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December 06, 2001

Could Bonds surpass A-Rod?
By Dan Patrick

Forget about what Barry Bonds' 71st home run ball will be worth. What will Bonds be worth on the free-agent market in the offseason? Uh, more than the ball.

In 1997, Bonds signed an extension worth an average of $11.7 million, the highest in baseball at the time. Four years later, Bonds is on the verge of achieving baseball immortality, of winning a record fourth MVP award, and of completing one of the greatest offensive seasons in history.

Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds could be headed to the top of the salary chart.

Scott Boras, who represents Bonds, told me he believes Bonds is underrated. The agent was able to get Alex Rodriguez a deal worth a record $25.2 million a season and believes another client, Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park, is worth $20 million. But what about Bonds? Boras stopped short of saying Bonds would be worth more per season than A-Rod. Depending on the buyer, Boras said, Bonds could make more.

Last offseason Boras produced a 65-page booklet on the exploits and talents of A-Rod. He plans to do the same thing for Bonds, distributing it to potential suitors. But who has that kind of money? It will be a poker game, but no one knows how many teams will ante up and be dealt a hand.

Boras said Bonds' price isn't rising with each home run. Whether he finishes with 69, 71 or 75 home runs, he thinks teams will either want him or not want him. Bonds will turn 38 after the All-Star break next season. For the sake of comparison, Hank Aaron hit 116 home runs from the age of 38 until the end of his career.

But despite Bonds' age, Boras said teams know what they will be getting. Bonds appears to be in the best shape of his career. He is playing well in the field. He even leads his team in stolen bases with 13.

The Giants, Boras said, will no longer get the hometown discount. The hometown offer came and went during spring training, when Bonds offered his services for a four-year deal. Because the Giants passed on the opportunity, sentimentality may now place less of a role in his decision.

Bonds, who like A-Rod has never mentioned his salary, is certainly worth more to San Francisco. The Giants, a franchise with more Hall of Famers than any franchise in baseball history, would like one more. They want Bonds to retire in a Giants' uniform. Bonds has turned Pac Bell Park into "The House That Barry Built." McCovey Cove is his personal swimming pool. His godfather, Willie Mays, can come see him play. It's Bonds' stadium, city and team. The Bay Area is his home, where he grew up and where he went to high school.

But in every conversation I had with Boras before A-Rod's move to Texas, Boras said he thought A-Rod would stay in Seattle. With Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson gone, it was A-Rod's team, A-Rod's town. Seattle had just built a new stadium, Safeco Field. It was supposed to be A-Rod's era in Seattle.

How would Bonds look in, say, pinstripes? His father, Bobby, played one season for the Yankees. There's a chance he wouldn't hit as many home runs in the larger parks of the American League. But if he plays 81 games a year at Yankee Stadium, the short porch in right field would be inviting.

If the Giants don't win the World Series -- or even make the postseason -- after he produces one of history's greatest seasons, what makes him think he will get a championship next season in San Francisco?

In the big picture, one has to wonder if Bonds sees himself as a DH in the American League. Boras said it will depend on what Bonds is comfortable doing. If he doesn't want to be a DH, he would cut every American League team out of the bidding process. He loves playing the field and being the best left fielder of all time, but maybe, with eight Gold Gloves, he has already proven his superiority in the field.

Being a DH on certain days could prolong his career and improve his chances of reaching Aaron's home run record.

But what does Bonds really want, the all-time HR record, a longer career or a world championship? Bonds says it is the latter. And if the Giants don't win the World Series -- or even make the postseason -- after he produces one of history's greatest seasons, what makes him think he will get a championship next season in San Francisco?

Even though 71 home runs would be a phenomenal achievement, he knows people will whisper, "But he didn't win a World Series." It's just another personal achievement for Bonds in a team sport. He's the Willie Mays of our time, yet he knows he will somehow be blamed if the Giants miss the postseason and be judged for failing to produce in the playoffs.

A month ago Bonds told me people shouldn't hold it against him if he finishes his career without a championship because other great players never won one. Plus, it's harder in baseball than it is in basketball. But if winning the World Series is his ultimate goal, then why rule out the possibility of playing for George Steinbrenner, who is ready to start his new cable venture?

There is the chance Bonds could go on another home run chase. There is the chance Bonds could break the all-time home run record. There is the chance Bonds could finally win a championship. And no one knows the value of all three more than the Yankees.

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