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Pitchers and catchers, cops and robber at spring training

COMMENTARY

February 25, 2007|Jim Litke | Associated Press

Barry Bonds has plowed through National League pitching for more than two decades, broken just about every offensive record baseball holds dear and, if his body doesn't break down, he expects to shatter the most treasured mark of all -- Henry Aaron's 755 career home runs -- sometime late in the summer.

Now for the really bad news.

He's in no hurry.

"You know how I do it -- the anticipation, the hype, the talk," Bonds told reporters after showing up at Giants camp. "I'll let you guys talk about it."

Thanks for that, Barry, since talking is about all anyone can do.

George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader hired nearly a year ago to head baseball's steroids probe, confirmed that his investigators are at spring training alongside pitchers, catchers and position players.

The cops aren't fanning out to get to the bottom of the Alex Rodriguez-Derek Jeter tiff, or find out how Kerry Wood injured himself getting out of a hot tub. They're investigating, well, steroid use.

But if they're waiting to talk to Bonds, it's going to a be a long wait. He's so lawyered-up that not only can Bonds afford to ignore Mitchell's investigators -- who have no power to make players cooperate -- he's practically daring a federal grand jury considering perjury charges against him to put up or shut up.

"Let them investigate. Let them, they've been doing it this long," Bonds said." It doesn't weigh on me at all -- at all. It's just you guys talking."

If nothing else, you have to admire the man's chutzpah.

Bonds looked finished just about this time last year. He was 41, and most of his moving parts seemed to be wearing out. He even sounded humbled. Then the regular season began and it became apparent why. He was stiff-elbowed and weak-kneed at the plate, and shakier still patrolling the outfield. He was chasing Babe Ruth's ghost and not making up any ground. The last thing Bonds wanted to talk about was Aaron.

Right after the All-Star break, though, Bonds found his stroke. He not only dusted Ruth, he resuscitated his average and finished with a flourish -- 10 home runs in his last 89 at-bats, a clip that compares favorably with some of his most productive stretches.

Now he shows up for spring training more fit than he's been in years and just as defiant.

"I said I'm playing till I'm 100 -- you guys get used to me," Bonds said.

And I say good for him.

By now, catching Aaron is practically Bonds' obligation. He's been bulked up by performance-enhancers he told a grand jury he didn't know he was taking, and stuck to the story at his repeated peril. He's been pitched around, hamstrung by injuries, hounded by the feds and reviled in every town he's played in but San Francisco. In a strange way, he's earned the right to see this drama all the way down to the bitter end.

Even more important, it's going to leave plenty of time to stage a debate baseball should have held long ago. We've all had enough time to prepare. We let guys like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and a dozen others off the hook and left Bonds holding the bag.

That little bit of discomfort caused by Bonds' chase of Ruth last summer was just the prelude. Commissioner Bud Selig did everything possible to distance himself from that celebration, but it won't be an option when Bonds begins zeroing in on Aaron.

He's got Mitchell's investigators combing spring-training camps even now, but they're no more likely to come up with anything than the feds are. And nobody knows that better than Bonds. It's why he showed up in camp so confident.

It's one thing to be able to stand in against guys throwing heat and pick on the one good pitch you see and drive it over the fence. It's another to be able to face questions day after withering day between those few good at-bats. Plenty of people doubted Bonds would still be able to do both this late in his career. Regardless of how well-prepared everybody else is, Bonds looks as ready for his big day as ever.

Let the chase begin.

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