REMEMBER BARRY BONDS? You'll see plenty of him next spring, when the most polarizing player in baseball returns from injury and exile to suit up for Team USA and to knock Babe Ruth from the record book. And that's just his to-do list for March and April. Will you be cheering or sneering?
Bonds missed all but 14 games last season after a series of surgeries (and setbacks) on his knees, allowing him shelter from the BALCO storm that eventually sent his personal trainer to prison on charges of conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering. Bonds did smack five homers in 42 at bats in a cameo return in September, increasing his career total to 708, seven short of surpassing Ruth as the most prolific lefthanded power hitter ever.
Bonds, 41, vowed to play next season with a slimmer physique to reduce the wear on his body. His first test drive will be as a DH in the World Baseball Classic in March. Given his age and surgical history, the condition of his knees appears to be the only thing keeping the Giants' leftfielder from slugging his 756th homer and overtaking Hank Aaron's alltime record by June 2007.
Major League Baseball will be conflicted about how to celebrate Bonds's eclipsing Ruth. Scores of security agents will patrol the outfield seats to verify possession of the 715 ball. Should it occur on the road, pockets of fans will boo. Whatever ceremony is staged will be muted because of Bonds's connection with BALCO. The occasion will take place without the commissioner of baseball, who will claim no obligation to be on hand for a player securing second place on an alltime list. The top spot will be a different story, forcing Bud Selig to attend, where he will applaud politely.
GLOBAL SUMMIT Even if it leads to some injuries, the inaugural 16-team World Baseball Classic will grow the game internationally.
SHORT-LIVED The controversy over Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins's two-season hit streak (which picks up at 36 games), will be over quickly.
BOOSTER SHOT Look for a run on coffee and energy drinks in the clubhouse when the ban on amphetamines takes effect next season.
BRAD MANGIN (BONDS)
CLOSING IN Bonds enters '06 six homers behind Ruth.