Notebook > Sports

Swinging and missing

Sports | Through his first nine games, Barry Bonds hasn't hit a single homer

Issue: "Faculty follies," April 29, 2006

It may be true that Barry Bonds is on his last leg as a major league hitter. Good thing he still has his reputation to prop him up. Some say it's the bone spurs in his elbow. Some say it's the swelling in his right knee. Still others point to his high-profile steroids scandal. Whatever the reason, the 2006 baseball season opened with the Giants slugger in the lineup, but without his customary home run launches into McCovey Cove in San Francisco.

Through Mr. Bonds' first nine games, his batting average floated below the Mendoza Line (baseball's mythical .200 separation). Moreover, through his first nine games, Mr. Bonds, the active home run king, hadn't even launched one into the stands. That prompted ESPN to devote segments of SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight to breaking down Mr. Bonds' swing in slow motion. Their verdict? The combination of bone spurs in his elbow and swelling in his right knee means Mr. Bonds no longer can reach to drive pitches on the outside part of the plate.

Weighing perhaps more heavily on the Giants slugger was the announcement that a grand jury in California is set to investigate whether he in fact committed perjury when he told the grand jury investigating BALCO he had never knowingly taken steroids. The testimony, which was leaked to the press, has been called into question by press investigations, including two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who say Mr. Bonds had full knowledge of his doping.

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And while his image-and his wrecked 41-year-old body-is just a shadow of its former self, the specter still frightens pitchers. While it seemed at times during the early season that Mr. Bonds couldn't buy a hit, he could still draw a walk. If he was finally proving to be human again, pitchers weren't eager to find out. The Giants slugger drew enough walks to put him in the National League's top 10 in walks and on-base percentage (the stat many major league executives hold in higher esteem than batting average). The moral for Mr. Bonds: Even when his bat is bad, he can be good.

Around the Horn

Pedro Martinez' recent milestone-his 200th win-reminds baseball fans how hard it is to reach the 300-win milestone. Only Tom Glavine (275 wins) and Randy Johnson (263 wins) seem likely to have shots at the 300-win plateau. A most-likely retired Roger Clemens has 341 wins, while Greg Maddux reached 321 on April 17.

While Houston Rockets center Yao Ming tries to recover from surgery on his broken left foot, the 7-foot-6 NBA star will have to mend fences. Now, he just has to decide which side he'll offend. A normal recovery from the foot surgery would mean Mr. Yao would return to action in time for the NBA's training camp in October. But Chinese government officials want Mr. Yao to play for China in August for the World Championships. The Rockets have said it's the Chinese star's decision: glory for his homeland or a possible reinjury that could sideline him for even longer.

Cops weren't impressed by his fancy driving. Authorities in a Richmond, Va., suburb ticketed NASCAR star Kyle Busch for reckless driving when the driver pulled his passenger vehicle into a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Mr. Busch said he simply "chirped" his tires as he pulled out of a gas station and into the KFC trying to avoid oncoming traffic. The 20-year-old driver could face up to a $2,500 fine.

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