Fans give Bonds All-Star nod

Jul 2, 2007 - 2:45 PM By Tom Covill PA SportsTicker Staff Writer

The 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco next Tuesday will include the city's biggest star, and the game's most divisive force - Barry Bonds.

Bonds was surprisingly talkative on Sunday after it was announced that he had overtaken Chicago Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano for the third and final spot in the National League's All-Star starting outfield.

The normally standoffish slugger seemed somewhat vindicated by receiving the nod from the fans.

"I'm forever thankful, grateful and a loss for words," Bonds said. "I just want to have a party with the city of San Francisco, that's all. The fans voted, and I want to have a big huge party with them."

Whether or not Bonds should have made the team was a source of some debate over the last few weeks.

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has been mum on the subject of Bonds all season as he slowly stalks Hank Aaron's career record of 755 home runs.

Bonds' name has been linked to steroid use for years, and MLB is currently 18 months into a probe into performance-enhancing drugs in the game. A good friend of Aaron's, Selig presumably would rather have the controversy-free Hall of Famer hold on to the record a little longer.

Considering all those issues, National League All-Star manager Tony La Russa would have had a difficult decision if the fans and players had snubbed Bonds from the roster.

"We discussed Bonds," La Russa said. "Our staff got together. If the players or fans hadn't voted him in, we would have probably picked him. I'm not surprised the fans or players voted him in. You can make the case he's San Francisco's best player."

In a down year for the Giants, Bonds is not just the best player on the team, he also clearly is still the most feared hitter in baseball. The 42-year-old leads the majors with 82 walks and a 1.112 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

A recent eight-game hitting streak has raised Bonds' average back over .300 after a May slump, and he needs just three more homers this season to break Carlton Fisk's record for the most homers in a season by a player of his advanced age.

"They're talking about his numbers aren't the same, but just imagine what his numbers would be if they pitched to him," Giants first baseman Ryan Klesko said. "He's got over 80 walks. Give the guy 80 more at-bats, he's got 20-something homers and he's got an extra 20 RBIs."

Fortunately for Bonds, the pundits don't get a vote in the All-Star selection process.

"I'm surprised," Bonds said of the fan's vote. "I thought I played good enough to make the team, but I didn't think I would start. But this is great.

"I'm having a big ol' party Monday. It's going to be fun, I get to host it here in San Francisco and I can't say thanks enough to the fans here in San Francisco."

AT&T Park is the one place where Bonds isn't lustily booed every time he comes to the plate, so playing at his home park should save MLB the embarrassment of watching the game's pre-eminent slugger get jeered at its mid-summer exhibition.

"It's great. I'm happy for him," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "I think it's great for our fans, for baseball. I mean, this guy - he's going to go down as one of the greatest players ever if not the greatest. To be starting here at home, that's huge."

"The fans make their decisions, and that's all that matters," Bonds said. "It says a lot. ... To be able to represent my hometown is great."

Bonds hinted that this may be his final All-Star game, and final season.

"This is the best one and this will probably be my last, too, so it will be kind of awesome," he said.

It's only a matter of time before Bonds passes Aaron and takes over as the career home-run king. With the Giants looking like they're ready to rebuild, it makes sense for Bonds to hang it up after this season and wait for the Hall of Fame voters to determine where he stands in a historical sense.

While this may be his last start in the field, Bonds has apparently already participated in his final Home Run Derby.

"I don't have anything to prove," Bonds said. "I don't feel any pressure, but I'm 42, guys - almost 43. It's asking a lot for me at my age for me to go out there and do that. We don't actually have an off-day prior to that home-run hitting contest. It's going to determine on what happens between this last road trip and I'll make that decision then."

Bochy, for one, does not think Bonds' absence from the Home Run Derby will detract from the festivities. With Bonds just six homers away from surpassing Aaron, Bochy feels the slugger's mere presence will create more than enough pomp and circumstance.

"The one thing we want to do is create interest in the game," Bochy said. "With Barry starting, I know that's going to create a lot of interest for the fans and people watching."

Whether that interest is positive or negative remains to seen. Perhaps with Bonds playing instead of watching, the focus will be on baseball.

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