would be legitimate. They have often wondered if steroids were fueling the march to 756. While Bud Selig announced a no-asterisk policy, the ever-important court of public opinion is often not on Bonds’ side.

But now, the point may be moot. Bonds, who turns 41 in July, would face a steep uphill battle to reach 756 if he misses part or all of this season. History is not on his side.

Not too many players reach Bonds’ age and remain active. Even fewer – in fact, none – have reached Bonds’ age and remained as productive as he’s been since 2001. Take Hammerin’ Hank. The sport’s greatest home run hitter only hit 42 home runs from age 40 and beyond. Twenty of those came the year he turned 40. Forty-two more home runs would leave Bonds at 745. No small beans, but still, no record.

Only three players in baseball history have hit more than 53 home runs after (and including) the age of 40. Carlton Fisk slammed 72, largely because he played until he was 45; Darrell Evans slugged 67; and Dave Winfield hit 59. The record, by the way, for home runs hit by a 40-year-old is 34, and that record belongs to Evans.

Of course, these players all have one thing in common: They aren’t Barry Bonds. None of them can boast anywhere near a career slugging mark of .611. Winfield comes closest with a .475 mark. Remember, Bonds slugged .812 last year. That’s off the charts. Ted Williams, with a .540 mark, holds the record for highest slugging percentage by someone 40 and over. If anyone could break the mark despite missing their 40-year-old season to a knee injury, it would be Barry Bonds.

Now, to mix sports metaphors, the ball is in Bonds’ court. The slugger lashed out at the media for the pressure. The media wants Bonds to retire because if he were to break Aaron’s record, the integrity of the record would be in doubt as long as Bonds’ name continues to be linked to steroid use. One of the game’s most honorable records would be tarnished, and those covering the game are well aware how this could affect public perception of baseball.

Would Bonds want to deal with that pressure? Could he mentally deal with that pressure? Only Barry Bonds can answer that. If he wants to face the pressure, he has a great shot at breaking the record even if he misses 80 or 90 games this year. But if he’s fed up, it’s certainly his right to throw in the towel. The adversity is overwhelming with the BALCO cloud hanging over his head.

So as the Giants turn to Pedro Felix to fill in their left-field hole, the media frenzy over the home run chase will be on hold as baseball awaits to hear the fate of Barry Bonds. The truth is that the steroid scandal may just answer the questions that Bonds has left hanging.

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