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BARRY BONDS: WARTS AND ALL
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In June, 2001, Barry Bonds authorized me to ghostwrite his autobiography. A lot of things have happened since then. He broke the greatest record in sports (the single-season home run mark, now at 73). The autobiography became a biography. I wrote it. It is now available everywhere.

 

Another curious thing happened. People would approach me with "Bonds stories." Many of the folks who would tell me tales out of school were in the media. Most were horror stories. One radio guy who grew up near Bonds in San Carlos, California said that Barry once owned a car which he would park anywhere he damn well pleased, which included blocking a neighbor's driveway. When the neighbor asked Barry if he would please move his vehicle, Barry is supposed to have said, "Fuck you."

 

If true, this would fall in line with the greatest influence in his life, his Godfather, Willie Mays. It has been widely reported that a fellow airline passenger once asked Mays an innocuous question during a flight, and Mays answer was, "Fuck you."

 

Niiiice!

 

One thing that has been said of Bonds is that he does not do drugs or party heavily. When I asked him, prior to a road trip to Los Angeles, whether he planned to hit the Sunset Strip, he said, "I never did that."

 

When I wrote my book, I reported that Bonds has never been a hard-charging partier or playboy, but since its publication, I have been approached by more people with "Bonds stories," some of which contradict the image I wrote of him.

 

One blonde media babe told me the following when she heard I had written Bonds' biography:

 

"It was around 1992, when he was still married. I had sex with Barry Bonds. It was in L.A., during the off-season. A girlfriend of mine called and said she was with Bonds and <another Major League player>. They wanted to party with me. I had a flight to catch early the next day and said no, but they insisted. Everybody was doing blow, except me. First, we went to a warehouse and bought colognes from some Dominican guy who was a Dodger coach, I think. Then we partied all night. Bonds was doing lines and was wired out of his mind. We all went back to my house in Pasadena. I went to bed, but Bonds, <the other player>, and my girlfriend stayed up doing blow. In the morning, Bonds was still high, but I asked if I could drive his Suburban to LAX <Los Angeles International Airport>. He was a passenger. On that stretch of the 110 Harbor Freeway that is curvy, I had an accident. I had to leave Barry, who was still under the influence, to tend for himself at the accident scene on the side of the road. He gave me a hundred bucks for cab fare and I barely made my plane."  

 

Barry's father is Bobby Bonds, an All-Star with the Giants and other clubs in the 1970s. Bobby's best buddy growing up in Riverside was Dusty Baker, who changed Barry's diapers when he was a baby, and later became his manager in San Francisco.

 

Barry grew up in the Giants' clubhouse, hearing all the ribald baseball stories told by Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, broadcaster Lon Simmons, and everybody else associated with the Giants' "family."

 

He also had powerful mentors in the form of his coach at Serra High School in San Mateo, Dave Stevens, his Arizona State coach, Jim Brock, and his manager at Pittsburgh, Jim Leyland. Not to mention his mother, Pat.

 

"I'm a mama's boy," Barry says of his relationship with her.

 

However, far and away the biggest influence in his life is the "Say-Hey Kid," Mays. Mays' influence extends not just to his on-field style, but to his personal life, as well.

 

"Willie's the best because he's the most fun," says Bonds, and his words carry double meaning. In some ways, Mays' relationship with the budding star replaced the one he did not have, or at least the incomplete one he had, with father Bobby.

 

"I never knew if my dad would show up drunk and embarrass me," Barry says.

 

Bobby, who had a bad drinking problem during Barry's youth, was described as "militant," the New Breed of black athlete in the early 1970s. The Alabama-born Mays and McCovey were less obvious in their racial resentments, but only on the surface.

 

Mays once spoke to a large gathering of mostly-white baseball fans in a Nevada casino, and instead of regaling them with stories of Leo Durocher and his fabulous career, he described, in intimate detail, the racial attitudes of Southerners in several minor league towns he played in the late 1940s.

 

Mays taught Bobby, as well as Barry, to be suspicious of white people in general, and white reporters in particular. There is a racial element to Barry's longstanding problems with the media, and it emanates from Willie Mays.

 

Willie was one of the most eligible black bachelors in America when he starred for the Giants. One day he arrived in the Giants' clubhouse, and made a general statement.

 

"Hey fellas," he said. "I got married over the weekend."

 

Everybody showered him with good wishes.

 

"You all know her," he then said, "Marguerite."

 

Stone silence fell. Apparently, they "all did know her."

 

Cut to 1988, when history eerily repeats itself. Barry Bonds, one of the most eligible bachelors in America, suddenly marries an exotic Canadian girl of Swedish descent named Sun in a quickie Las Vegas wedding.

 

It has been circulated in the rounds of the baseball world that Sun had been a Montreal stripper, and "friendly" with National League stars who came to town to play the Expos.

Several players, who wish to remain anonymous, said Bonds called them to ask a favor. The favor was to stop sleeping with Sun.

