- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO.

Jim Leyland issued a challenge of sorts last night — or at least Barry Bonds considered it one.

“I will not intentionally walk Barry Bonds in the All-Star Game,” the Tigers’ manager said.

The embattled Bonds — just four home runs away from tying Hank Aaron’s career record of 755 and perhaps weeks away from a federal indictment for perjury connected with the BALCO Labs steroid investigation and income tax evasion — was the focus yesterday of nearly everything related to the All-Star Game.

What will he say? What will he not say?

What will he do? What won’t he do?

Bonds clearly loved being the center of attention. When the doors opened to the interview room for the National League players, the media sprinted for the table where Bonds was sitting as if there were bags of cash waiting for them. For the entire 45-minute session, there were at least 75 to 80 media members in the scrum to hear what Bonds would say.

As he sat there, holding a recorder in his hand the entire time, presumably for his own Web site, Bonds held court instead of going to court.

He has no plans to quit playing after this season. Asked about the pressure accompanying his pursuit of Aaron, Bonds replied, “When I get to 754, I will really feel it, and then it may depend on how many games are left. But I am not quitting, so I might make you wait [until] next year. You guys say I am drama, so let’s make it more drama. My skills ain’t that bad. I am going to play.

“If I walk away from the game and I can still play the game, I wouldn’t have a happy ending. I have to walk away when I know I can’t do it anymore, so I can be free with the game and let it go.”

Bonds also defended Aaron’s declaration that he won’t be on hand when the record goes down.

“No one can determine when it will happen, and Hank has a life, too,” Bonds said. “It can go weeks, and do you expect this man to travel all over the continent for weeks? It is not fair to him. If you could predict what you are going to do and you could tell him where it would be and when, that would be different. You can’t predict that in baseball. You can’t ask a person to give up his entire life and what he has and what he has worked so hard to do. It shouldn’t be like that.

Hank was a great ballplayer. He is the home run king. He will always be the home run king in my heart. We respect him, and we love him and, Hank, if you want to stay home, stay home, brother.”

But he called the issue of whether commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig will show up for the record-breaker “terrible.”

“Does it matter to me?” Bonds said. “I think it is terrible the way it has gone down. But that is up to Bud. It is not up to me. I am going to do my thing anyway. I have to go out there and play for my teammates. Bud is his own man. I respect him. Whether Bud shows up or he doesn’t show up, I am still going to play baseball that day.”

He said fans who boo him on the road are influenced by a “third party,” presumably, the media.

“I feel disappointed in some of the fans who are influenced by third-party judgments and have not given me that opportunity to know me,” Bonds said. “People in San Francisco know me. The fans here know me. Fans outside the city only get to see me three days. To judge me based on a third party, that is what disappoints me. I have done nothing wrong. I have gone to your stadium and just tried to entertain you. I have just tried to play my game as best as I can, and you have allowed a third party to influence you about who I am.”

This was entertaining, Bonds‘ strategy this year to take the high road. He seems to be enjoying it, perhaps because it is such unfamiliar territory for him. The guy who couldn’t care less about anybody but himself for nearly his entire career is now — two weeks from turning 43 and in the 23rd season of his career — a man of the people.

Although he refused to participate in the home run derby last night for his hometown fans despite the wishes of Giants owner Peter Magowan and the last-minute voting push by Giants fans who landed him a place as an All-Star starter, Bonds said he was more than willing to do whatever they wanted him to for this All-Star event in town.

“I wished they asked me to do something else,” Bonds said. “They didn’t ask me to do something else. We’re here in San Francisco. It would have been nice if they asked me to do other things, be with my godfather [Willie Mays], go hang out with the people, go do other things, but I haven’t been asked to do anything.”

This may be the funniest thing any ballplayer has said in the history of the game.

Consider what Leyland, his former manager in Pittsburgh who claims to like Bonds and has defended him consistently, said when asked whether he planned on talking to Bonds: “I do talk to him from time to time, but I’m looking forward to having a chance to spend a little time with him. He’ll probably blow me off, but I’m looking forward to it anyway.”

Barry Bonds blow somebody off? Not the 2007 Bonds. This one is Gandhi compared to the Bonds of baseball past.

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