The defiant Barry Bonds of February, unmoved by a burgeoning steroid scandal and an increasingly inquisitive media, gave way yesterday to the despondent Barry Bonds of March. Frustrated by a balky knee and an encroaching federal grand jury investigation, an admittedly tired Bonds questioned whether he would play this season, if ever again.
"Right now," said a weary-looking Bonds, "I'm just going to try to rehab myself to -- I don't know, hopefully next season, hopefully the middle of [this] season, I don't know . . . I'm just going to let myself heal. I'm 40 years old -- not 20, or 30. I've got a lot of work to do to try to get back."
Barry Bonds returns to Giants' spring training camp with his son Nikolai, 15. He had knee surgery again last Thursday.
(Ben Margot -- AP)
The session outside the San Francisco Giants' spring training complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., was intended to update the media on the state of Bonds's right knee, which was operated on Thursday for the second time in seven weeks. Giants front office and medical staff met with Bonds for 90 minutes before he addressed the media. The Giants had previously said it was unlikely Bonds would be ready by Opening Day.
But it was not long before all of Bonds's frustrations from the last few months -- which presumably include both his knee and his increasing involvement in a grand jury investigation into an alleged steroids ring -- poured out of him. Bonds, often resting his chin on one of his crutches, used the word "tired" more than a dozen times, and the phrase "I'm done" at least twice.
"I'm just tired, guys, really tired," Bonds said. "You wanted me to jump off the bridge -- I finally have jumped . . . You've finally done it, all of you. So now go pick a different person. I'm done."
Giants General Manager Brian Sabean declined to comment, but team spokesman Jim Moorehead said the Giants' medical staff believes Bonds's knee was "where it should be given the fact he had surgery last week. We know we're going to lose him for some time. We're just going to take it day by day from here."
Were it nothing more than a baseball story, Bonds's knee troubles would still be a major story. At age 40, he remains, when healthy, the greatest hitter in the game. Last season, he won his record seventh most valuable player award. And he enters this season with 703 career homers, which trails only Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755) on the all-time list. If he were to miss half the season, or all of it, his chances of breaking Aaron's record would be damaged.
But with Bonds it is never simply a baseball story. This has been baseball's offseason of steroid scrutiny -- from the leaked grand jury testimony of Bonds and Jason Giambi regarding their alleged steroid use, to the publication of Jose Canseco's controversial tell-all book, to last Thursday's congressional hearing into steroid use within the game.
Last week, Kimberly Bell, who claims to have been Bonds's girlfriend for nine years, reportedly described to the grand jury Bonds's use of steroids, as well as some financial details of their relationship. The revelations indicated that federal prosecutors may be pursuing perjury and, or, tax-crime charges against Bonds.
That possibility might help explain why the House Committee on Government Reform subpoenaed Giambi, McGwire and other players to force them to testify last Thursday -- ultimately withdrawing their subpoena of Giambi because of the ongoing grand jury probe -- but never subpoenaed Bonds. In public comments leading up to the hearing, committee members were vague about Bonds's absence from the witness list.
A month ago, Bonds met the media in Scottsdale and deflected questions about steroids with a mixture of defiance and dry humor, saying he got his prodigious power through "hard work" and comparing the repetition of reporters' questions about steroids with televised reruns of "Sanford and Son."
But none of the defiance or humor was in evidence yesterday when Bonds met the media for the first time since his latest surgery.
Before his latest setback, Bonds had hoped to be ready by April 5, keeping alive his streak of playing in 19 Opening Days in a row. But as he spoke yesterday, suddenly there was for the first time a question of whether he would ever return to the field.
"I don't know," Bonds said softly at one point, "if I'm going to be back yet."
"Maybe today he was not very optimistic," teammate Moises Alou told reporters. "I think it was one of those rehab days where you just caught him on one of the bad days . . . It's not as fun as when you are young and wild and doing things, especially when you are The Man."
Still, the Barry Bonds who spoke yesterday looked, for the first time, like someone who was vulnerable -- a word never used to describe him. It wasn't just the knee, or the Kimberly Bell allegations, but the accumulation of body blows over weeks and weeks. And worst of all, his longtime sanctuary -- the baseball field -- appears to be no longer available to him.
"Me and my son are going to try to enjoy each other," he said, motioning to 15-year-old Nikolai sitting next to him. "That's all we've got. Everybody else has tried to destroy everything else that's supposedly positive or good."
A pause. And then Bonds turned to his son, patted him on the leg and said, "Let's go home."