In May, Bonds went on an incredible tear.
On Saturday night, May 19 in Atlanta, he upped the ante in a game that ended well after midnight after twice being delayed by rain, and after 90 percent of a crowd of more than 42,000 had departed. Bonds hit three home runs to give his team a 6-3 victory over the Braves at Turner Field.
If there was a turning point in 2001, it was during this series. The images are indelible. It was hot and humid in Georgia, and one recalls Bonds playing with sweat dripping off his face, his uniform soaked.
This was also the time when Bonds' strength became more apparent than ever. He had always hit homers. He always had power. Unlike McGwire, however, a Bonds home run usually resulted from Bonds getting his pitch and driving it. In Atlanta, Bonds demonstrated that every time he swung the bat, he was capable of going yard. He tomahawked the ball. He powered the ball. He went out to all fields. High flies and line drives. Bonds himself was in full "ask God" mode, completely unable to explain himself. The look on his face rounding the bases was the look of wonder. This supremely confident player, accused by some of not playing the game with joy, was now amazing himself.
With two out in the eighth inning, Bonds hit his third of the game and his twentieth of the year to lift his team after a wrenching loss on Friday night.
"If there was any doubt about who the best player in this game is, it was pretty much answered tonight," Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones said after Bonds hit three solo homers off three different pitchers, two to right-center and one to straightaway center.
"We're lucky we got out of here with a win," Bonds said, maybe exhausted at one in the morning facing a day game in a few hours. Or, perhaps he simply was unable to believe his own prowess. The late-night heroics would be a staple of his game. Bonds has a way of staying in the game when all around him are tired, and he can be at his best when playing in a light-headed stupor after getting little sleep. His on- and off-season conditioning program was kicking in, paying dividends. It reminded one of what George Patton once said.
"This is where it pays off," General Patton said as he watched his men marching through the snow during the Battle of the Bulge. They had won a winter battle, then with no sleep and no hot food, were in the middle of a 100-mile slog against heavy German resistance, rescuing the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne, Belgium. "The training…The discipline. My God I'm proud of these men."
So it was with Bonds, who was making history in a different way than Patton, but in its own context he was just as impressive.
Bonds started the night with 511 homers. Before it was over, Mel Ott, Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews would fall, leaving him in sole possession of 13th place. Next up: McCovey and Williams, tied at number 11 with 521.
Ott, Banks, Mathews, McCovey, Williams. This was getting serious.
"Man, what a great night," Baker said. "All I can say is, we've got some pretty good midnight players."
Bonds hit six solo home runs in the three-game series, together traveling, according to Henry Schulman, only 128 feet short of a half-mile. The undisputed truth of baseball, which is that it is not a one-man game, was all-too-apparent, though, as the Braves took two of the three.
In the finale, Bonds powered numbers 21 and 22 in an 11-6 loss. Bonds tied a Major League record with five homers in two games, four in four straight at-bats (five times in six at-bats and six times in eight). Two errors by Russ Davis cost two runs, though, and that was more than even Bonds could overcome. When historians look back at Bonds' storied career, the Atlanta series will stand out. Comparisons with other all-time greats were inevitable.
In 1949, DiMaggio was out until June with painful bone spurs in both heels. He came back for a four-game series against Boston at Fenway Park. He had not been to Spring Training or seen a pitch in a real game in over eight months. He had taken little batting practice. His team had stayed in the race under rookie manager Casey Stengel, but the Red Sox, led by Williams, Vern Stephens, Joe's "little brother," Dominick, and a strong pitching staff, were expected to brush them aside. This would be their statement against the Bronx Bombers.
In that four-game series, described eloquently in Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Halberstam's classic "1949," Joe DiMaggio put on a display of courage, skill, leadership and charisma matched by few athletes in history. The Fenway Faithful rewarded him with one of the most memorable standing ovations of all time. The numbers, while impressive, did not tell the story of chemistry and hope. If ever a player lifted his team on his shoulders and carried them, DiMaggio carried his club to a four-game sweep that propelled them to an eventual pennant and World Championship. Was it a New York legend, hype? No, this was the real deal, recognized for what it was by knowledgeable, appreciative fans of the Yankees' fiercest rival. When Mays contemptuously stated, "You can't compare Joe to me," one wanted to earmark the chapter in Halberstam's book describing DiMaggio's Boston series, and hand it to number 24.
The Atlanta fans, while not as savvy as their New York and Boston brethren, have seen some pretty good baseball. A fella named Aaron did pretty well there. Over the past 10 years, their own team had teetered on the edge of a dynasty.
In the series finale, they cheered the star of the team their guys had just beaten. They had seen something so special that an entire stadium of hostile fans rose in appreciation. It was a moment not unlike DiMaggio's Fenway cheer, and yet there was something different. DiMaggio's teams won and won and won. Bonds, like Mays, played on good teams that often finished second. Like Mays, it was not his fault, just as DiMaggio was lucky to play with great teammates. Bonds, Mays, Williams - some players played their careers under the shadow of a kind of Shakespearean curse, lone wolves baying at the gods of greatness, desperate for something so close, and yet so far away.
(Mays did have one World Championship, in 1954, but played 19 years after that without a second.)
So it was that night in Atlanta, when fans used to booing Barry Bonds rose to cheer him on a night he would lose, just as he would hear cheers five months later - on another night he would lose.
Bonds declined to talk about home runs. There was a disappointment to him. For all his personal achievements, he was truly sincere when he insisted that winning, getting to the Series and emerging with a championship, was his greatest priority.
Getting back to the theme of Patton, it was like when the General announced, "If we are not victorious, let no man come back alive." The hyperbolic comparisons of an athlete with a world figure such as Patton or Julius Caesar, or the descriptions of his derring-do as having Shakespearean qualities, usually pale. Not with Bonds. Not now. Following him was like riding with Patton as he drove the Hun out of the Low Countries, covering the Nixon-Kennedy campaign, watching the Berlin Wall fall.
For a journalist, there is no greater thrill, no better opportunity. It usually is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. It is history, pure and simple.
Barry would acknowledge the history in Atlanta.
"I've never done a lot of things in life," he said when reminded he had done something neither he, nor anybody else, had done. "I've never traveled over the world.
"Dude, we're trying to win baseball games. I'm tired of being on the losing end against that team. That's all. It's been like this the last 10 years. It's amazing what they do over there."
"Unbelievable," Braves' star pitcher John Smoltz said of Bonds. "I've seen him do a lot of things. But the things he did in this series, that was amazing. For us to get two wins when the guy hit six home runs was amazing. "
"There are no certain words to describe a thing like that," said Eric Davis. "You don't try to explain it. You just enjoy it. When you have special moments in this game from special people, you don't try to break them down. You can't try to understand it. Just ride it and roll with it."
"I've never seen anything even remotely like it," said Chipper Jones.
"That's the first time I've ever seen an individual performance like that," said Brian Jordan. "It just shows how great he is. It shows why he's a Hall of Fame player."
Bonds was on pace to hit 82 this year, and Jordan, who had played with McGwire, was asked about Bonds' chance at the record.
