Bonds Is AP Male Athlete of the Year

Thursday, December 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ In a record-breaking season capped by major awards, one home run was especially significant to Barry Bonds.

It was not his 500th career homer, or his 71st of the season, which broke Mark McGwire's record.

Instead, in a year that brought Bonds an unprecedented fourth MVP award and honors as The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, it was homer No. 68 that made Bonds cry.

That homer came on Sept. 28, as he mourned the death of friend and former bodyguard Franklin Bradley. Bonds wept on the bench after the homer.

``That was probably the most memorable day of my life,'' Bonds said.

It was a memorable year for baseball's new home run king. He started it 0-for-21 at the plate, but finished with 73 homers and a record .863 slugging percentage.

Besides smashing McGwire's 3-year-old record for homers, the San Francisco slugger broke a pair of Babe Ruth's records with 177 walks and the gaudy slugging percentage. Bonds hit .328 with 137 RBIs while moving from 17th place to seventh on the career list with 567 homers.

Bonds edged three-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong to claim the AP award announced Wednesday. Tiger Woods, who won in 1999 and 2000, tied for third.

Bonds received 33 first-place votes and 136 points from sportswriters and broadcasters. Armstrong, who finished second in the voting for the second straight year, had 26 first-place votes and 127 points.

American League MVP Ichiro Suzuki and Woods tied for third with 43 points, though Suzuki had seven first-place votes and Woods, who also won the AP honor in 1997, had two. Randy Johnson was fifth and Allen Iverson sixth. Points were awarded on a 3-2-1 basis.

The 37-year-old Bonds is the 24th baseball player to win the AP award. Pepper Martin won the first award in 1931, and other baseball winners have included Bonds' godfather, Willie Mays, who won as a member of the New York Giants in 1954. McGwire won in 1998 when he hit his record-breaking 70 homers.

After briefly testing the free-agent market, Bonds accepted the Giants' offer of salary arbitration last week and will be back in San Francisco for at least one more season. Bonds said he's already preparing for the 2002 season and trying to figure out how he can become an even better player.

``My grandfather told me, 'The day that dog doesn't learn a trick, it's the day that dog is dead,''' Bonds said. ``If I get satisfied now, I might as well retire.''

At first, this seemed unlikely to be a historic year for Bonds, who was hitless in his first 21 at-bats of the season.

But then he homered in a career-high six straight games, including his 500th home run on April 17. That homer, which splashed into McCovey Cove beyond the right-field fence at Pacific Bell Park, made him the 17th major leaguer to reach the milestone.

He had another six-game homer streak in mid-May, setting an NL record with nine home runs in that span. He also tied a record by homering in four straight official at-bats.

He connected twice on May 30, becoming the most prolific left-handed home-run hitter in NL history with No. 522. That moved him past Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Ted Williams.

Bonds had a major league record 17 home runs in May, and kept going in early June. He got halfway to McGwire's mark by hitting his 35th and 36th homers in a win over the neighboring Oakland Athletics in mid-June.

Then came a 13-game drought, but Bonds still headed into the All-Star break with an unprecedented 39 homers.

Bonds hit his 41st and 42nd home runs on July 18, matching Mickey Mantle on the career list with 536. He became the oldest player to hit 50 when he homered at Chicago's Wrigley Field on Aug. 11.

National excitement surrounding Bonds' chase for the home run record grew after he hit three homers on Sept. 9 at Colorado's Coors Field, giving him 63 for the season. But he did not play for a week as baseball shut down after Sept. 11.

Bonds struggled a bit when baseball returned, with many teams pitching around him. But he tied McGwire's record in Houston on Oct. 4 and broke the record with two homers the next night at home against Los Angeles.

No. 73 came on the last day of the season, off Dodgers knuckleballer Dennis Springer.