 

One of Barry's best friends is former minor league pitcher Charles Scott. Scott met Bonds when they were freshmen at Arizona State. They had much in common. Both were black men who had gone to mostly-white high schools. They became roommates, and to this day remain the best of the friends.

 

"I don't know if Sun was a stripper or not," Charles said. "I did hear the stories that she had been with a lot of other players. She was no angel. As for Barry calling up other players, that just doesn’t sound like him. Barry doesn't need to be validated by anybody else's opinion."

Bonds' marriage to Sun was no more successful than Willie's marriage to Marguerite. Both had a talent for spending their husband's money in imaginative ways. When Bonds signed a free agent contract and became a San Francisco Giant in 1993, the divorce was a messy, public affair. Bonds accused Barry of hitting her, and counter-allegations were made that she had done the same to him. The press had little trouble believing that these two passionate, sexually-charged people were both capable of some violence.

 

Bonds attorney, Bon Nachschin, was asked his opinion of Sun.

 

"According to the divorce decree," he said, "none of the parties are allowed to say anything negative about the other publicly. Therefore, I have nothing to say about her." In other words, since nothing bad can be said of Sun, nothing is left outside of bad things to say about her.

 

A marriage made in Heaven it was not.

 

Sun's alleged promiscuousness did become a very public thing, and Barry had more than a little to do with it.

 

"Once at Candlestick Park," recalls KNBR radio personality Ralph Barbieri, "a heckler yelled to Bonds, kneeling in the on-deck circle, `Hey Bonds, where's your wife.'

 

"`I don't know,' Bonds said to the heckler. `Maybe she spent the night with you last night.' Bonds then strode to the plate and hit a home run."

 

Bonds is capable of channeling his energy on the field, probably his greatest single attribute as a player.

 

"I won the MVP when I was going through my divorce," he said in 2001. "That proves I can handle anything."

 

Barry also learned valuable lessons from his Godfather on the field. Willie had a "quicksilver" quality to his game, playing with all-out abandon. Bonds is an automaton who approaches hitting like a shark silently moving in on its prey.

 

The lesson learned by Barry has to do with the expenditure of energy. Bonds has been criticized for occasionally not running out ground balls to second base. Baseball is, on its face, not a taxing game. However, the playing of it, 162 games a season for 20 years, with all the mental and physical preparation that goes into making one a true professional, is one of the most arduous tasks in sports.

 

In 1962, Mays collapsed from exhaustion in Cincinnati and had to be hospitalized, because "I play hard all the time. I don't know any other way."

 

He taught Barry to pace himself. While the occasional jog down the first base line might enrage fans who see it as a failure to hustle from an arrogant superstar, Barry is giving himself the edge he will need in September, always his best month. Nobody can argue with the results, can they? Mays taught him to do it that way because he tired down the stretch several times and was "old" by the time he reached Barry's current age.

 

It is instructive to understand what makes Barry tick, because he is a complex man, loyal to his friends and family, yet often distant even to those he loves. He is the product of strong men and women. While his father was obviously an influence on him, it was Mays who helped shaped both of them at the same time.

 

The media mainly dislikes Bonds because they take his rebuffs of them personally.

 

Some writers have had wonderful conversations with him one day, only to be ignored by him the next.

 

"It's not personal," says Charles Scott. "He's like that with everybody. His family, his friends, his teammates, Dusty Baker on down."

 

I have seen media professionals approach Bonds at his insulated Pacific Bell locker like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." Instead of bellowing out, "How dare you approach the great `Wizard of Bonds'", Bonds ignores them. I call it the "Patrick Swayze effect." In the film "Ghost", Swayze dies and is a ghost, unseen and, therefore ignored by all except Whoopi Goldberg. People will approach Bonds, who acts as if they are unseen to him.

 

The "Patrick Swayze effect."

 

What many in the media fail to understand is that this is not a personal affront of them, nor his attempt to keep the media in its place, but rather a side of his personality that is felt by all around him, except for kids. He is "ga-gag for kids," says Scott.

 

Does Barry have a chemical imbalance that creates these mood swings?

 

"I don't know about that," says Scott, "I do know that you have to have a strong personality to tolerate him. I have respect for him as an athlete, and so I give him lee-way, but if he was just an average person, I would not be friends with him." 

 

Today, Barry has expanded beyond his self-protected shell, and become an elder statesman of the game. The bitterness of Mays has faded from Barry, who embraced his record-breaking 73-home run campaign in 2001, and now has an understanding of history and his place in it.

 

One can only imagine what great star of the next generation will be most influenced by Barry. Obviously, there is tradition that is linked by greatness. His life is, partially thanks to me, an open book. His warts have been exposed, but one must understand that he made youthful mistakes in a spotlight that most people do not face. He has learned, matured, and developed into a man. His second, successful marriage has mellowed him, and the lessons he passes on are words of well-earned wisdom.