"I wouldn't be surprised," he said. "The type of zone he was in this weekend, unless you walk him every time up, he's going to have a chance. The guy can hit."
After Bonds' first homer, a laser into the right-center bleachers, he returned to the dugout and laughed. After his second homer, a high 436-footer to straightaway center off Mike Remlinger that had even Andruw Jones gazing skyward in disbelief, the crowd of 33,696 gave Bonds a standing ovation.
"When you get a standing ovation on the road, it's special," Eric Davis said. "You don't get claps on the road. There's not too much that compares to that."
Schulman's notebook read like this:
"Homers, homers, homers.
"-- Barry Bonds' two homers made him the 23rd player in Major League history to hit five home runs in two games.
-- Bonds became the eighth player to hit six homers in three games, with Manny Ramirez (then with Cleveland) in 1998 the most recent.
"-- Bonds has homered in his past four at-bats, tying the Major League record.
"-- Bonds leads the Majors this season with 22 home runs.
"-- He has 516 HRs in his career, leaving him five short of Willie McCovey and Ted Williams for 11th place on the all-time list."
The Giants then moved on to a three-game series at Phoenix. The season was really heating up, and it was not about the spring temperatures in the desert. The Diamondbacks featured Schilling and Johnson and they promised to be the team San Francisco would have to beat. However, something else was at play here. Barry Bonds led the Majors with 22 home runs. The Diamondbacks' Luis Gonzalez had 20.
"I prefer to downplay it anyway," Gonzalez told the media, who wanted to play it up like a match between Mays and Mantle, DiMaggio and Williams. "I'm not your prototypical home run king type of guy." "Gonzo," one of the nicest guys in baseball, was just a down home Southern boy who had been a journeyman in Detroit and Houston. He had broken out in Arizona, but now he was hitting home runs like they were going out of style. He is a wiry guy, not a muscular slugger like Bonds, Sosa and McGwire. How was he doing it? The bottom line is he was meeting the ball and it was going out.
"I just played with him every day and saw how he does it," Gonzalez said of his tour of Japan, in which he played with Bonds the previous off-season. "He's got a great approach. There's a reason why he hits 400-plus home runs and steals 400-plus bases. He's just a talented player."
"I like him a lot," Bonds said of Gonzo. "He's a good contact hitter. Right now, the contact he's making is out of the ballpark."
Bonds entered the series 10-for-21 with seven homers on this trip. His 71 homers since the start of 2000 led the Majors.
On Tuesday night, he did it again, hitting another home run (his eighth in five games) and etched his name deeper into history. Again, his team lost, this time by 4-2.
Bonds was not just a home run hitter at Bank One Ballpark. He played "peacemaker," according to John Shea. When J.T.Snow charged umpire Charlie Reliford, who threw him out for throwing equipment, Bonds grabbed Snow in a bear hug and dragged him away. Baker then stormed after Reliford and quickly got tossed, igniting Baker to fire his cap across the infield.
So Bonds hauled Baker away.
Bonds long fly ball off Schilling was chased down by center fielder Danny Bautista near the warning track, but his next time up Bonds hit a 442-foot shot to center field. Eight home runs in a five-game stretch, a National League record previously held by Jim Bottomley (St. Louis, 1929), Johnny Bench (Cincinnati, 1972) and Mike Schmidt (Philadelphia, 1979).
Bonds also tied Frank Howard's Major League record of eight, reached twice with the Senators in 1968.
"There are some things I can't understand right now," he said. Some writers wanted more out of him. They wanted to know how it felt.
Bonds, however, was genuinely unable to verbalize it. His training had paid off even beyond his wildest expectations. Talk of steroids was making its way into press accounts. In an odd way, these "accusations" were a compliment to him. Steroids can make a man look ripped and juiced at a bodybuilding contest. They can allow a person to recover from weight lifting sessions faster. They can give a lineman brute strength, combined with explosive swiftness. Can they make a man hit a baseball further? The answer is maybe. However, hitting a baseball requires precise timing. It is a game not of inches but of millimeters. Home runs are about bat speed, wrist action…and overall body strength. Was Bonds on the juice? The answer to that question does not lie within these pages.
"The balls I used to line off the wall are lining out <of the park>," he said. "I can't tell you why. Call God. Ask him. It's like, wow. I can't understand it, either. I try to figure it out, and I can't figure it out. So I stopped trying."
The McGwire Watch was in full swing. Ridiculous? Maybe, but this writer approached Bonds about writing a book on May 25 because I predicted he would do it, and thought it would be the biggest sports book of the year. It apparently was not so ridiculous to Shawon Dunston, who around this time made his bet with Bonds that he would get the record.
"To talk about it on May 21 is ridiculous," said Bonds, but when I told him I thought he would get the record, he did not say it was ridiculous. He smiled and seemed confident that he could do anything. Bonds was giving the press time-honored cliches, the party line. "I could be hit by a truck tomorrow, then what? 'He was on his way, but, damn, he got hit by a truck.' "
True, except that he had not been hit by any trucks in the past and there was no logical reason why such an occurrence was more likely now. Neither was getting typhoid, chicken pox…or getting killed by a terrorist.
Chipper Jones came out and said Bonds could break Hank Aaron's career record of 755.
"Hell no," said Bonds. Interesting, but when the season was over and Boras was driving up his contract demands, the agent put together a big packet predicting that Bonds would get to 800 within five years.
"I promise you from the bottom of my heart I won't be in the game that long," said Bonds, seven months before asking the Giants for a five-year contract with the expectation of breaking Aaron's mark in a San Francisco uniform. "I guarantee you that. I'm going to be on vacation."
Bonds also said he would not participate in the home run contest at the All-Star Game.
"I'm done," the slugger said a month and a half before competing in the home run contest in Seattle. "No home-run derbies for me,"
With eight homers in five games, Bonds had 23 this season and 517 in his career, was four away from McCovey and Williams, and like it or not was in the home run contest to beat all home run contests.
Passing McCovey would also make him the greatest left-handed home run hitter in National League history.
The Giants were closing out a road trip through the hottest cities in the league -Miami, Atlanta and Phoenix, but they were cold. They got colder the next game, losing12-8 to the Diamondbacks, despite another Bonds shot.
The San Francisco media was trying to determine was his nickname should be by now. Barry "U.S." Bonds seemed like it had been used before. USC fans had called him "Bail Bonds" because of his father's publicized problems, but that was not going to fly. John Shea made his bid for Grantland Rice status, calling him Barry Ballgame. After all, Ted Williams already had three nicknames - The Kid, The Splendid Splinter and Teddy Ballgame - so why not give Barry the latter?
"It would be a lot more gratifying if we were winning," said Bonds, now with nine homers in six games, all but one losses. "Just thank God it's May. It would be nice if it was helping our team win games."
Bonds set a National League record with nine home runs over six games (homering in each). Four other National Leaguers, including Mays, hit seven home runs in six consecutive games. Frank Howard (1968) hit 10 over six, the big-league record.
