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Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Mays has bauble ready for home run handoff

Associated Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Willie Mays already knows how he'll mark the moment when he's passed by godson Barry Bonds on the career home run list.

The Hall of Famer plans to present Bonds with a torch decorated with 25 tiny diamonds, symbolic of the number the slugger wears.

Mays is aware it's going to happen soon and already has plans to be in Houston and San Diego for the Giants' season-opening road trip.

"I'm going to have joy," said Mays, who has been Bonds' primary mentor since his father died last year. "Here's a guy I had in the clubhouse at 5 years old and all the sudden look what he has done. He's going on. He's not just going to get my record. He's going on. We talked about that and he really doesn't want to do it."

Bonds, the six-time NL MVP, has 658 homers going into the 2004 season, leaving him just two shy of tying Mays for third place on the career list.

Only Babe Ruth (714) and Bonds' hero, Hank Aaron (755), have hit more.

"When we talked, the main thing I expressed to him is you have to do what you have to do; that means pass me, pass Ruth, try to get to Aaron if you can," Mays said.

Bonds, who turns 40 this summer, hit 45 home runs last season.

"I want him to carry the torch on for the Giants," said Mays, 72. "I think it's important for him to understand, 'You have the torch until someone else comes along, you have that for you.' It's just something I picked out.

"Like a relay, you give it to the guy and he continues on. If someone comes along, he'll take the same thing. But knowing Barry, he might not give it to him."

Mays actually carried the torch for a five-block stretch in San Francisco before the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, then made it into a gift for his godson.

As a boy, Bonds would come to the Giants' clubhouse with his father, Bobby, but once at the ballpark he spent more time with Mays. Bonds swiped gum from Mays' locker and followed him around before and after games.

There will certainly be a debate about which one of them is better once Bonds matches Mays' mark. And neither man wants to touch that one.

"Willie was the best in his time," Bonds said Wednesday. "I'm the best in my time! Hank was the best home run hitter. ... Hank is too far away (to reach). I'm going to try. It just doesn't seem realistic."

This offseason, Mays encouraged Bonds, who's known for being surly, to have more fun late in his career. This is Bonds' 19th major league season.

"It's probably a childhood dream to have the best baseball player in the world around you all the time," Bonds said of Mays. "I want to hug him 24 hours a day."

And Bonds already seems to be more relaxed this spring training, which is a refreshing sight.

"I think this is a time in his life he needs to talk to you guys with a smile, rather than saying to you guys, 'I don't want to do this, I don't want to do that,"' Mays said. "I think with the passing of his father, he's begun to realize there's life beyond baseball. ... If you look at him now compared maybe to four or five years ago, he's smiling more. I was in the same mode. I didn't want to talk to the press sometimes when I was playing ball. I thought baseball was my life and didn't have time to talk to nobody else. Times have changed. You have to do the job in both ways: on the field and off the field."

Times may have changed, but Mays still recognizes talent.

"If his health stays good, I think he has a shot at everybody," Mays said.

Mays also was asked about the steroids controversy. Bonds appeared in December before a grand jury probing a supplements lab accused of illegally distributing steroids to athletes.

Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson, was among four men charged this month. All the men have pleaded not guilty and no athletes have been charged.

"You talking about that junk?" Mays said. "I don't know anything about it. I don't get involved in what people are investigating."