- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Here we thought Barry Bonds' magic number this year was going to be 22.
That, of course, is the number of home runs he needs to roar past Hank Aaron and make Bud Selig's day.
But it turned out Barry's real magic number was 53.
Which was the number of days it took Bonds, agent Jeff Borris and the Giants to actually wrap up a contract that looked pretty much agreed to way, way back when there were still plenty of shopping days before Christmas.
You could write a novel in 53 days. You could walk from Disney World to downtown San Francisco in 53 days. Heck, it wouldn't be out of the question for Barry to get from Opening Day to home run No. 756 in 53 days.
So why the heck did it take Bonds and the Giants 53 days to agree on something they theoretically had already agreed to?
Hey, this is Barry Bonds we're talking about. You think anything involving this guy is simple?
It took 53 days, for one thing, because the Giants clearly had second thoughts.
One baseball official who spoke to the Giants' brass regularly over these last eight weeks says they entered these negotiations with mixed feelings about whether to bring Bonds back. So when all sorts of (ahem) other issues arose after they agreed on the money, some of those feelings got to be more mixed than ever.
It also took 53 days because the Giants were never going to do this deal without reaching agreement with Bonds over a lot more than money.
Owner Peter Magowan said, pointedly, Monday night that the Giants needed to be "convinced" first that they would "be able to function as a team." That word, "team," was always a major club issue in these negotiations. And after Bonds reportedly linked teammate Mark Sweeney to his positive amphetamine test, it became an even bigger issue.
So before these two sides reached agreement once and for all Monday, they needed one last marathon face-to-face chat to iron out those items.
According to Borris, he personally met for four hours Monday with the men who run the Giants. Then the two sides brought in Barry himself for two more hours of constructive yakking.
Borris' carefully worded description of why that meeting was necessary: "There are just times when an employer and an employee have to have a meeting to discuss the dynamics of their work situation."
Asked to characterize the topics discussed, the agent laughed: "Everything -- including the kitchen sink." And apparently, that kitchen sink part was literally true.
The Giants just installed a new kitchen at their spring training complex. So if somebody says this spring that Bonds is in hot water again, you might need a more precise definition.
But in the end, the meeting, from all accounts, ended convivially. And for now, Bonds and his "employer" are mostly on the same page.
All they have confirmed about what's on that page is that Bonds' personal trainers will now be paid by Bonds, not the club, and won't be allowed to hang out in the clubhouse anymore. But for those who jumped to the quick conclusion that Bonds won't need four lockers just for himself anymore, uh, not so fast.
How many will he occupy now, you ask?
"As many as he needs," Borris said. "Peter Magowan looked Barry in the eye and told him he will give him whatever he needs to play at the highest level. And we have every reason to believe he will."
On the other hand, an Associated Press report Tuesday night seems to indicate Bonds has to give the Giants a few things they need, too.
According to the report, the Giants could have the right to terminate the contract if Bonds gets indicted for whatever "crime" his favorite prosecutors decide they can nail him on. But hang on. It's not as simple as: A) indict, B) wave goodbye.
That termination would depend on certain conditions. One condition reportedly would be if Bonds has to miss a chunk of games because of indictment-related legal issues. Another, according to the AP, would be a suspension by the commissioner's office related to an indictment.
Those clauses sound ominous -- but do they really have the teeth they appear to have on the surface?
Most likely, if Bonds were to be indicted, he would miss little or no playing time. But it is possible that an indictment could lead to a suspension by the sport or some other related firestorm.
However, never forget this: The commissioner would have a monstrous fight on his hands if he tries to suspend a player over an accusation that hasn't been proven yet. And the team would have just as humongous a battle if it tries to bail on a contract because of an accusation.
"The Giants' only concern should be where to erect the statue of Barry Bonds in the plaza -- and who the sculptor will be."
-- Agent Jeff Borris
What would the over-under be on those grievances and/or lawsuits? Uh, 755 anyone?
And what legal issue, short of an outright jailing, would cause Bonds to miss a significant number of games? Barry won't get thrown in the slammer because of an indictment. And it would be rare, though not impossible, to find a judge or prosecutor who would prohibit a player from going to the ballpark during the depositions or pretrial hearings following an indictment.
Which means that even if Bonds were to be indicted, you could very well see him going the Koby Bryant legal-commuter route, and jetting from court room to batter's box when necessary.
So, when you get right down to it, why did all this take 53 days? Not because lawyers type reaaaallllly slowly. Because Barry is no ordinary player -- so his contract is no ordinary contract.
"We were talking about big dollars," Borris said. "We were talking about the greatest player of all time. We were talking about a player who is on the verge of breaking the most coveted record in all of sports. And simultaneous with all of that was all the off-the-field hoopla and accusations. It creates a complex situation."
And were all those concerns the Giants had about his famous client part of that complexity?
"The Giants' only concern," Borris said, pointedly, "should be where to erect the statue of Barry Bonds in the plaza -- and who the sculptor will be."
It would be a miracle, of course, if that does turn out to be their biggest concern. But if it is, what do you want to bet it takes less than 53 days to sculpt that statue?
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.