One problem the team was having was that their homers were solo shots. Of their previous 20 home runs, 18 were solos. Bonds had seven solos in a row until his homer in the 12-8 loss plated Aurilia. Edwards Guzman followed with a solo homer!
Sportswriters are famous for keeping bootleg tapes of the famous sportsmen they interview going off on them. There was the Lee Elia Incident, when the Chicago Cubs' manager went nuts on Cubs fans, wondering if they all were unemployed idiots. How else could they attend all those weekday afternoon games at Wrigley Field?
A writer once asked a powderkeg called Tom Lasorda what his "opinion of Dave Kingman's performance" was, a few minutes after Kingman's homer display beat his Dodgers in a crucial game.
Lasorda managed to sound like Joe Pesci (either the "riddle wrapped inside an enigma" scene from "JFK", or the "do I amuse you?" scene from "Goodfellas"), only with a lot more swearing. Writers have been playing that legendary tape for years.
One prankster observed a female groupie offer Dodger second baseman Davey Lopes, now Milwaukee's manager, a "blow job" at Candlestick Park. Lopes seemed interested. The prankster then went to a payphone and called the visitor's clubhouse, where Lopes was by now, and asked the attendant for Lopes. He made his voice sound like a woman, and taped the conversation, which went like this:
"GROUPIE": Hey, Daveee…?
LOPES: Yeah, who's this?
"GROUPIE": I'm callin' in regards to the request for a blowjob on the field.
LOPES: (brusquely) Ya, ya, ya.
"GROUPIE": Can I see ya after the game?
LOPES: Ya, ya, ya…section 23, by the bus.
"GROUPIE": Will your wife be there?
LOPES: It don' matta.
On May 23, Ray Ratto of the Chronicle revealed that a new "blue" tape existed. This time Brian Sabean was on stage.
"Cock your ear toward the wind and listen, listen, as that vein in Brian Sabean's forehead pounds out the gentle strains of `My Generation,'" wrote Ratto.
"Watch and see how his eyes bulge like a Tex Avery cartoon when he is asked the question. Hear him curse in three languages, including New Jersey, as he answers. And stare in wonderment at those who saw him the last time he was asked, doubled over in uncontrollable laughter.
"In short, the Giants' general manager is about to have another Barry Bonds Moment. You might remember Sabean's last one, back in the early days of Spring Training. Bonds had just arrived at Scottsdale Stadium and held his annual `State of Me, Mostly'…
"Armed with a small story, the reporters faithfully trooped up to Sabean's office to get his reaction. What they got was a Vesuvian oration, featuring every common curse word, two that haven't been used much, and a very common one used in a new part of speech. He blasted the writers for dredging up old news, for forgetting that Bonds' contract would not be addressed until after the season, and for behaving like small burrowing animals in Sabean's delicates.
"The tantrum was taped for posterity, and was so good (as these things go) that even Sabean asked for a copy…."
Ratto went on to explain that Bonds was putting up the kind of numbers that make agents ask for "A-Rod money," and that a new Sabean explosion was predictable, only now Ratto wanted to get it on video.
Meanwhile, Bonds was above it all. After taking a night off, Bonds hit his 25th home run on May 25 - his tenth in a week - before 40,856 at Pacific Bell Park. Just as important, San Francisco won, 5-1, behind Shawn Estes two-hitter.
Armando Rios joined Bonds and Kent in the long-ball party.
"He's still getting pitches," Baker said of Bonds. "You don't get many, but when you get one you can't miss it. Guys like Barry and Sammy are like lions on the hunt. They've got to stalk a guy. Their prey is not going to run at them."
Bonds hit a home run for the seventh time in eight games, the second time he had done so this season. He reached 25 home runs in the Giants' 47th game. McGwire needed 52 to get there.
It was May. There it was, the McGwire Comparison. The Home Run Watch. The Chase For 70. The Pace.
Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News added to the chorus of voices calling for a new evaluation of the man. Bonds' "name belongs in the same paragraph - if not the same sentence - with his Godfather, Willie Mays.
"His peers are calling him `the best player in the game.' We tell our children to `come quick, Bonds is up,' because we know they're seeing history, the way we stood at attention for Mays."
Bonds was still playing hide-and-seek, mostly hide, with the press.
"It's as if he has an invisible sign posted above his locker - approach at your own risk - and on a daily basis, very few do," wrote Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee. On the field, Bonds was getting regularly summoned for curtain calls and standing ovations from adoring fans?
"A lot of games, Barry hits a home run but that's his only hit," Eric Davis told Schulman. "If you ask him, he'll tell you. He just has trajectory going right now. He gets the ball up in the air, and as strong as he is, if he hits the ball up in the air, he has a chance to hit the ball out of the park every night."
Bonds continued to hit at a blistering pace. Could anything stop him? He injured his hand, but x-rays showed no real damage. Then there was the power shortage being experienced by California during this period.
The stadium operations manager at Pac Bell assured the media that there was enough juice to keep the lights on.
Interestingly, while the scoreboard and video boards could go dark, the public address system would stay on. Major League Baseball required PA systems to be linked to emergency power after the 1989 World Series earthquake, when the sound was knocked out and the Giants could not tell fans the game had been called.
One could just hear Sonny and Cher singing "…and the beat goes on" Friday night, May 30 at Pacific Bell Park, when two more legends bit the dust. Unfortunately, so did the Giants.
The night before, San Francisco played a baseball game for the ages. It was an 18-inning, 1-0 marathon loss to Arizona that would go down with the Marichal-Warren Spahn 16-inning, 1-0 pitcher's duel, won on a homer by Mays in the 1960s. Or Vida Blue's 18 shutout innings against California the night Tony Conigliaro struck out five times, then called it quits in a post-midnight press conference in Oakland.
Bonds did not provide Maysian heroics to win the pitcher's struggle, but he did come back the next evening to go yard, again in a frustrating defeat.
"This is when the strong survive," said Baker.
In the series finale against Arizona, Bonds hit his 521st and 522nd career home runs to catch and pass McCovey and Williams for 11th place on the all-time list.
The homer that tied McCovey landed in the cove that bears his name. Bonds' second homer went over the center-field wall, giving him the National League record for left-handed hitters. It was his 28th of the year.
The Giants lost, 4-3, thus getting swept by rival Arizona, and falling below .500 (26-27) for the first time in the season.
The Diamondbacks held first place in the division, while San Francisco had lost 11 out of 15 games.
Bonds was on a roll, but could not enjoy it.
"You can't explain this," he said. "It's really hard. You don't want to take away from the objective of the team, which is going back to the postseason and winning a World Series. You have to accept this and run with it, but you've got to keep it in perspective."
What was happening was a mirror, in some ways, of his career. He was hitting better than he ever had, and his team was not benefiting. His critics would point this out and say that it was proof that he is a selfish player.
Hogwash. Bonds can be a selfish person. He is not a selfish player. Was he at one time? Maybe a little bit, but never to the point where it hurt his team. The people who count, Dave Stephens, Jim Leyland, Dusty Baker, probably Jim Brock if he were still alive, would not call him selfish.
