LOS ANGELES -- Giants slugger Barry Bonds said on Tuesday night that he had not been cleared to play baseball yet by Dr. Lewis Yocum and Clive Brewster, although that clearance could come within days. But in an exclusive interview with MLB.com before the Giants played the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, Bonds said he wouldn't be even this close if it hadn't been for the work of the two men who have directed his rehab at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic on the west side of Los Angeles since June 24. "I don't think I'd be where I am if it wasn't for them, no way," Bonds said during his second consecutive day of workouts with the team, his first since early Spring Training. "They don't care about baseball, they care about life. When I leave them, they don't want to see me again, basically."
Bonds, at 41, is on the short end of his 20-year baseball career and knows that for the rest of his life he must contend with an arthritic right knee that has been arthroscopically repaired four times since 1998, three times alone this year. He's signed for $18 million to play the 2006 season with the Giants, but whether he plays beyond that is very much up in the air. Bonds has 703 home runs, 11 behind Babe Ruth's 714 and 52 behind Hank Aaron's 755. He'll undoubtedly now have to play well into the 2007 season to reach the all-time home run king. At the moment, Bonds may be on the brink of playing again for the first time since the end of last season, but he won't do it if it jeopardizes his future, he said. He's convinced that Yocum, the Angels' head orthopedic surgeon, and Brewster, a long-time physical therapist, are on the same page. "I won't jeopardize my leg and they won't let me," Bonds said. "They don't care about the game of baseball at all. Yocum doesn't care one bit about the game of baseball, but he does care about you walking with your kids, having a healthy leg and a healthy life. They're just here for my knee." Giants general manager Brian Sabean agreed that the seven-time National League MVP left-fielder's long-term health is the paramount concern regarding when and if Bonds will be activated. That evaluation came after Bonds spent about 90 minutes working on the field before most of his teammates arrived, including taking about 100 swings against long-time left-handed Giants batting practice pitcher John Yandle. Later, Bonds took a number of extensive rounds of BP in the first group of Giants hitters against Giants coach Luis Pujols, a right-hander. Bonds was re-evaluated by Yocum and Brewster on Tuesday morning and will visit with them again on Wednesday. Sabean said he likes the progress. "You can see he's hitting," Sabean said. "He's shagging fly balls almost flawlessly. His running ability seems where you want it to be. But again, that's a long way from exerting yourself making a split-second decision in the outfield or running the bases." The Giants may know by Wednesday if Bonds will at least be released by Yocum to join the team in San Francisco where they open their final extended homestand of the season against the Cubs on Thursday night. If that's the case, Bonds said he will still remain under the auspices of Yocum and Brewster while he continues to progress toward playing again. Bonds had arthroscopic surgery on the right knee to remove torn meniscus on Jan. 31 and March 17 and then had surgery to purge a serious bacterial infection on May 2. He also had surgery to shave debris from beneath his left kneecap last Oct. 12. In a joint decision between Bonds and the Giants hierarchy, Bonds left the team nearly six weeks after the last surgery to resume his rehabilitation in Los Angeles, where he makes his home with his wife and 6-year-old daughter. For several months he had shown very slow improvement, but in the last four weeks all that accelerated bringing him to this point. "Right now I'm available for (baseball) activity, but not to play," Bonds said. "I'll go back to be looked at again tomorrow and if they like what they see, my workouts will intensify. Everything has to be intensified each time to see how I recover. I was fine after what I did yesterday and feel good right now. But I worked out a lot harder today." Sabean agreed that a number of "boxes need to be checked" before Bonds is activated and said the Giants might stage a simulated game to step up his activity in the early afternoon before Wednesday night's game at Dodger Stadium, depending on Yocum's report and the availability of pitchers. Sabean said Bonds wouldn't be added to the 40-man roster as solely a pinch-hitter and didn't rule out the possibility of having him start his first game. "Knowing him he's going to want to jump in as soon as he can," Sabean said. "So that won't be as a pinch-hitter for us. I think he's going to want to jump out and start a game. When and where that happens is still up in the air." With time growing short, Bonds said he's a little bit anxious to get going, but he knows he must go through the obvious steps. Yocum will ask him how he feels. He'll tell them and ask for more work. "They may agree, but then there's a test I'll have to go through to prove that I'm ready," he said. If he passes the final test, Bonds said he'll have no problem trying to push it in the season's final weeks, particularly if the Giants continue to make it a race with the Padres for the National League West title. "If I can, I'm going to do it because you know I've done it before," Bonds said. "There's only three weeks left. I can deal with a little pain until then. If we were talking about six months, then no."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.