Bonds missed the final four games of the season after the Giants were eliminated from playoff contention by the National League West-winning Padres on Wednesday night in San Diego to rest his gimpy and thrice surgically repaired right knee.
On Fan Appreciation Day at the now six-year-old ballpark, the team said goodbye to the 40,239 in attendance after Brett Tomko twirled a complete-game victory and Bonds limped onto the field dressed in jeans and a red T-shirt. He waved to the crowd, tossed an autographed baseball into the stands and then disappeared into the offseason, during which he said he hopes to strengthen the knee and eradicate the constant pain he played in, making 13 starts during a period of less than three weeks.
"I gave it everything I had to give," Bonds said. "I couldn't give any more."
Bonds hit five home runs in his first 36 at-bats. That gives him 708 in his 20-year career, leaving him six behind Babe Ruth's 714 and 47 in arrears of Hank Aaron's 755, the all-time Major League Baseball record.
During his first at-bat Sept. 12 after missing the season's initial 142 games, he battled San Diego's Adam Eaton for 11 pitches, slamming the final offering just near the rim of the left-field fence. The shot was called a double instead of a home run because of fan interference, although later the Giants analyzed the replay and determined the decision had been the wrong one.
"That first ball he hit we determined was a home run," said Peter Magowan, the Giants' managing general partner. "The guy reached down to catch it. We ejected him from the ballpark because we thought it hit off him below the fence. But the replay actually showed that it hit the top of the fence and was bouncing over when it hit him."
A little more than a week later, during his second plate appearance ever at RFK Stadium, Bonds hit the ball seven rows into the second deck, making it the 35th Major League ballpark in which he has homered. At that point, Bonds was in the midst of hitting homers in four consecutive starts.
His last homer of the season came Sept. 27 in pitcher-friendly PETCO Park, an opposite-field, first-inning, three-run shot into the left-field bleachers.
Bonds started six games in a row before sitting Thursday and 13 in all after his belated comeback began nearly three weeks ago.
He finished with a .286 batting average (12-for-42) with a double, the five homers, eight runs scored, 10 runs batted in and nine walks, three of them intentional.
"I think we all know he can still hit," Sabean said. "The more we asked him to play, he was able to go out there all those days in a row and do it. Some of those were ginger, whether on the bases or in the outfield. But it was a good thing for him mentally. No matter how great you are, it's very difficult to take a whole year off. He now knows that he's still the force he was before he missed all this time."
Bonds had surgery to clean debris from beneath his left kneecap last Oct. 12 and waited until Jan. 31 to have meniscus removed from his right knee. During what turned out to be an aborted attempt at Spring Training, Bonds went back into surgery March 17 on a knee that is now arthritic, devoid of meniscus and cartilage. It was then that his recovery really began to bog down.
"Right then, I knew there was something seriously wrong with the knee," Bonds said. "It just wasn't right."
For the next six weeks, he showed no improvement and finally visited the clinic of Dr. Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles, where he was diagnosed with a serious bacterial infection that jeopardized the very existence of the lower right leg. On May 2, he had the knee flushed with antibiotics and had to wear a portable IV for another week.
The infection was ultimately purged. On June 24, Bonds left the team to rehab at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic under the auspices of Yocum, the Angels' chief orthopedic surgeon, and physical therapist Clive Brewster. When he rejoined the team at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 5 to resume batting practice and baseball activities with the team, Bonds claimed that he never would've made it back without the help of Yocum and Brewster, the latter of whom was in San Francisco this weekend as Bonds resumed his rehab.
Bonds said he will remain under their care for a least a month before resuming the offseason workouts that were once commonplace during the first 19 years of his 20-year career. As a veteran with 10 years of experience and at least the last five with the same team, he must approve any trades. And Bonds has not asked at this juncture to be traded to an American League team where he can finish as a designated hitter, Magowan and Sabean said and Bonds confirmed.
"I would be surprised if he'd come to us and do that," Sabean said. "He's told everybody in the past that he wants to retire as a Giant."
Bonds is under contract next year for $18 million. How much he will have to give is the greatest question.
"We've talked about this internally," Sabean added. "With the intense conditioning program over the winter that I'm sure he's going to partake in, it's reasonable to think he'll play in 120 games. We'll have to watch him and be sensitive to the fact that some days he may come in cranky and not be ready to go. The next thing is to get him into Spring Training and get him in a position to be able to do that. I think he wants to do that. Now whether that happens or not, only God knows. But I think the effort is going to be there."