The people calling him selfish were the people who sell news, in print and electronically, by finding and stirring up controversy in any form. Selfish in the clubhouse, selfish with the writers, selfish with his time, okay. On the field, Bonds was a team player in ways that Frank Thomas never had been. More than Tony Gwynn. More than the sainted Cal Ripken.
Bonds learned the importance of team play from Mays, the essence of a team leader. He did not possess Willie's "say hey" personality, he did not give of himself or mentor young players or "manage" on the field like Captain Mays had, but he played every inch of every game to win.
His hustle occasionally lapsed, but even this was calculated. He had seen and heard what happened to Mays, who played every inning of every game hard "because I don't know any other way," and had been hospitalized in 1962 for physical and mental exhaustion because of it.
Baseball is not, on its face, the most taxing game. To those who know it, though, Major League baseball is one of the most taxing ordeals in sports. There are the physical requirements, and they are many. Playing and practicing day in and day out from February to October results in nagging injuries that must be played through.
However, the preparation, the mental strain, the concentration, on a daily basis, including day games after might games and travel, requires extraordinary professional toughness.
Bonds occasionally jogged out ground balls for two reasons. One, he knew he would be thrown out, and two, he knew what he was saving in May or June he would have in September and October. Pete Rose might not have done it that way. It was an approach subject to criticism. Nobody could argue with the results.
Bonds had enjoyed winning three MVP awards. He did not always spout party line cliches about winning the award. He wanted to win them, those were goals of his.
So what? Baseball needs more Dizzy Deans, guys who are good and know it. They need people who will say, "I want to win the MVP award because I know if I win it, I will have done the best to help my team win."
But Mr. Bonds was star-crossed. His teams were usually good, but not quite good enough. Did Bonds leave it all on the field during the regular season? Was he too exhausted to carry his team in the post-season? The Mets' Mike Piazza faced similar questions in New York.
Bonds was a victim of his own greatness, yet the bottom line is this: He is paid to play baseball in the most excellent possible manner within his ability, he had always done it, and now he is was doing it better than ever.
Leading off the second inning with the Giants down 2-0, Bonds hit Robert Ellis' first pitch into the drink. When he crossed home plate he acknowledged McCovey, who was sitting in a front row seat near the Giants' dugout. McCovey joined in the standing ovation and acknowledged Bonds with a wave.
Bonds' second home run, to center, came with first base open after Kent singled and stole second. This time, Bonds stopped by McCovey's seat after rounding the bases to shake his hand.
"I'm glad he was able to do it at home and I was able to see it in person," McCovey said. "I'm glad it's over with, so now he can concentrate on winning."
"It was great to hit 500 in McCovey Cove, and 521," Bonds said. "I really wanted to jump over the railing, give Mac a hug and say, `I did it in your house.' The other thing is, I got to do it in Willie Mays' yard."
Bonds also set a Major League record with his sixteenth and seventeenth home runs in May, a mark that Mickey Mantle and McGwire had shared.
Watching in the stands was Kevin Mitchell, the 1989 NL MVP, who hit 49 that year.
(Author's note: In a minor league baseball game in Kingsport, Tennessee, as a pitcher for the Johnson City Cardinals, I struck out Mitchell five times, and whiffed 15 Mets that evening.)
"It looks like he's going to hit one every time up," Mitchell told the press. "He's so locked in right now. He's seeing everything."
"Barry Bonds' 29 home runs this year are like snowflakes," wrote Schulman. "Taken together they look like an avalanche, but each is really unique."
Against Colorado at Coors Field, Bonds hit his 29th, a two-run liner to right off rookie pitcher Shawn Chacon, igniting his team to a much-needed 11-7 win.
Armando Rios and Aurilia added homers in the thin air, and Calvin Murray, just brought up to replace the struggling Marvin Benard in center, doubled twice, walked and scored twice.
In Bonds' first at-bat, Chacon intentionally walked him. His next time up, Chacon sent Bonds two pitches nowhere near the strike zone. Bonds laid off both.
On a 2-0 pitch, a fat fastball right down the middle, he drilled it over the right-field fence. It was an at-bat typical of his whole season. Always a disciplined hitter, Bonds was now a Zen Master. He demonstrated patience and selectivity. He refused to be drawn in by tantalizing pitches just out of his sweet zone. This was his game, the mental edge gained by years and years of learning and experience. Yes, he was strong, and he had inherited genetic talents from generations of Bonds's. But more than anything, he had the head game down to a pure science.
Cobb, Williams, Gwynn, Bonds, these were the technical champions of hitting. Ruth, "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, even Mays, they relied on instinct. 29 homer runs, his highest first-half total, and it was five weeks before the All-Star break.
"When you walk as much as he does, and they're always throwing around you, and then you get the one pitch you can hit, how do you just square up and hammer it?" Calvin Murray, who had been in Fresno all season, wondered to the Chronicle. The young center fielder from the University of Texas must have felt like he was sitting with Abe Lincoln on the train to Gettysburg. He had not just been assigned to the big leagues, he had been given a front row seat to history, and like everybody else on Barry's ride - writers, club officials, teammates, fans - he sensed that this was not something that happens all the time. "You'd think once in awhile they'd sneak attack him. That's why he's him, and we're us."
Bonds now had 51 walks.
"I just don't take anything for granted," he said. "I'm not anticipating he's going to throw another ball. I just expect he's going to throw a strike. You can't go up there with the mind set that he's going to throw a ball. Only when you're slumping you pray they throw a ball."
Bonds, the team guy, called Murray's performance "awesome, and he ran down balls I didn't have to go after. I was loving him."
The San Francisco Chronicle was now printing the "pace."
"Way ahead of pace Barry Bonds is the fastest to 29 homers and way ahead of the pace set by previous record-setters (season totals in parentheses):
"-- Barry Bonds, 2001: 54th game
"-- Mark McGwire, 1998: 62nd game (70)
"-- Sammy Sosa, 1998: 73rd game (66)
"-- Roger Maris, 1961: 75th game (61)
"-- Babe Ruth, 1927: 79th game (60).
"Fastest to 30.
"-- Babe Ruth, 1928: 63rd game*
* Ruth hit his 29th and 30th homers in the 63rd game of 1928 and finished the season with 54."
The home run pace also looked like this at the end of May:
Name, Team, Year March -May Total
Barry Bonds, Giants, '01 28 85(x)
Mark McGwire, Cardinals, '98 27 70
Sammy Sosa, Cubs, '98 13 66
Roger Maris, Yankees, '61 12 61
Babe Ruth, Yankees, '27 16 60
(x) - projected
John Shea, in his June 1 column titled "Going, going…gone?" said Bonds was on pace to hit 85, "But is Bonds slugging his way out of San Francisco?"
The Pace, naturally, could only lead to The Contract.
"I'm not a pimp to money," Bonds said, and of Boras he echoed hopeful words. "He works for me. I don't work for him."
"Barry is more than a franchise player," Shea quoted Peter Magowan. "In '93, we signed what we thought was the best player in baseball, and nothing happened since then that says it's not an accurate statement."
