- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Everyone is assuming Barry Bonds will break Hank Aaron's record, but let's calm down a minute. He's still 21 home runs away from tying Hank and 22 from passing him. This isn't like 1974, when Aaron entered the season needing only one home run to tie and another to break Babe Ruth's record. This is more like a 2-foot putt with the Masters on the line. Bonds certainly can do it, but it's no gimme.
So don't give up, you Aaron fans. Here are 22 ways Hank still will be the home run king at season's end.
1. Barry's right knee gives out again. Granted, Barry looked good in spring training, hitting .333 with seven home runs. But never place too much importance on games in which players are running along the warning track in their underwear. Hell, Torey Lovullo looked great one spring. The key is whether Barry's knee can hold up in left field over the course of the season when he isn't able to take every other day off and never travel farther than West Phoenix for a road trip. You can bet his right knee sends him to the disabled list at least once this year.
2. And remember, Barry has a left knee, too.
3. Bonds suddenly realizes he's 42, slows down, gains weight and starts wearing Dockers. Sure, 22 home runs don't sound like a lot when you're talking about a guy who once hit 73 in a season. Heck, Bonds hit 22 by May 21 that season. But that was six years ago when he was young and hip. Now he's old and misplaces his car keys and still uses his cell phone to talk to friends instead of just text messaging them. And he has only 31 home runs the past two seasons. Barry can talk all he wants about playing to 100, but he's getting older and the few players great enough to still play in their 40s usually also hit an abrupt wall.
4. And he turns 43 in July
5. The feds come calling again. It's not likely, but there still is the chance Bonds could face charges for perjury, which could cost him precious games (and possibly more). And the way the government is pursuing him with a Javert-like obsession, the feds also might nail him for unpaid library fines.
6. He doesn't get any protection. New manager Bruce Bochy is moving Bonds to the No. 3 slot to give him more chances to hit. That will help. But Ray Durham is the cleanup hitter behind him. No disrespect to Durham, but this is hardly Mickey Mantle batting after Roger Maris.
7. Speaking of which even if Bonds manages to stay on the field all season, someone still has to throw him pitches he can hit. And given the way pitchers have avoided that the past couple of years, he might not see 22 strikes all season.
8. He can't handle the pressure. Bonds has thrived under pressure at times (the 2002 World Series, his 2001 home run chase) and wilted at others (the 1990-92 postseasons). But as he approaches Hank's record, he'll be facing a whole new level of scrutiny and pressure. So much focus will be on him that Al Jazeera might cut away to show his at-bats while talk-show hosts and presidential candidates rage over whether he's honestly earned his home run total. As those who followed Barry's pursuit of Babe Ruth's 714 home run total (a mark rendered meaningless by Aaron three decades earlier) know, these things can weigh on Bonds.
9. He doesn't take greenies and gets tired. Amphetamines have been widespread in baseball for decades -- including when Aaron played -- to help overcome the fatigue brought on by a 162-game season. Barry reportedly tested positive for amphetamines last season. A second positive test results in a 25-game suspension. No way he risks that. Which means his bat could slow slightly in the second half, and slightly is all it takes in baseball.
10. Or maybe he does take greenies and gets suspended for 25 games.
11. His body armor proves insufficient. Bonds has better body armor than our soldiers in Iraq, but it doesn't cover every part of his body. One inside fastball to an unprotected part of the body and Barry could be on the DL for a couple of months.
12. He slips on a banana peel, steps in a man hole, then has a safe fall on his head. The fact is, nothing is guaranteed in baseball or in life. In addition to getting hit by a pitch, there are all sorts of ways Barry could significantly injure himself. He could break his ribs crashing into the outfield wall. He could tear his ACL sliding into second base. Or he could injure himself in a more routine way for a Giants player -- he could break his wrist washing his truck.
13. He loses that San Diego edge. Bonds has feasted on San Diego's pitching during his career but not since the Padres moved from Jack Murphy Stadium to the new ballpark (possible new corporate name: Sycuan Presents The Ballpark Where Home Runs Go to Die). This could cost him two or three precious homers.
14. He gets distracted with another TV program. Is it a coincidence that Bonds' production soared last year after his TV show was canceled? Maybe not. And Barry could distract himself again with another TV project: "Bonds on Bonds," in which Barry recommends tax-free municipal bonds as an investment strategy. Or "Bonds on Bonds," in which he compares Sean Connery's 007 to Daniel Craig's.
15. The long season wears him out. Sure, Bonds was relatively spry this spring. But what about come July and August when the long season takes its toll? You know what will happen. He'll look like Fred Sanford in left field.
16. He gets benched. Moving up a spot in the lineup will provide Bonds with extra at-bats, but Bochy could decide that for his young pitchers to develop, he'll have to send in a defensive replacement for Bonds earlier and more frequently. That way, fly balls to left field would actually get caught.
18. MLB squeezes the balls. Once Bonds gets close to the record, the commissioner's office will use special balls with infrared markings during his at-bats for authentication purposes. When they did this in 1998 for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, conspiracy theorists suspected the special balls were juiced to increase the home runs. But what if they do just the opposite to Barry's baseballs? Sure, it's stupid and wildly ridiculous, but so is baseball's new deal with DirecTV.
19. Mark Sweeney gets his revenge. Upset with Barry's reported claim that he got the amphetamines from Sweeney's locker, his teammate sandbags him by leaving his deodorant stick out. Only it's not a deodorant stick -- it's a Krazy Glue stick, and Bonds winds up gluing his arms to the sides of his body and can't bat for three weeks.
20. Global warming cools him down. The Giants' ballpark is right on San Francisco Bay. The carbon emissions from the Hummers in the team's parking lot alone could raise temperatures enough to flood the stadium and force the Giants to postpone the season.
21. Barry decides what other people think actually does matter. Surprise! Bonds could always try to repair his tattered public image by getting to 754 home runs and then retiring out of respect for Aaron. He would be viewed as a good guy who could have been king but chose to put the game over his personal ambitions. OK, maybe not. But if he did, that legacy would last longer than any home run record, which Alex Rodriguez will break anyway in 2014.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
So Barry Bonds needs only 22 home runs to pass Hank Aaron, right? Jim Caple gives 22 reasons why it might not happen.