Bonds says he doesn't want to risk injury

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds pulled out of the World Baseball Classic on Monday, saying he didn't want to risk an injury that could jeopardize perhaps his final season with the San Francisco Giants.

The star slugger had three operations on his troublesome right knee last year and missed most of the 2005 season before returning Sept. 12 and playing in 14 games. He announced in late November that he planned to play for the United States and was included on the preliminary U.S. roster for the inaugural 16-nation tournament, scheduled for March 3-20.

"When my name was first announced for the WBC, my gut reaction was that I wanted to play. After much thought and discussion with my family I have decided to remove myself from the upcoming World Baseball Classic roster," Bonds wrote on his Web site, www.barrybonds.com.

"After the announcement I received a lot of criticism as well as concern from fans and my family and friends. The obvious objections were about my health and whether or not I would be ready to play," Bonds said. "In the end, I decided that I can't take any chances that might jeopardize my season."

Bonds, 41, has 708 home runs, third on the career list behind Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755). Bonds batted .286 with five homers and 10 RBI in 42 at-bats last year, walking nine times.

"After he played only 14 games a year ago, you can understand why he came to this decision," U.S. manager Buck Martinez said during an interview on ESPN late Monday night. "He's 41 years old. He better do everything he can to have a healthy season."

Giants general manager Brian Sabean has said he hopes Bonds will be able to play in 120 games this season, which will be his 21st in the majors. Bonds hoped to lose a significant amount of weight this offseason from his 6-foot-1 frame after his knee kept him from doing the cardiovascular work and weight training he typically does throughout the year.

Bonds has acknowledged how much he wants to break Aaron's record, but he also is still searching for his first World Series ring -- and he says that's his top priority.

"As it is every season, my main goal and main focus is for our team to win a championship. I need to be in the best physical shape for the 2006 season -- in what could possibly be my last season," Bonds wrote.

Giants manager Felipe Alou said during the winter meetings in Dallas last month that he thought Bonds would benefit from playing in the WBC, with the chance to be a designated hitter.

"I owe it to the Giants organization, my teammates, and most of all to the fans of San Francisco to give 100 percent this season," Bonds wrote. "I assure you, my decision was not an easy one, but based on my circumstances, I had to put my health and my team first. I wish Team USA the best of luck and even though I won't be in the dugout with them, I'll be definitely be cheering them on to bring our country a WBC title."

By skipping the World Baseball Classic, Bonds certainly hopes he will be able to play a full Cactus League schedule after missing all of spring training and the season's first five months a year ago. His contract with San Francisco is up after the 2006 season.

"I think Barry knows what's best for his body," said Dick
Tidrow, the Giants' vice president of player personnel. "The
regimen he's followed for many years has been successful. ... He's
done what he thought worked. He wants to have a successful year."

Giants position players report to the team's training facility Feb. 20 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The United States still has several big-name stars on its initial roster, including Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr.

"I don't want to give the impression that the WBC is not important," Bonds wrote. "I know this means a lot to showcasing our sport worldwide, and the patriotism of playing for Team USA would have been a great honor. I feel what is best for me, my family, the Giants, and our fans is that I sit the WBC out."