The Giants payroll in 2002 was predicted to go up to $68 million from $62.5 million. Add to The Pace and The Contract, The Question.
"In the final analysis, are we going to have a better chance to win with him or without him?" asked Magowan. "It sounds like a stupid question. People would say, of course we'll have a better chance to win with him. But there's a finite amount of money, and will there be enough for everyone else?"
Boras then began to lay the groundwork for his fall argument that Bonds was not like other players. Maybe he was a freak of nature, like Nolan Ryan. His new contract would not be negotiated the way other 37-year olds negotiate contracts. This guy could be setting records and thrilling fans in San Francisco for many years to come.
"We said all along that Barry is a remarkably conditioned athlete, and his skill level is so high," Shea quoted Boras. "He's not a customary 36-year-old. . ."
Boras had wanted a contract similar to those of Toronto's Carlos Delgado or Houston's Jeff Bagwell, around $17 million annually. Now, however, it was beginning to look ridiculous mentioning names like Delgado, Bagwell, Sheffield, Thomas, or Shawn Green, with the likes of Bonds.
There is Danielle Steele, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum. Good writers, sure. Then there was Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Charles Dickens.
Some people make lasting impressions. Bonds would be mentioned by baseball fans in 2080 the way Ruth was revered now, maybe more so because he benefited from television.
After Bonds passed McCovey, the career Major League leaders among active players looked like this:
1.Mark McGwire, 556
2. Bonds, 522
3. Ken Griffey, Jr. 438
1. Rickey Henderson, 2,205
2. Bonds, 1,625
3. Cal Ripken Jr., 1,614
Runs batted in:
1. Cal Ripken Jr., 1,645
2. Harold Baines, 1,627
3. Bonds, 1,457
1. Rickey Henderson, 2,086
2. Bonds, 1,591
3. Mark McGwire, 1,263
1. Rickey Henderson, 1,380
2. Bonds, 476
3. Kenny Lofton, 469
By June 13, it had gotten to the point where Bonds was a story if he did not hit a home run, as was the case when he went homerless in the weekend A's series.
Bonds reached 33 in the Giants' 64th game. McGwire hit his 33rd in St. Louis' 70th game. At this rate, Bonds would hit 37 long before he turned 37.
"I've seen only a couple of players who can turn it on and get ready," Baker told the media. "Oh, yeah, Barry is one. Rickey <Henderson> is another. I'd like to see it. It's not scary. No matter what, the whole thing is Barry's health. If Barry's healthy, he's going to get it. You can count on it. That's fact."
So there it was. Baker, who says what is on his mind, was not couching the "can Barry do it?" question with platitudes about it being too early. He is a baseball fan. He has an opinion. He said his guy would get there if he stayed healthy. Period.
Giants' trainer Stan Conte cited Bonds' genetics, training regimen and ability to avoid serious injuries as reasons for his success, adding he wouldn't be surprised if Bonds surpassed McGwire.
"He hit 49 home runs last year, and he was probably positioned and physically able to hit 60," Conte told Shea. "His health and fitness get him on the field, and then it's up to his hard work and natural skills."
Bonds has two personalized fitness consultants. One is Harvey Shields, who stretches Bonds before games and is called The Shadow because he follows him around so much. Greg Anderson oversees Bonds' weight training.
"He's more flexible," Shields told Shea. "He's not as big as he was when I got here, but he's more toned and more defined."
"Any good scout will confirm that '90s expansion has watered down big-league pitching and that most staffs have pitchers who should either be in the minors or be retired," wrote Shea. This is a "fact" of some dispute. There have always been average pitchers. The guys pitching to Ruth, DiMaggio and Cobb were not all named Bob Feller or Hal Newhouser.
Mays and Aaron probably faced the toughest pitching. They ushered in the age of West Coast travel, played a lot of night games, performed a substantial number of years before expansion, and faced National League competition that included blacks and Latins. They also faced the slider, a relatively modern development.
Probably the most important factor was that they faced pitching from an elevated mound. In 1969, after the Year of the Pitcher in 1968, when baseball had a 2.99 earned run average, the mound was lowered. Pitching statistics in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s were significantly better than today.
Aaron did not face Spahn (his teammate) just as Mays did not face Marichal for the same reason, but they both squared off against Sandy Koufax, Don Drsydale, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Ferguson Jenkins, and other top-notch hurlers. Teams played each other as often as 18 times a season in the 1960s, but everybody knows that the more times a hitter faces a pitcher, the advantage is gained by the hitter.
Mays, Aaron, Mantle, Killebrew, Frank Robinson, and the like did not see the specialized relief pitchers like Mariano Rivera, "lights out" guys who can neutralize a game. They did not face the set-up men who are so much a part of baseball today. They saw a lot more of a tiring Gibson or Spahn pitching on guts in the eighth or ninth innings.
Dick Radatz was an effective reliever in the American League for a couple of seasons. So was Ron Perranoski of the Dodgers, then in Minnesota. Baltimore, however, won three pennants in a row with almost no bullpen. The 1969 Miracle Mets used whoever Gil Hodges thought was hot that day. Sometimes that was an erratic Nolan Ryan, just as likely to walk a hitter or groove a home run pitch as get a strikeout. They also did not see the split-fingered fastball that has made a success out of so many pitchers, especially since Cubs' reliever Bruce Sutter popularized the pitch in the late 1970s.
In 2001, Barry Bonds and his teammates squared off against division rivals' Arizona and Los Angeles 19 times each. Schilling and Johnson are every bit as tough as any of the aforementioned pitching heroes of the 1960s. So is Kevin Brown of the Dodgers. Chan Ho Park is pretty close, and Jeff Shaw exemplifies the modern closer that was not there 30 years ago.
How about a trip to Atlanta, where Bonds had tore up the Braves in May? Facing Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz throughout the 1990s was just as tough as getting Catfish Hunter, Ken Holtzman and Vida Blue in Oakland, or Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally of Baltimore in the 1970s. Bonds was facing relievers. He was getting left-handers brought in, sometimes kept on rosters, specifically for the purpose of getting him out. Heck, Jesse Orozco was probably still in baseball because of Barry Bonds.
Furthermore, he was playing against players chosen from an ever-expanding population, in the United States and around the world. This includes the many Dominican stars, other Latin American players, plus pitchers emerging from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Canada, even Australia.
Mays and Aaron virtually never faced American League pitchers like Hunter, Denny McLain, Dean Chance, and Whitey Ford. Now, because of free agency, a Randy Johnson brings his heat in the American League for Seattle, then in the National League for Houston and the D'backs.
The most important factor disputing the so-called "pitching is weaker" argument is the effect of weight training. Pitchers lift. They benefit from it by getting bigger, throwing harder, and giving themselves the opportunity to rebound faster and avoid injury.
However, pitching always has been and always will be about finesse - finger pressure, movement, pinpoint control. Hitters gain more from lifting weights than pitchers do.
True, the ball may be livelier now than in the 1960s. Baseball denies it, but it probably is. That and smaller ballparks are more prevalent reasons for increased offense than bad pitching, although the whole thing is self-fulfilling, in that pitchers will change their style and be less aggressive when they are giving up more runs.
