The August 27 issue of Sports Illustrated hit the San Francisco Giants like a bombshell.
Rick Reilly, one of the most-respected sportswriters in America, had this to say:
† "In the San Francisco Giants' clubhouse, everybody knows the score: 24-1.
"There are 24 teammates, and there's Barry Bonds.
"There are 24 teammates who show up to pose for the team picture, and there's Bonds, who has blown it off for the last two years.
"There are 24 teammates who go out on the field before the game to stretch together, and there's Bonds, who usually stretches indoors with his own flex guy.
There are 24 teammates who get on the players' bus at the hotel to go to the park, and there's Bonds, who gets on the bus with the broadcasters, the trainers and the manager who coddles him.
"There are 24 teammates who eat the clubhouse spread, and there's Bonds, whose nutritionist brings in special meals for him.
"There are 24 teammates who deal with the Giants' publicity man, and there's Bonds, who has his own clubhouse-roving PR guy, a freelance artist named Steve Hoskins, who turned down George Will's request for an interview with Bonds because Hoskins had never heard of him.
"There are 24 teammates who hang out with one another, play cards and bond, and there's Bonds, sequestered in the far corner of the clubhouse with his PR man, masseur, flex guy, weight trainer, three lockers, a reclining massage chair and a big-screen television that only he can see.
"Last week, after Bonds hit his 51st home run in a 13-7 win over the Florida Marlins, most of the players stayed to celebrate the victory, and at least one was gone before the press arrived in the clubhouse: Bonds.
"`That's Barry,' says San Francisco second baseman Jeff Kent. `He doesn't answer questions. He palms everybody off on us, so we have to do his talking for him. But you get used to it. Barry does a lot of questionable things. But you get used to it. Sometimes it rubs the younger guys the wrong way, and sometimes it rubs the veterans the wrong way. You just hope he shows up for the game and performs. I've learned not to worry about it or think about it or analyze it. I was raised to be a team guy, and I am, but Barry's Barry. It took me two years to learn to live with it, but I learned.'
"If you get the feeling that Kent, who's in his fifth season with San Francisco, wouldn't spit on Bonds if Bonds were on fire, you might be right. Maybe it has something to do with last year, when Kent and Bonds were running neck and neck for the National League MVP award. The week before the award was to be announced, Bonds had a member of his entourage call the commissioner's office to try to find out who had won. We've got to know, said the stooge, because if he's not going to win, he can get out of town.
"Perfect! No staying around to congratulate Kent. Or going to the press conference to shake his hand. Just, `If it ain't me, I'm outta here.' The commissioner's office didn't know the results of the voting. Kent won.
"Someday they'll be able to hold Bonds's funeral in a fitting room. When Bonds hit his 500th home run, in April, only one person came out of the dugout to greet him at the plate: The Giants' batgirl. Sitting in the stands, you could've caught a cold from the freeze he got. Teammates 24, Bonds 1.
"Bonds isn't beloved by his teammates. He's not even beliked. He often doesn't run out grounders, doesn't run out flies. If a Giants pitcher gives up a monster home run over Bonds in leftfield, Bonds keeps his hands on his knees and merely swivels his head to watch the ball sail over the fence. He's an MTV diva, only with bigger earrings.
"`On the field, we're fine,' says Kent, `but off the field, I don't care about Barry and Barry doesn't care about me. <Pause.> Or anybody else.'
"Bonds will be a free agent after this season, and if he decides to sign elsewhere, will the Giants be devastated? Kent grimaces. `See: Seattle Mariners,' he says, walking away."
When Bonds arrived in New York for a four-game series at Shea Stadium, the New York press was all over him. Some said Bonds' breaking the record so soon cheapened it. Billy Crystal's HBO movie "61*" suggested that there should be nostalgia for this record, but Bonds was heading for it with all the subtlety of Sherman marching through Georgia, with the ink barely dry on McGwire's new record in the books. Some said Bonds deserved the record because he was a great player having a great year, as opposed to Maris, a good player who had a great year. Comparisons were made with Luis Gonzalez, a good player having a great year. Was McGwire a great player? He was a great home run hitter, but he could not hold Bonds dirty jock strap, as they say, as an all-around ball player.
Others argued that McGwire and Bonds had "earned" the right to chase the record, since they were already members of the 500-homer club. Maris had not even hit 300 career home runs and will not make the Hall of Fame.
The season-long argument that Bonds neither had the support, nor endured the scrutiny endured by McGwire in 1998, was brought up. He lacked "charm." He was not the "rightful heir" to the record. Sosa was.
Bonds gap between his previous high, 49 and a potential record would be similar to Maris' 39-to-61 jump. Bonds, however, like Aaron, had four 40-homer seasons, six 30-homer seasons and the kind of consistency that enabled Hammer to reach 755.
