Bonds weighs HR feat, future

New home run king revels in achievement, wonders what's next

October 07, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO - It has been a season of mixed feelings for San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds, so he could be forgiven for experiencing an emotional tug-of-war after he shattered baseball's single-season home run record on Friday night.

His two-homer performance capped one of the greatest individual seasons in baseball history, but it came on a night when the Giants were eliminated from both the National League West race and the wild-card hunt.

He will go into the off-season with the best career numbers ever possessed by a potential free agent during baseball's big-money era, but seems apprehensive about the possibility that someone will outbid the Giants for his services.

Could it be possible that Bonds, once considered the ultimate show-me-the-money player, has experienced a quantum priority shift in the face of unprecedented fan adulation and positive publicity?

"I don't know what my future is," Bonds said. "I've seen a lot of changes out there this year - you guys [the media], the fans of San Francisco - towards me. It's really hard when you don't know where you're going to be or what you're going to do next."

Perhaps it would be better to spend a few days enjoying what he has done already.

When Bonds launched that 442-foot home run to right-center field in the first inning of Friday night's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he broke a record that some thought would stand for a long, long time. Mark McGwire's Bunyanesque performance in 1998 raised the bar so high that it seemed inconceivable that anyone other than Big Mac would soon approach it.

Three years later, Bonds put on a home run display that - in many ways - was more impressive than McGwire's even before Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park gave up Nos. 71 and 72 on Friday. McGwire hit his last few homers in garbage time. Bonds broke the record with a huge performance in a must-win game and did it the same year that he broke Babe Ruth's all-time record for walks in a season.

But it didn't take long for the focus to shift from what Bonds just did to what he might do in the next few months.

During the postgame ceremony to celebrate his amazing home run total, the fans at Pacific Bell Park broke into a chant of "Sign him! Sign him!" Then some fans began chanting "Four more years!" in reference to the likely length of contract for a 37-year-old player.

Giants legend Willie Mays, who Bonds considers a second father, got into the act when it was his turn to speak at the podium.

"I know I'm jumping the gun," Mays said, "but Barry belongs here in San Francisco."

Bonds was trying to enjoy the moment as best he could, but he was being pulled in so many emotional directions that he didn't know where to start.

"I don't know what to say tonight," he said. "I've got to soak in what happened against the Dodgers. I've got to commend them. They played well tonight. They played a great game out there."

They also challenged him right from the start, which is something the Houston Astros had failed to do until Bonds tied McGwire's record with No. 70 in his final at-bat of the three-game series at Enron Field.

The record-breaker was a typical Bonds shot, but he hit it to the deepest possible point in the ballpark, so he couldn't be sure it was gone until season-ticket-holder Jerry Rose reached out and snagged it from the corner of the raised right-center-field bleacher section.

"I knew I hit it pretty good," Bonds said, "but sometimes this park can be deceiving. It looked like it was dying close to the wall. Things have been working out for me all year. I've been able to stay healthy."

Giants and ESPN announcer Jon Miller dramatically painted the deep drive to "Death Valley," which - at 421 feet - is the deepest point in any National League ballpark, but he had to wait until it came down to declare Bonds baseball's new single-season home run king.

"I was impressed that the record-breaking home run was to the deepest point in the league," Miller said yesterday. "I tried to bring that out. After I felt I had done it justice, I made sure I said it was No. 71 and he was the new home run king."

Bonds was not in the starting lineup for yesterday's game, although he did single as a pinch hitter in the ninth. He had a right to be fatigued after the emotion of his two big home runs, the outcome of the pennant race, and the fact that the 11-10 loss to the Dodgers was the longest nine-inning game by time (4:27) in the history of baseball.

Instead, he watched the game and allowed the magnitude of his accomplishment to begin sinking in.

"I look at all the numbers and, eventually, I will see what I really did this year," Bonds said. "I just hope [from now on] that 30 or 40 home runs won't be a bad year for you guys."

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