Next? Bonds hits 757

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SAN FRANCISCO — On the day after, Barry Bonds was right back where he has been for the better part of the last 15 years: starting in left field, hitting cleanup for the San Francisco Giants and belting gargantuan home runs over the fence at AT&T; Park.

No rest for baseball’s new longball champion, not even after a mostly sleepless night of celebration and reflection, not to mention a whirlwind day that included phone conversations with President Bush, Alex Rodriguez, Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh and Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

Nope, less than 24 hours after hitting career homer 756, Bonds took on the Washington Nationals and crushed No. 757 in his first at-bat — a two-run shot off right-hander Tim Redding that landed in McCovey Cove, 438 feet from the plate.

“Now, the hard part’s over,” Bonds said late Tuesday night. “We get to actually go back to our everyday routines and enjoy ourselves.”

But what happens now that perhaps the most-hallowed record in all of American sports has been shattered, amid a cloud of controversy nonetheless?

This much is certain: Anyone who hoped Bonds would fade away once he passed Hank Aaron is surely going to be disappointed. Bonds made it clear before last night’s game that he plans to continue playing beyond this season and add to his already massive career stats, and he wasted no time doing just that.

The 43-year-old slugger certainly will be looking to reach new home run heights: 775, maybe 800. But he has a more immediate goal to reach first: 3,000 hits.

“I haven’t gotten there yet, but I want it,” said Bonds, whose homer last night also was his 2,916th base hit.

Whether he gets the opportunity to reach that milestone remains to be seen. It remains unknown whether the Giants (or any major league team) will offer Bonds a contract next season.

It took a lot of haggling between Bonds, his agents and San Francisco owner Peter Magowan last winter to ensure the veteran outfielder was back in his hometown chasing Aaron’s mark. Many within the Giants organization, players included, have become exhausted with Bonds and the circus that surrounds him. Few would be disappointed if he retired at the end of the season or moved on to play somewhere else.

The Giants, who own the fourth-worst record in the majors this year, still play to near-sellout crowds every night with the biggest attraction in baseball wearing the home jersey. So parting ways with Bonds, a beloved figure in this town, could be a bad financial move for a franchise that needs to stay in the spotlight.

Bonds sidestepped the issue Tuesday night when asked about his future.

“Me and the Giants usually talk about this in the winter time,” he said. “I’ll put it to you this way: I’ll leave my family of fans out here, and we’ll figure it out.”

Of course, there remain plenty of off-the-field issues that could sidetrack Bonds‘ farewell from baseball.

The commission on steroids headed by former Sen. George Mitchell ultimately could uncover conclusive evidence Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. If that happens, commissioner Bud Selig, who did not attend Tuesday’s game but did congratulate Bonds over the phone, will have to decide whether to suspend the all-time home run champion and/or erase his stats from the record book.

Even if the Mitchell commission finds nothing on Bonds, he still could be convicted of perjury for reportedly lying to a federal grand jury about unknowingly using illegal steroids known as the “clear” and the “cream.”

A sport that already has seen its all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, spend time in federal prison for tax evasion also could see its home-run champ land behind bars.

Then again, Bonds‘ reign atop the leader board may not last long. Unlike Aaron, who held the mark for 33 years, Bonds could be surpassed in less than a decade by New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who in the last week reached the 500-homer mark at age 32.

Bonds gave his wholehearted endorsement for Rodriguez yesterday.

“I’m not trying to set any bars,” he said. “Alex will break my record. Alex is a great player. He’s young enough to catch anybody. I’m rooting for him. He got through the first one [500 homers]. Each one gets a little tougher.”

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