The new strike zone was having an effect, too. Bonds knows it so well that he was able to adjust to the 2001 zone, laying off pitches other hitters went for, and making use of the higher, narrower plane.
In the Giants' 2-1 victory over Oakland on June 16, Bonds flied out twice, once to the warning track in front of the 399-foot sign in center field. He walked in the seventh and ended up on the front end of a double play seconds thereafter. He was in the on-deck circle at the end of the Giants' last at-bat. He caught a fly ball.
Bonds had homered twice in the Giants' 3-1 win over the A's on Friday night, giving him 36 homers in 198 at-bats over 67 games. Still, an interesting phenomenon manifested itself.
Most of the local writers were interested mostly in the Giants' fifth straight win and the A's third consecutive loss.
McGwire, and later Sosa, endured great scrutiny in 1998. Certainly, it had started for McGwire early and was intense by mid-June. Perhaps because the record was still only three years old, and Todd McFarlane had not cashed in on his number 70 ball by selling it, the national media had not yet invaded the Bay Area.
Scott Ostler, once considered the heir apparent to Jim Murray when he broke in with the Los Angeles Times, wanted to know more about what made Barry tick. He came up with an interesting observation, which is that left fielders are loners. He cited Bonds, Rickey Henderson, and Gary Sheffield, noting that they tended to be at odds with the media.
In Boston, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice mistrusted sportswriters.
"Williams spat at 'em, Yaz wrinkled his nose at 'em, Rice growled at 'em," wrote Ostler.
Writers from all around the country were hitting the phones, getting quotes from all-time greats about this new all-time great.
Ernie Banks: "He can be compared to anybody who has played any position - Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle. He can hit, hit with power, run and field."
Frank Robinson: "You can mention him in the same breath as Willie Mays right now."
"Who cares, man?" Bonds asked when told. "What's the big deal? What really is the big deal about this?"
Ted Williams batted .344 in 19 seasons with a .634 slugging percentage, 1,798 runs and 1,839 RBIs. Williams may have been the player with the most in common with Bonds. He had missed the better part of five seasons because he flew planes for the Marines in World War II, then flew jets in combat for the Corps in Korea. If ever an athlete's life would make a great movie, it is Williams, whose off-field heroics are even more interesting and admirable than his playing career.
Astronaut John Glenn was Williams' wingman in Korea. Another Marine pilot, Jerry Coleman, who would play for the Yankees and become San Diego's broadcaster, once listened to a harrowing radio account of Marines in a dogfight with Soviet MIGs, a common practice. It was not until Williams flew his flak-scarred jet in that he had realized the fighter ace dueling the Communists in the skies, like an aerial Wyatt Earp, was Ted Williams.
Somebody once told Williams, who was 6-4 with matinee idol good looks, that he was the "real John Wayne. Wayne played those roles in the movies, but you lived it."
"Yeah, I suppose so," Williams, never a humble man, replied.
So why would Williams be compared to Bonds, who never served his country in the military and might not know an F-16 from an F-7?
Well, for several reasons. Bonds, like Williams, is a handsome devil. Like Williams, he endured a failed marriage while in the public eye. Like Williams, he was at best misunderstood by the media, and in some cases downright libeled.
The Boston press was down on Williams for some of the same reasons as Bonds, and for some other reasons. The similarities were that Williams was said to be selfish, his teams did not win, and he was a bust in the clutch. Other reasons involved politics, an area Bonds avoids.
Williams was from Southern California. His mother had been a lifelong Salvation Army worker, his father a handsome alcoholic. Williams was a rugged individualist and an outspoken conservative Republican.
He criticized Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, setting himself at odds with the Kennedyite liberals that make up the Boston press corps. They went after him every way they could, exposing his faults as a husband and father, and even going so far as to criticize him as unpatriotic for not volunteering to fight in Korea fast enough after North Korea crossed the 38th parallel in June, 1950.
Bonds, like Williams, speaks his mind. The difference is that Williams never shut up, while Bonds senses there are times to pipe down, even at the risk of further alienating the writers. Williams disdainfully addressed the writers as the "knights of the keyboard," and was one of the most politically incorrect athletes this side of John Rocker.
In the mid-1960s, Sports Illustrated did an article that followed the retired Williams on his fishing adventures off the Florida coast (Williams is considered one of the best big game fishermen of the 20th century). Ted referred to anything that was substandard, whether it be a poorly tied fly, hitters who do no not know the strike zone, or the Great Society, as "Chinese."
One newspaper editor who had covered Williams when Williams had managed the Washington Senators in the early 1970s, tells the story of meeting Williams for lunch at a hotel in Oakland when the Senators were in town to play the A's.
Oakland is a diverse ethnic enclave, to say the least. In a room liberally sprinkled with blacks, Latinos and Asians, this tall, overbearing, sunburned white man, in a booming voice that could be heard by everybody, launched into a tirade/recollection of his combat flying days on the Korean Peninsula.
"Everything was gooks this and gooks that, and people are looking at this guy," recalls the editor. "Waiters, people at other tables. They didn't know who he was, they probably never heard of Ted Williams."
"I'd see a bunch of fuckin' gooks on the road and I'd just let 'em have it," Williams had said. "I just mowed the bastards down. It was great."
Bonds is a cosmopolitan fellow from the Bay Area. There is no doubt that his Catholic school upbringing effects his politics, his religious views, his opinion on such things as homosexuality, but he has never maintained any of the strong, public opinions that Williams was famous for.
Like Williams, though, Bonds is a patriot. He would demonstrate that a few months later.
Stan Musial batted .331 in 22 seasons with a .559 slugging percentage, 1,949 runs and 1,951 RBIs. Musial was the polar opposite of Williams, a beloved figure who stayed out of trouble by never airing strong opinions, if he had any.
"To me," said Gary Sheffield, who may be on Bonds' payroll along with Bobby Bonilla, "Barry is not only the greatest player in the game today, but he might be the greatest player in the history of the game."
The Sporting News had put together a panel a few years ago to rank the greatest players in the 20th century. Ruth was first, Mays second, Williams eighth and Musial 10th. That panel put Bonds at number 34, but now he was on a roll, like a politician who catches fire in the primaries.
Still, there was that post-season performance. Most of the Yankees had great post-season records, of course. There was Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter. But the game is filled with superstars with sub-par records in play-off and World Series competition. Even Musial had a less than awesome record in this regard. His Cardinals had enjoyed mixed success in the Series, all during the war years, which almost should be viewed as asterisk seasons. Musial feasted on wartime pitching while Teddy Ballgame served overseas. The 1944 St. Louis Browns' pitching staff that Musial faced in that year's World Series was filled with a bunch of over-the-hill Methuselah's named Ned Garver.
Bonds was by no means the only great player with unimpressive play-off numbers.
"It does affect you," Bonds had conceded a few years prior in an article in Sport magazine. "You're human. How can you be so good and do so well in 162 games, and then all of a sudden disappear?
"You feel like you've disappeared. All of a sudden now I'm this ghost, I'm gone."
