Barry Bonds was prepared to play baseball this season, so he asked Sam Holman to have a dozen bats ready for him. Holman, the founder of the Original Maple Bat Corporation, has made Bonds' bats since 1997.
Holman set aside 12 pieces of the lightest-density wood he had, stored them in his factory in Gatineau, Quebec, and waited to see if Bonds got a job. But no one has signed Bonds. Now Holman has doubts about whether Bonds, baseball's career home run leader, will play in the major leagues this season.
"I don't think he's planning to do much this year," Holman said. "I talked to him about the bats yesterday, and he said: 'Leave them there. I don't know if I'll need them."'
Without a full-time job, Bonds apparently does not feel the need to pay for bats he may never use. Even though Holman is keeping "the pretty rare wood" available for Bonds and said he could make Bonds' 2K1 models if Bonds called tomorrow, he does not know if that will happen.
"I think he said if he ever gets the gumption to go hit, then he'll need them," Holman said.
Bonds does not have a contract, and no teams have publicly expressed interest in signing him. Jeff Borris, Bonds' agent, has said Bonds is not retiring. Borris declined an interview request last Monday and would not even discuss Bonds' workout regimen.
But John Yandle, a batting practice pitcher for the San Francisco Giants who has also been Bonds' personal batting practice pitcher for 15 years, said that Bonds was working out at home in Beverly Hills, Calif. Yandle had lunch with Bonds two weeks ago and said that Bonds told him that he was not hitting. Still, Bonds said he was staying in shape.
"He looked like he could put on a uniform and go out and hit three home runs," Yandle said. "But you have to have the chance to do that. We don't know where that's going."
As productive as Bonds was last season, with 28 homers and a .480 on-base percentage, teams seem to have decided to stay away from him because of his legal problems and his reputation for being a problem in the clubhouse.f+t
Bonds, who turns 44 in two months, was indicted on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice in November. He is accused of lying about his use of performance-enhancing drugs during his grand jury testimony in 2003. But Bonds' case is not expected to go to trial this year, and his legal problems are unlikely to be a full-time distraction.
It is difficult to imagine Bonds being anything but a designated hitter, so his best chance to be signed would be if a team like the Tigers, the Blue Jays or the Mariners lost their DH for an extended period. A team that was in contention for a postseason spot may be willing to risk the fallout from signing Bonds, figuring it could be worth it for part of a season.
"Where is Barry Bonds?" Yandle said. "He's at home in Beverly Hills. Does he want to play? Sure. Does he need to play? No. He's very prideful. If somebody called him, I'm sure he'd still want to."
In an entry on Bonds' Web site dated Feb. 28, Bonds wrote, "I continue to work out and feel in great shape."f-t
After Bonds found out that Holman had put his company up for sale on eBay in 2006 for $3.5 million, he worried about the impact the supplier's future could have on him. Bonds asked Holman how much it would take to guarantee him his bats for 2007, the year he expected to make a run at Hank Aaron's record. Holman told Bonds it would be $40,000. Bonds quickly sent him a check for that amount, which worked out to about $500 a bat.
Now Holman, the batmaker, is not making bats for Bonds, and Yandle, the batting practice pitcher, is not throwing pitches to Bonds. And Bonds, whose 762 homers are more than any major leaguer, is not playing and may not play again.