ST. LOUIS - San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds continues to insist that Mark McGwire's single-season home run record is not in jeopardy, but his amazing first-half performance has created an interesting question.
Do you believe Bonds or his bat?
The future Hall of Fame outfielder slammed his 39th home run in last night's 6-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, putting on his own fireworks show in the ballpark where McGwire eclipsed Roger Maris in September 1998.
Bonds greeted Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile with a towering shot to right field in the first inning that moved him within one of tying Jimmie Foxx for 10th place on baseball's all-time career home run list at 534. The ball glanced off the facade near the Cardinals' bullpen and kept Bonds comfortably ahead of the pace that Big Mac set on the way to 70 homers three seasons ago.
At the rate he's going, Bonds would hit 46 by the All-Star break and 85 for the season, though he has spent the past couple of weeks scoffing at the notion that he has a realistic chance to approach McGwire's mark.
"I don't think you have to worry about 71," Bonds said last night.
McGwire, reluctantly cast into someone else's media circus this time, thinks his record eventually will fall, but he agrees with Bonds that it is too early in the season to run the hype machine at full throttle. To surpass McGwire, Bonds has to hit 32 more homers in barely more than half a season, a Herculean feat all by itself.
"What he's doing so far is remarkable," McGwire said. "You can't even put it into words. But nobody listens to me. I've told you [the media], 'Wait until somebody has 60 in September. Then you've got a good story.' "
With all due respect to baseball's reigning home run king, it's already a good story whether Bonds carries on into the final month of the season or not. No one has hit this many home runs this fast. Not even close. Bonds has eclipsed the record for homers by the All-Star break and the Giants still have 14 games left before the regular season's ceremonial midpoint.
Before last night, the fastest player to 39 home runs was Babe Ruth, who hit No. 39 in the 89th game of the 1928 season. Bonds is a staggering 15 games ahead of him.
"It's great," Bonds said. "To be compared in that kind of category is nice. I didn't think it would be me. That's usually for Mark and those kinds of guys."
Though Bonds seems uncomfortable with the attention at this early stage in the season, he clearly recognizes that he's big news. He has never embraced the media coverage that comes with his superstar status, but Friday took part in the first of a series of scheduled news briefings the Giants will hold on the road to satisfy the growing demand for interviews.