In an article called "Bonding With Barry", New York Daily News sports writer John Harper said "no matter what Barry Bonds does, his remarkable run at history was never going to resemble the feel-good story that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa authored in 1998." He continued with the New York theory that the mystique surrounding baseball's single-season home run record disappeared along with Maris' name from the record book.
"But now, as Bonds brings his 54 home runs to center stage in New York tonight for a weekend series with the Mets," wrote Harper, "he is being portrayed nationally as a player so selfish that his teammates can barely tolerate him."
The spacious quarters apart from his teammates in the Pac Bell clubhouse that included a recliner and a big-screen TV for his personal use were brought up as "evidence" that makes Bonds "easy to dislike, and perhaps difficult for America to embrace…"
Mike Piazza at one point shared a superstar status on a par with Bonds, yet he could o't be more different in personality. He blends in easily among teammates. Piazza thought it "absurd" for Bonds' superstar trappings to be such an issue.
"Me, I don't like an entourage," Piazza told Harper. "If I'm going to go shopping, I just go. I don't need any special treatment. In here, I like being one of the guys, hanging out.
"Barry Bonds may be different, but if he's getting results, I don't care. The locker room stuff, I think that's so overrated. You don't have to be the best of friends with everybody in the locker room. You don't have to take guys out to dinner.
"Don't get me wrong. I think it's good when you have good guys on a team, but it's sort of a bonus. There's nothing Barry Bonds can't do on a baseball field, so as far as I'm concerned, I want him on my team. I don't have to be his best buddy."
Piazza was also probably frustrated by the Mets' disappointing season, and was thinking about the run production Bonds would bring to his club, plus the fat pitches he would see with Barry hitting in front or behind him. Piazza was astonished that anybody on his own team, in the middle of a pennant race the Giants were in the thick of, would take shots at their star player.
"How can you criticize a guy who's carrying you to the playoffs?" Piazza asked. "If Barry Bonds was a nice guy, very gracious, cheery, outgoing, a breath of fresh air - great. But he's not, at least not all the time. I don't think he's a bad guy, but hasn't he been this way his whole career?
"Why all of a sudden is this coming out now? Because he's having the year he's having?"
In the wake of Reilly's piece, Kent insisted his quotes were "doctored up pretty good," and accused Reilly of bearing a grudge because Bonds turned down an interview request from him the previous week.
"He wanted to pull the trigger big-time," Kent told the press. "It sounds like he did."
"What do they think, that we're supposed to be break-dancing in here?" Bonds had said. The controversy added a little excitement to Bonds' home run chase as he arrived at Shea, a place in need of some pizzazz in this down year for the home team.
"If he does hit 70, wow, I can't even think in those terms," Piazza said. "I don't have a problem celebrating it. I think it'd be a cool thing."
The Associated Press had this to say during the Mets' series:
"He doesn't care whether fans like him. He doesn't care whether teammates like him.
"Winning a World Series, that he does care about.
"`Is it important for you to be liked be your colleagues?' Bonds asked Friday at a news conference at Shea Stadium. `Yes. But what can you do if they don't? That's life. You can't change it. You pray for these people.'"
Bonds arrived in New York with 55 homers, needing 15 in San Francisco's final 35 games to tie the season record
"I don't feel I have a bad relationship with Jeff," he said. After games, Bonds said, "we all go our separate ways. That's normal. He has his family and goes his way and I have my family and I go my way. .
"... If he wants to go out to lunch with me, I'd love to go. If he wants to ride motorcycles, we'll ride motorcycles."
So is Bonds a "lone wolf?"
"That's between us," Baker answered when asked that question.
"I don't want to get into that, I really don't," owner Magowan said.
Magowan, wearing a Giants cap, sat on an end of the third row for the New York news conference but didn't ask any questions of his biggest star, who earned $55.2 million in his first nine seasons in San Francisco.
Bonds, who frequently claimed he was misquoted or taken out of context, was making himself available primarily in group interviews, where there is taped evidence of the exact words.
When McGwire and Sosa chased Maris, they generated a "warm, fuzzy feeling among many fans," said the AP. "The impression Bonds has left is of distance and coolness, which he says is created by a media unhappy with him.
"Bonds, who is black, didn't give a direct answer when asked if he thought racism played a part in the reaction to his chase.
"`Does the KKK exist?' he answered. `Sure. Probably. I don't know. Is it affecting me? No. Does it bother me? No.'
"It hasn't changed drastically," he continued in reference to the racism faced by Aaron in 1974.
"There are still people don't like people of all kinds of races," said Baker, who played in the latter part of Aaron's era. "One thing I've noticed: The lack of fans of color in every ballpark."
"I think about Hank Aaron," Bonds said in a telling remark. "Babe Ruth is second. I don't think about second place. I've been there before."
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