Williams' Red Sox won only one pennant, and he batted .200 with no homers and one RBI in the 1946 World Series.
"That's going to be forever," Bonds said of winning a World Championship. "People will come back and see it for a lifetime. I might put a barrier around it so no one steps on it. Might even hire a bodyguard for it."
Orel Hershisher was a Dodger pitching ace who had thrown 59 straight scoreless innings to close out the 1988 season. That one year, he pitched as well as anybody in baseball history to lead Los Angeles to a World Series victory. He was asked about Bonds when he showed up at Pac Bell as part of an ESPN2 broadcast team.
``I'm sure he hit some against me - I faced him so many times,'' Hershiser, who remembers every homer Bonds hit off him, told the assorted media.
``But how you pitched him then is different than now. He's a different hitter. Back then, he would take pitches and go to left field. Now he pulls just about everything. He's bigger than he was, and he takes that inside pitch and pulls it over the right field wall.
``I love Barry,'' Hershiser, Bonds' teammate for a period in the late 1990s, continued. ``He was great to my kids when I was here.
``I know he's gone through some rough things with the media, but I think this is a great second chance for him, and it's a chance for America to get to know him and see him put his best foot forward. Not many people get to have a second chance. I hope he takes advantage of it. And I think he is.''
The national media was starting to say attention. Bonds appeared on the cover of ESPN the Magazine in June.
"Bonds is now with The Mick and The Babe and Willie and The Killer and Frank and Double X and Willie Mac and Mac and don't expect for even a second that Bonds will be able to absorb all of that," the article said.
"I don't even listen to him right now because Barry doesn't even know what he's saying," Mays was quoted in the piece. "I just want to let him sleep tonight. I want to let him cry a little bit."
The premise of the story was that Bonds' 500 homers is a larger number in baseball history than 3,000 strikeouts and 2,000 RBI.
"Was Barry Bonds right this spring when he looked into an ESPN camera and said that on the day he's inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he's going to stand at the podium in Cooperstown and say to the fans, `Thank you, but you missed the show?'" asked ESPN the Magazine.
"Does the man have a persecution complex? Or has his career truly been tarnished by members of the press who've made the fans focus more on the things he doesn't do - like run out every ground ball like a kid just up from Fresno, or answer their questions enthusiastically - than on the things he does, like put up numbers that already place him among history's greatest all-around players?
"I think the fans only believe what they read," Bonds was quoted. "If you have a good relationship with the media, they'll write nice things about you and the public will admire you. But if you're your own person, and you just want to go to work and don't want that light in your face all the time, then they'll write that you're standoffish or arrogant. Do they really know you? No. But they think they do through what they've read. I know how I'm perceived."
Bonds, like Greta Garbo, just wanted to be left alone, which is fine, except that he has chosen a profession where you perform for others, and where the amount of money you and your team makes is dependent on fan support.
Bonds seems to fail to understand that he owes the press in a way. Take away the media, and the game is just a game, not The Show. Take away newspapers touting each contest, with its statistics and standings, its hype, its predictions and prognostications and opinions, and the players would perform in empty arenas, like Congressmen speaking to C-SPAN cameras in an empty hall.
Television gives glamour and panache to sports. Radio makes it a part of millions of everyday lives. The media gives these people the celebrity status of rock stars and movie actors. The publicity machines of Hollywood and the recording industry do the same thing for their people.
Take away the media, and you have an anonymous game played between the Fresno Grizzlies and Las Vegas Stars, just as the latest Bruce Willis, absent media hype, would play in art houses in two or three large cities.
So, yes, Bonds can play baseball without the media, but the media plays a big part in making him the marketable product, worth millions, that he is. Without the attention, he would play this beautiful game in his beautiful way, and he would make about as much money as a good college coach like Stanford's Mark Marquess.
Bonds is not comfortable with the media. That is not his fault and he should not be excoriated for it. But he does need to understand that he has chosen this life. It is a free country and he can do something else. As long as he chooses professional baseball as opposed to, say, building houses or selling real estate, he will face down the press.
People owe other people one thing: Courtesy. Bonds owes writers courtesy, just as they owe him the same thing. He owes each new person he meets the benefit of the doubt, and vice versa. If he does not want lights in his face, there is no law, no rule, no judicial mandate, no legislative ruling or Federal order, that says he must continue to be paid millions and millions of dollars to play this game.
These are the facts.
Still, Bonds was not crediting the standing ovation he saw after he blasted his third home run in the game in Atlanta. Then there were the Arizona fans who booed their own pitcher for walking him intentionally with a southpaw on the hill, to pitch to last year's Most Valuable Player.
"It was surprising," Bonds told ESPN the Magazine. "It was nice." The question was not whether America had room in its heart for Barry, but whether Barry was ready for it.
History, as in "running out of the house in your underwear every morning to check the box score" history and "ignoring the wife and kids on a Saturday afternoon while you follow the GameCast" history was being made, according to the article.
Bonds continued to channel all interview requests through a personal publicist. Steve Hoskins works for a company called Kent Collectibles, and apparently has never heard of world famous columnist George Will. Hoskins is one of Barry's oldest and best friends, and a very talented artist who specializes in Bay Area sports memorabilia. His drawings usually feature depictions of Barry and Bobby Bonds, or Willie Mays or Willie McCovey, or all of them in various combinations, usually called "Legends of San Francisco" or something like that.
He is not a professional publicist, but handles Barry's media because "I'm the only guy Barry trusts," according to Hoskins.
"Stevie was a pretty good shooting guard," says Barry of his pal, who played basketball at Carlmont High of Belmont while Barry went down the road to play at Father Junipero Serrra, the Catholic school in San Mateo. "He could pop." Bonds was a fine prep basketball player in his own right, and has an affinity for the game which he shares with Hoskins.
Sitting at Bonds' spacious locker with Hoskins, you see a side to him others do not see. He is among friends, or at least with a friend, and lets his guard down a bit.
"The team wants you here at Sunday at 10 for the hands-in-the cement ceremony," Hoskins reminds Barry.
"10 a.m. on Sunday?" Bonds scoffs. "Yeah, right. I'll be here at 10 a.m. Ain't no way I'll be there at 10 a.m."
Now we see the responsible side of Bonds kick in.
"10 a.m., huh?" he asks. "Yeah, I'll be in bed by eight on Saturday."
"My daughter still crawls into bed with us," he tells me, and the smile on his face thinking about it is worth at least a year of what he makes on his contract.
When I first thought about writing a book about Bonds, I contacted Hoskins. He ran it by Bonds, who passed on the idea. Then he hit all those homers against Arizona and Colorado, and by mid-June he was the biggest story in sports. I went back to him, and this time Bonds agreed to give it a try.
I had spoken to Bonds before, in my role as a sports columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, mainly in press conference settings like the one after his 500th homer.
Hoskins cleared the book idea by him, and told me, "Once Barry decides to do something, he does it 110 percent."
I was born in San Francisco and raised in suburban Marin County, where I played on Redwood High's National Championship baseball team. I was of the same vintage as Bonds, and followed his exploits at Serra.
