He is 53 home runs shy of breaking Hank Aaron's all-time Major League Baseball home run record.  He trails New York Yankees' legend Babe Ruth by only 11 home runs on the all-time list.  But Major League Baseball slugger Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants might not pass either Ruth or Aaron this year, or ever.  A despondent Bonds said this week that knee problems might keep him off the field until next season. 

With his son Nikolai at his side, Barry Bonds leaned on crutches and lashed out at the media Tuesday for hounding him about possible steroid use in the past few years.

"I am very tired,? he said.  ?I don't really have much to say anymore.  My son and I are just going to enjoy our lives.  My family's tired.  Just tired.  I'm tired.  You guys wanted to hurt me bad enough, you finally got there."

The San Francisco slugger then said that he might not play until the middle of the season or even next year.  That means that this year will be the first time the 40-year-old star will miss an opening day game in 19 years.  And there is speculation, in light of the recent congressional hearings on illegal steroid use by basball players, that he might not return to the game.

A cloud has surrounded Barry Bonds since a doping case involving a San Francisco area laboratory and Bonds's personal trainer broke last year.  The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper leaked Bonds' testimony to a grand jury that he used substances that his trainer gave him, but he did not know they contained steroids.  That version of events was challenged when, according to news reports, a former girlfriend testified that Bonds told her he used steroids. 

Bonds has also recently undergone a second operation to repair damaged cartilege in his right knee.  The seven-time National League most valuable player said Tuesday that he wants to focus on rehabilitating his knee and getting healthy.

"Right now I am just going to try to rehab myself back to - I don't know maybe next season, maybe the middle of this season. I don't know," he said.

But can Barry Bonds escape the trouble surrounding him?  While he was not called to Washington to testify at last week's congressional hearing, where the House Government Reform Committee took another former slugger Mark McGwire to task.  Bonds broke McGwire's single-season home run record in 2001.  ESPN television analyst Harold Reynolds, a former player, says he thinks that Bonds will return, despite the difficulties.

"I think he is tired of all the storm that is going on around him,? said Mr. Reynolds.  ?But the bottom line here is, I think it's a guy who is hurt.  He is at the lowest of lows right now, but I think he is going to come back and play.  When you are going through an injury like that, sometimes you have that down feeling and I think that's where Barry is at (sic) right now."

Former Philadelphia Phillies' player John Kruk, who is also a baseball analyst for ESPN, says he believes the controversy of possibly shattering hallowed home run records under a cloud of using illegal performance-enhancing substances will keep Barry Bonds from returning.

"The guy is just tired of the media,? he said.  ?And I think, honestly my opinion - watching him today [Tuesday] - I think he is not going to play baseball anymore.  I think he is done.  I think he has had it.  He wants to try to walk away and just disappear."

Should Bonds miss this season, coming back in 2006 would be that much more difficult because he would be 41 and even more prone to injury than he is now.  And more than likely, Major League Baseball would not want the slugger to retire now, either.  The drama of having Bonds chase Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron's records, coupled with the controversy surrounding him, makes for great television ratings and increased fan attendance.  But whether Barry Bonds is willing to undergo the scrutiny and the controversy is not known.  As of Tuesday, he did not look like he was.