Bonds reportedly told the grand jury that he used a substance that prosecutors believe was steroids.

So, by all means, it was the media's fault that Bonds chose a personal trainer who eventually would plead guilty to conspiring to distribute steroids. And yes, Barry, it was our fault that you dumped your longtime mistress after moving her to Phoenix and that she hit the talk-show circuit to say you often talked to her about your steroid use.

Bonds leaned on his crutch at spring training and said: "You wanted me to jump off a bridge, I finally did. You finally brought me and my family down ... So now go pick on a different person."

It's possible that Bonds' knee had very little to do with his absence for most of the season. It's quite possible he simply decided to take his home-run balls and go home.

It's also possible he wanted to lay low while the BALCO investigation ran its course.

And yes, it's also possible that a relatively minor cartilage cleanup procedure -- usually a month-long recovery, at most -- turned into a six-month rehab.

But people around the Giants wonder.

If Bonds could immediately turn back into Bonds on Sept. 13, why couldn't he have returned a week or two earlier? Was that too much to ask of a guy who's making $22 million this season, a guy who was allowed to spend most of the summer at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif.?

Yes, the Giants had won eight of nine before he rejoined them in Los Angeles. But in the seven games he was with the team before he actually played, San Francisco went 2-5. Those losses could loom larger if Barry's team falls a game or two short of the begging-to-be-caught Padres.

The Giants trail San Diego by five games, but have three left with the Padres.

Bonds' mere presence in the lineup is so menacing for division rivals -- especially the Padres -- that you have to wonder what took him so long to return. The answer you hear from people who know Bonds is: He just wanted to remind everyone that he's Barry Bonds and that he does everything on his own time and terms.

Way to help your team, Barry.

And you're still sitting out day games after night games when you're only in uniform for the final two and a half weeks of the season?

Way to earn that salary, big guy.

Then again, was it a coincidence that Bonds returned a couple of days after Giants owner Peter Magowan said publicly -- and shockingly -- that for the first time, the Giants would entertain trade offers for Bonds?

Probably not.

Magowan had had enough of his $22 Million Disappearing Man.

It also was no coincidence that Bonds waited to make his mind-blowing remarks about the steroid issue until his first visit to Washington. He wanted to rub Congress' nose in it right under Congress' nose.

Remember, the biggest reason Bonds avoided having to testify before the congressional steroid hearings in March was that he was still involved in the ongoing BALCO investigation.

And remember: For the past three or so years, FBI sources in the Bay Area have indicated that Bonds was the primary target of that investigation. Either Bonds has been very lucky or very clean, or he has hired very good lawyers.



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