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Original Issue

More Valuable Than Ever

On Aug. 19, four days before his father, Bobby, would succumb to
lung cancer and a variety of other ailments, San Francisco
slugger Barry Bonds called a team meeting. He had just returned
to the Giants after spending five days with his ailing dad, and
San Francisco had not won a game in his absence. According to his
manager, Felipe Alou, "He talked to all of us to explain how he
wants to help the team during his sadness."

A subdued Bonds told reporters after batting practice that
evening, "It was important for me to be there with my dad at this
time. It's also important for me to be here, too. I'll do the
best I can to do both. I just hope everyone understands."

Later that night, in the 10th inning of a tie game against
Atlanta, Bonds walloped a long home run into McCovey Cove at Pac
Bell Park to beat the Braves 5-4. "I've seen 500, 600, 650, 70,
71 and 73," Giants assistant general manager Ned Colletti said of
Bonds's milestone home runs, "and I'm telling you, that one was
bigger and more special than all of them. It gave you chills. The
guy doesn't pick up a bat for a week, he's spending time with his
ill father, and the first day he comes back, he wins the game for
us. He is special." Bonds rushed out of the ballpark after the
game to be at his father's side.

Two nights later, and one night after Bobby, in a wheelchair at
Pac Bell, had watched him play, Barry did it again. He hit
another 10th-inning walkoff homer to beat Atlanta 4-3 and
complete a three-game sweep of the team with the best record in
baseball. It was the 652nd home run of his career.

Even for a player who has made extraordinary feats routine,
Bonds's week was an epic one--containing both heartbreaking
poignance and the definitive testament to his greatness as a
hitter. Ever patient for the rare pitch to hit, Bonds kept his
focus despite his anguish. And when he connected, the Giants, who
at week's end held a 10 1/2-game lead in the National League
West, were whole once again.

"The guy doesn't miss," marveled Florida Marlins manager Jack
McKeon, whose pitchers walked Bonds three times and yielded a
single to him last Friday. (Bonds left the Giants on Saturday
and, as of Monday, the team was unsure when he would return.)
"You don't see him hit dribblers. Every swing is a line drive, a
bullet somewhere or out of the park."

If Bonds didn't lock up the National League's Most Valuable
Player Award last week, he made sure the hardware is his to lose.
He is so important to his team that even St. Louis Cardinals
outfielder Albert Pujols, who is chasing the Triple Crown, plays
in his shadow. Through Sunday, Pujols led the league in hitting
(.362), trailed Bonds by five home runs (39-34) and was just 13
RBIs behind the Colorado Rockies' Preston Wilson (121-108), yet
even a flirtation with the Triple Crown, last accomplished in the
National League by the Cards' Joe Medwick in 1937, may not be
enough to keep Pujols from finishing second to Bonds in the MVP
voting for the second straight year.

With a .523 on-base percentage (thanks in part to 119 walks) and
a .755 slugging percentage, Bonds is on pace to lead the league
in both categories for the third consecutive season. If he does
win the MVP award again, it will be his sixth, including his
third straight after turning 37. By getting on base in more than
half of his plate appearances once again, Bonds has flipped the
game's established order. No longer does the pitcher--the one who
initiates the action and has the ability to change the speed and
spin of the ball--have the advantage over the hitter. At bat and
in the MVP race, Bonds is the one in charge.