Bonds’ future remains in doubt


SAN FRANCISCO – How about this scenario for Barry Bonds after he breaks Hank Aaron’s record: Unable to find a major league team in 2008, he heads to Japan and takes aim at Sadaharu Oh’s professional home run mark.

That really would be a world baseball classic.

Oh hit 868 home runs in Japan, a place Bonds thinks of fondly.

“I don’t think I have enough time in life,” the San Francisco slugger said with a grin. “I like all countries. I like Mexico. I like Venezuela. I played there. I played in Puerto Rico, in the Dominican. All those places.”

So how about Tokyo or thereabouts?

“I’d go there and play for fun and have a good time. With what I’ve accomplished and what I’m doing, it’s not funny to say I’ll go break the record in Japan.”

As often as Bonds changes his mind, for now he’s sure of one thing: He plans to be in the majors next season at age 43.

Where he’ll play he has no idea.

At the rate Yankees star Alex Rodriguez is hitting home runs, Bonds probably figures he’d better keep adding to his total to ensure his record stands for years to come.

“I’m not going to re-evaluate it. I’m playing,” Bonds said in an interview Tuesday.

Still, there’s a chance Bonds might reconsider – or that it won’t entirely be his choice.

At times, he insists he would like to be a baseball immortal, playing “till I’m 100” and hitting home runs well into the future.

Then there are days Bonds seems content with the idea of walking away from his game after 22 years with the career home run record in hand. His 17-year-old son, Nikolai, will be a high school senior this fall and playing sports.

But Bonds doesn’t consider himself quite done.

“He’ll probably hit 800 home runs,” teammate Ryan Klesko said.

It’s far from certain whether the Giants would want Bonds back for a 16th season, and some of the teams that would probably most interest him – the Los Angeles Angels, the Dodgers, San Diego or perhaps the Detroit Tigers under his former skipper Jim Leyland – may not have a need for an aging seven-time NL MVP who brings along allegations of steroid use and plenty of other baggage.

Bonds might even need to make another surprise appearance at the winter meetings in December, searching for work.

“It’s like a magic trick. You don’t know the end,” Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel said. “Everything seems so great and you don’t know what’s going to happen at the end. Or, it’s like a movie.”

Giants owner Peter Magowan said the day after the 2006 season ended that Bonds would no longer be the centerpiece of an organization in dire need of becoming younger. Then, San Francisco went ahead and signed Bonds to a $15.8 million, one-year deal and brought back many of the same faces to play around him: second baseman Ray Durham, third baseman Pedro Feliz, pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney.

That likely won’t be the case for next season. The formula hasn’t worked and the Giants are in last place in the NL West with a roster featuring a strange mix of veterans and young players. It could wind up costing general manager Brian Sabean his job, though many believe the GM deserves a shot without having to worry about Bonds.

There has even been talk the Giants could try to trade Bonds to a contender this season after he breaks Aaron’s record of 755 home runs. But Bonds can’t be dealt without his approval and would likely want a contract for 2008 to grant it.

The most logical next step for the left fielder – who has two tender knees and has lost a step on defense despite being in much better health – would seem to be a move to the American League as a designated hitter.

Yet Bonds didn’t talk seriously to any AL clubs last offseason and has said he doesn’t particularly want to change leagues.

Parting ways with the Giants has to be a daunting idea considering Bonds grew up bouncing around the San Francisco clubhouse at Candlestick Park with his late father, Bobby, and Hall of Fame godfather, Willie Mays. Bonds is a big reason fans have packed the team’s new waterfront stadium since it opened in 2000.

“A lot of American League teams would want him if he’s healthy,” said Shooty Babitt, a Bay Area-based scout with the New York Mets. “The big question is, will he want to go to some of the AL teams that would want him? The worst-case scenario is he’s the best pinch-hitter in baseball off the bench – if that’s a role he would accept.”

If Bonds changes his mind and walks away, all of the personal milestones will take up lots of shelf space in his Beverly Hills home. But he won’t own the one thing he has coveted most: a World Series ring.

Bonds was close in 2002, when the Giants came within six outs of a championship in Game 6 before losing to the wild-card Angels in the decisive seventh game.

When Bonds does eventually leave, it will be a strange sight to see anyone but No. 25 sitting in his corner locker of the clubhouse. But this longtime, rocky romance will end, and probably sooner than later.

AP-ES-06-30-07 1334EDT