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Is Bonds history after this?

Home run king's future a Giant question mark

SAN FRANCISCO - Now that he's the home run king, Barry Bonds's future is a Giant question mark.

Will he keep playing next year, as he's insisted so many times in recent months? And will it be in San Francisco, where he would prefer to retire after spending the past 15 seasons of his 22-year big league career? Or perhaps with an American League club as a designated hitter?

"I'll deal with that when the time comes," Bonds said. "It's up to them. I don't run the team. I'm not doing any interviews about my future."

One thing Bonds knows is that he doesn't plan to wait until just before spring training this time around to figure out where he will be in 2008, or if he's playing at all, for that matter.

Owner Peter Magowan has had a tough time saying no to the star slugger many times before, and Magowan has acknowledged that it's unfortunate Willie Mays - Bonds's Hall of Fame godfather - retired in 1973 with the New York Mets after the Say Hey Kid spent all but the final 1 1/2 seasons of his 22-year career with the Giants.

San Francisco has done its share of celebrating this year. Bonds is their home run champ, and he was at center stage for the All-Star Game in the team's waterfront ballpark as the NL's starter in left field.

"My future's in my house," Bonds joked.

But there's also a chance Bonds could be indicted if a federal grand jury determines he perjured himself when he testified in the BALCO case that he hadn't knowingly taken performance-enhancing drugs.

Bonds would like to call it quits on his own terms and in the comfort of his hometown, the city where he used to climb on Mays and his late father, Bobby, as a boy in the Candlestick Park clubhouse. He has been stretching and socializing with his teammates more regularly lately, perhaps hoping the Giants will notice his good behavior down the stretch.

Bonds received a $15.8 million, one-year contract for this season, again helping generate hype for a losing team. All this after Magowan said the day after last season ended that Bonds would no longer be the centerpiece of the franchise - and the Giants proceeded to sign lefthander Barry Zito to a $126 million, seven-year contract, the richest deal ever for a pitcher.

Yet the Giants lost out on other prized free agents: most notably Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano. The decision on Bonds might all depend on whether they find someone this offseason who can be more productive than Bonds was at 43. That could be a tough task for general manager Brian Sabean, as the team hasn't reached the playoffs since 2003.

Bonds wants to know sooner rather than later at what level he needs to work out this winter, and when to start his training. He has said he will have a "ripped" body come retirement after fighting his weight at times the last few years following three operations on his troublesome right knee in 2005. Recovering from surgery limited how much he could exercise.

When asked if there are any emotions knowing that his time with the Giants could soon be coming to an end, Bonds said, "Not yet," and shook his head no.

"Right now, I'm thinking about packing my stuff," he said. "Most of it's gone."

He did the same thing last year, sending all of his belongings back to Beverly Hills. Even the nameplate above his locker got taken away.

Bonds broke Hank Aaron's 33-year-old record with his 756th homer Aug. 7 - and Yankees star Alex Rodriguez is thought to be the man who might one day pass Bonds's mark.

Bonds would certainly like to put a little more space between himself and A-Rod, and he also wants to reach 3,000 hits. Heading into a weekend series at San Diego, he has 2,933. The seven-time NL MVP was batting .276 with 28 home runs - he has 762 in all - and 66 RBIs with 131 walks in 123 games.

"Nothing would surprise me with him," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, Bonds's first skipper with the Pittsburgh Pirates. "He's such a great athlete. He might do anything from calling it quits to hitting 800 home runs. If he plays, he's got a shot at 800 home runs. It's going to stand for a while, that's for sure. Everybody's anticipating it will be broken when you've got a guy like A-Rod.

"That's putting the cart before the horse. That's still a lot of home runs. [Rodriguez] has got to keep his health."

Sabean received a two-year contract extension in July knowing that the club might endure a couple more tough seasons of losing with a young, inexperienced roster in order to turn around the organization.

Finally parting ways with Bonds would be a big first step in that transformation - not to say that's going to be an easy call, especially if he can be talked into some kind of discount. It's hard to think Bonds would agree to anything under $10 million.

Bonds knows he can still contribute plenty, even if his outfield play is hardly what it used to be. He has been his healthiest in years this season - running well most of the time, staying on the field, playing regularly.

"You look at Barry's year and what he's accomplished, and he still has baseball left," manager Bruce Bochy said. "You don't go out and hit 30 home runs in a season and not have baseball left. That's all going to be up to Barry. He still has the ability to hit the ball - and hit it a long way. It still amazes me what he's doing at 43. I don't think Barry knows [what's next]. I don't know. I appreciate Barry and the gifts and talents he brings."

More than anything, Bonds wants that elusive World Series ring after coming so close in 2002 against the Angels.

"Looking at what he can do performance-wise, you can certainly see why he would have another year left in him," Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said. "That will be his decision."

Bonds was big talk last winter after passing Babe Ruth for second place on the career home run list, and that will likely be the case again this offseason. But it's doubtful he'll take his job search to the baseball winter meetings as he did last December.

"It looks to me like he's still in pretty good shape," Leyland said. "I would assume he could go out there a few days and play the field. He probably needs a few days off. Obviously he can still hit. He breaks the record every time he hits one."

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