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Don't cry for Bonds

Sports views

Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2005

We've laid him low, pushed him off a bridge, even made his kids cry.

And we're just the batting-practice pitchers.

So imagine how Barry Bonds would have handled some high heat from Congress last week, or from prosecutors in the BALCO case somewhere down the road. And keep in mind that ''Whatever, dude,'' is not an acceptable reply to the same questions that left Mark McGwire sprawled in the dirt and Sammy Sosa furiously thumbing through his English-to-Spanish phrasebook.

Right or wrong, those same questions won't be answered by Bonds anytime soon. Because whatever else his meltdown Tuesday at the Giants' spring training site accomplished, it certainly bought him some time. What sounded at different moments like a retirement speech, or a concession even, was actually nothing of the sort. It was sport's reigning diva, knees wearing down and patience worn out, complaining bitterly about an avalanche of bad reviews, then hinting vaguely that he might get even by refusing to set foot on the stage again. Right.

''You wanted to bring me down. You've finally brought me and my family down. Finally done it. From everybody, all of you. So now go pick a different person,'' Bonds said. ''I'm done.''

At least he didn't promise to pitch in on car pooling, which is what Michael Jordan said the first time he retired, when what Jordan really meant was that he needed a break. And since MLB, like the NBA, doesn't grant sabbaticals, and the media doesn't issue waivers, Bonds simply elected to hide out on the disabled list for as long as he needs to rehab a surgically repaired knee and a reputation that may already be beyond repair.

''Right now, I'm just going to try to rehab myself to get back to, I don't know, hopefully next season, hopefully the middle of the season,'' Bonds said. ''I don't know. Right now, I'm just going to take things slow.

''I'm 40 years old, not 20, 30.''

Reminders of his advancing age are closing in on Bonds, and they're not limited to aches and pains. He is a dozen home runs shy of passing Babe Ruth's career mark of 714 and 53 behind Hank Aaron's 755.

At the same age, Ruth hit just six in his last season and Aaron 20. By whatever means, Bonds has already defied most of the conventional wisdom about sluggers losing power as they get older. But there's no circumventing one lesson writ large across the pages of baseball's history books: Time eventually catches everybody, and once a hitter's power and momentum slow, the tumble down the mountain happens with breathtaking speed.

Neither his joints nor his critics ever caused Bonds to hurt like this before, and so maybe Tuesday's wrenching soliloquy was prompted by doubts more imagined than real. Teammate Moises Alou, who is 38 himself and has come back from five surgeries, chose to read Bonds' words that way.

''Maybe today he was not very optimistic. I think it was one of those rehab days where you just caught him on one of the bad days,'' Alou said. ''It's not fun when you come to the ballpark, then have to go to the training room to get taped and get treatment.

''It's not as fun as when you are young and wild and doing things, especially,'' he added, ''when you are the man.''

If there is anything definite to be taken from this episode, it's that Bonds has lost his desire, at least for the time being, to be The Man. For all the perks accorded to somebody in that role, having to live like Elvis was enough to scare Jordan out of playing for a while, and it could have the same effect on Bonds.

''I might not be back at all,'' he told MLB.com. ''I'm just going to go home and try to enjoy my family. I'm sick and tired of seeing them so upset. I'm done. Finished with it. Certainly I'll be gone after 2006.''

For all that, longtime observers know even Bonds doesn't believe half the things that come out of his mouth. And so it's possible he'll return from a few days or weeks of working out and keeping his own counsel with his bravado and skills intact.

The guess here is that Bonds will be back in plenty of time to catch Ruth, but leave long before knocking Aaron off the pedestal.

His leave-taking then will be a much more polished version of his ramblings Tuesday, but the point he makes will be the same. Rest assured that Bonds will go out — as one writer described it perfectly — in ''a blaze of martyrdom,'' but not before he is good and ready.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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