Click photo to enlarge
San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds looks on from the dugout late in the game against the Washington Nationals Thursday, Sept. 22, 2005, at RFK Stadium in Washington. Bonds did not play in the Nationals' 2-0 win.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
WILL BARRY BONDS hit 35 home runs in 2006?

Thirty-five homers is normally a rather unimpressive season for Bonds, but his injury-plagued 2005 season has reminded us that Barry is subject to the same rules of aging as every other player, with the possible exception of Julio Franco.

History is not kind to players as old as Bonds, who turned 41 in July. No player has hit 35 homers in a season after turning 40. Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski are the only players even to hit a total of 35 homers over the rest of their careers.

On the other hand, one can argue rightfully that Barry Bonds is a unique player, a once-in-a-generation slugger who makes history rather than following it. After all, nobody else hit 73 home runs or slugged .863 before Bonds came along, and that didn't stop him from not only reaching those figures, but also doing it at an age at which most players are in the decline phases of their career.

What will likely keep Bonds from hitting 35 home runs next year isn't the history books, but his own body. While he is back with the team and has hit the ball with authority since his return, it would be unrealistic to hope his problematic right knee won't be a factor for the rest of his career.

As great a player as he is, he's still a 41-year-old man who will have to man the outfield the majority of the time unless he happens to get traded to an American League team, an unlikely prospect.

It may not even be his gimpy right knee that bothers him next time. His left knee could go. Or his back. Baseball isn't an impact sport in the manner that football is, but a lot can go wrong for a player of Bonds' age over a 162-game season.

If another long, painful recovery from injury is in the cards, Bonds might not even return if he already has the 715 home runs required to best Babe Ruth. While everyone's been focused on the chase for Hank Aaron's 755 homers, Bonds has said in no uncertain terms that Ruth is the player he most wants to beat.

Could Barry hit 35 home runs in 2006? Absolutely — a declining Bonds is still a tremendous player.

Given the events of the past year, however, that's not the way to bet.

Dan Szymborski is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and the Editor in Chief of the Baseball Think Factory (www.baseballthinkfactory.org).