Bonds in a walk

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

NEW YORK -- Barry Bonds won his record seventh NL MVP award in a walk.

Capping a season filled with suspicion and success, the San Francisco Giants left fielder became the oldest player to become the MVP of a major North American professional league. The 40-year-old received 24 of 32 first-place votes and 407 points Monday in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America to earn the award for the fourth straight season.

"I don't know if one is better than the other. I think they're all overwhelming," Bonds said. "You almost get lost for words, the kind of things that are being accomplished in my career.'

Los Angeles third baseman Adrian Beltre was second, getting six first-place votes and 311 points, followed by St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols with 247 points.

Speaking from Beverly Hills, Calif., during a telephone conference call, Bonds repeatedly avoided responding to questions about steroids. Bonds, who testified last December before a federal grand investigating steroid distribution, has denied using illegal performance-enhancing substances.

Asked how he could keep his concentration amid the controversy, Bonds said: "I kind of just walk through it."

Bonds is the only baseball player with more than three MVP awards and the only one to win more than two in a row. Willie Stargell previously was the oldest baseball MVP, sharing the 1979 NL award at 39 1/2 with Keith Hernandez. Charlie Conerly of the 1958 New York Giants (38) was the oldest NFL MVP, while the oldest NBA and NHL MVPs were both 35: Karl Malone of the 1998-99 Utah Jazz and Herb Gardiner of the 1926-27 Montreal Canadiens.

Among the four major sports, Bonds is second in MVPs to the NHL's Wayne Gretzky, who won nine.

Bonds' season was unparalleled statistically. He hit .362 to win his second NL batting title in three seasons and shattered the major league record with a .609 on-base percentage, topping the previous mark of .582 he set two years ago.

He walked 232 times, 34 more than the previous record he set in 2002 and more than 100 better than anyone else in baseball this season. His 120 intentional walks obliterated the old mark of 68, also set by Bonds in 2002.

Bonds hit 45 homers in 373 at-bats, while Beltre hit a major league-leading 48 in 598 at-bats and Pujols had 46 in 592.

"I never think that I'd have a chance to win any awards being walked. I don't think that's even possible, to try to keep up with these great talented athletes when your chances are minuscule compared to their chances," Bonds said.

Only 52 home runs behind Hank Aaron's career mark, Bonds said he intends to play two more seasons and is motivated by his quest to win a World Series title for the first time. He talked about it a few days ago with Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles and was a five-time MVP.

"He's like, 'Barry, do you understand what you're doing?' " Bonds quoted Jordan as saying.

"I haven't won a championship, and so there's nothing really I'm enjoying now except these individual awards," Bonds said he told Jordan. "I want that championship, and then maybe I can reflect on what else I've done. I've done a lot of great individual things but I want that championship to go on top of everything else that I've accomplished."

The Giants missed the playoffs this season, finishing one game behind wild-card winner Houston.

Bonds this year became only the third player to hit 700 career homers, and with 703 trails only Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714). But following his grand jury testimony in a federal investigation, he repeatedly was questioned whether he used steroids.

He wouldn't address an Oct. 16 report by the San Francisco Chronicle, which said it obtained from an anonymous source a recording of Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson, on which Anderson says Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

"I don't have an answer. I really don't. I really don't really care about all this stuff," Bonds said. "I don't owe anyone a response to anything."

"It's getting a lot harder. I've tried to explain to players it's a lot harder to walk than it actually is to hit a ground ball and jog back to the dugout and take a rest. I'm on my feet all day, and a lot of teams wear me down. I know they do it intentionally."

Still, Bonds' .812 slugging percentage led the major leagues for the fourth straight season but fell short of the record he set at .863 in 2001. He matched Aaron's NL record of eight 40-homer seasons, trailing only Ruth's major league mark of 11, and became the first player in major league history with 13 consecutive 30-homer seasons.

Bonds earned a $500,000 bonus for winning the award, and Beltre, Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen earned bonuses of $50,000 each.

The AL MVP award will be announced Tuesday, with Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Gary Sheffield the top contenders.

Last week, Houston's Roger Clemens became the oldest Cy Young Award winner at age 42.

"Me, myself, Roger Clemens, we've had wonderful times in our careers," Bonds said. "We've done great and, bar none, overwhelmed ourselves and others. It's time for the new kids on the block to take over and go to all the award shows and the music award shows."

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