I played professional baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland A's organizations, and attended USC with McGwire and Randy Johnson when Bonds was squaring off against them for Arizona State. I saw plenty of Bonds during his years in Tempe.
I had been living in Los Angeles for several years, working as a sports columnist for a StreetZebra magazine, and also writing for the Los Angeles Times. In 2001, I had returned to the Bay Area and gone to work for the Examiner.
My observations of the "mating dance" between Bonds and the media was that Bonds ignored writers on a good day, and was rude to them on many days.
Writers treated him like the Abominable Snowman.
I had no problems with Bonds. Maybe it was because I had come over from Los Angeles and did not have any Bay Area baggage like almost everybody at the Chronicle. Maybe it was because I am 6-6, 220 pounds, an athletic guy who stays in shape and is around Bonds' age. As a former pro pitcher myself I could answer yes to the question athletes sometimes throw at writers, "How the hell would you know? Did you ever play?"
Mainly, I just approached him like a man. I walked around the big pillar that hides him from everybody in the clubhouse. This was No Man's Land, where writers fear to tread. None of his protectors were there, just Bonds sitting on his recliner in his underwear, watching his personal big screen TV. Roy Firestone was interviewing him on the TV. Bonds put out his hand. I thought he was telling me to leave.
We watched a couple of minutes of the interview in silence, until it broke for a commercial.
"I taped that last night," I said.
"Cool," he said. "Can you get me one?"
"No problem," I said.
When I asked him if he really wanted to do the book like Hoskins had indicated, he said "Definitely."
Other writers started coming up to me.
"You look like you've got Barry's ear," they would say, like I was Rasputin and Bonds was a Romanoff.
People would approach me in the press box with recollections of Bonds, more often than not horror stories revolving around his bad personality.
One radio guy told me he had grown up in San Carlos near Bonds, and said one time a neighbor came by to ask Barry to move his car, which he parked partially blocking his driveway.
"Fuck you," Barry said, according to this guy.
Leonard Koppett, a Hall of Fame writer who covered Maris' chase of Ruth, would meander on over and dispense wisdom. He firmly believed Bonds owed nothing to the writers. Koppett is the opposite of Len Shecter, a talented New York sportswriter in the 1960s who edited Jim Bouton's "Ball Four."
"Schecter'd overhear guys complaining," Koppett told me, "then he'd write about it."
Koppett, as you might imagine, did not think much of "Ball Four," which was an entire book full of overheard conversations. I told Jim Bouton I was writing a book about Bonds, and he then went off on a five-minute dissertation on why Barry is all that is wrong with today's players. This from the guy who exposed Mickey Mantle as a drunk.
Anyway, I made my first appointment to meet Bonds at Kent Collectibles in San Carlos. When I arrived, no Bonds.
"He blew me off," I thought to myself. "Same old Bonds, I guess."
When I arrived at the park, Bonds was full of apologies.
"Dude," he said, "I'm really sorry, man, but I got a call at 8:30 this morning from my daughter's school, and they need her tuition payment like, today. I thought it was taken care of, and I was on the road. Man, it's like $18,000. I don't just have $18,000 in checking, so I had to go to the bank and get a cashier's check and drive it over to the Crystal School. Then when I got there they said the only way I could sign her up was on the Internet. The Internet?! So I had to go back and do that. It took all morning. Man, I'm sorry, buddy."
I had arrived in the clubhouse ready to think Bonds was what everybody said he was. Charming one day, a brush-off artist the other. He was not a brush-off artist on this day. Now, I had to consider that he was not viewing me like other journalists. Since we were talking about doing a book together, I guess he saw me as a business partner who was bringing him a deal.
Regardless of that, as Barry Bonds explained how he had to go through bureaucratic gyrations to get his little girl enrolled at the exclusive Crystal School, my heart went out to him.
I did not see a millionaire athlete or an arrogant superstar. I saw a fellow father who, just like me, cared for and loved his daughter the same way I cared for and loved my daughter, Elizabeth Ashley.
"I'm a member of the Bay Area media," I told Bonds. "For some reason, that means I'm not supposed to like you, but I couldn't help myself, I thought you were alright. Now, man, I'm digging you, because I'm thinking that if I had an emergency with my daughter, she'd come first, no matter what. That's what it's all about."
"You're children are just little kids for awhile," he said, "and you gotta cherish 'em."
Fans often do not realize the pressures that athletes, particularly Major League baseball players, are under. Bonds had played a late game the night before, but instead of getting a chance to sleep in, he had been interrupted by a phone call from his daughter's school. That same day, Armando Rios told me that after the team had returned from a recent road trip, he did not get to bed until 4 a.m., and had to keep a dentist's appointment at 8:30 a.m.
"I never sleep in anyway," Rios said, "because I like to get up and make my kid breakfast."
A baseball player does not just work the three hours it takes to play the game. For a 7:00 p.m. game, they need to be at the park at least by four. Many get there well before that for extra batting practice, treatment, to view tape, to lift weights, or for other reasons. Tony Gwynn is at the stadium by one to view tape, and he stays late to watch tape afterwards, too.
In the three hours the player has, they have to get dressed, stretch, take batting practice, work on their defense, do their infield or outfield work, maybe take swings in the cage, hit the weight room (some do this after the game), deal with the press, deal with what the manager, coaches, and trainer want them to do, grab something to eat, change into a fresh game uniform, and get ready for battle. All with people milling about watching them (except for pne hour prior to the game, when the press is not allowed in the clubhouse).
After the game, they may lift, get treatment, deal with the press, shower, and get home by 11 if they are lucky. Few are able to get right to sleep. Wives and girlfriends are often waiting, and they have the usual needs of wives and girlfriends everywhere. Not to mention a couple relaxing beers and checking out SportsCenter.
Day games after night games are extremely taxing, requiring a 10 a.m. arrival for a 1 p.m. game. Most players live at least 30 minutes from the park.
Road trips throw their routines into havoc. There are rain delays, make-up games, double-headers. Yes, they have an off-season. Nobody who plays in the big leagues has the right to complain. But there are many legitimate reasons why, on any given day, a fan will not see a player at his optimum best.
The next time I saw Bonds, a couple of days later, he was again checking out ESPN. This time, Roger Clemens was pitching for the Yankees, and he poured one high and tight to the hitter.
"Clemens with the inside heat," I remarked, "just like to Piazza."
The previous season, Clemens had hit the Mets' Mike Piazza in the head during the regular season, then in the World Series had fielded a soft grounder from him, along with a splinter of Piazza's broken bat, and thrown it at Piazza while he ran to first base.
"He don't even think about that shit on me," Bonds said defiantly. "I'll kick his ass."
False bravado? Probably. Bonds is not a "kick ass" type of baseball player, in the mold of a Pete Rose or Lenny Dykstra. He would not like the attention that being a brawler would bring down on him.
"I don't care for the attention all that much," Bonds explained in his ESPN the Magazine interview. "I think the more attention that gets drawn to me, the further I push myself away. Baseball is something I do well, but not something I enjoy talking about that much. I mean, Mark McGwire said it himself, over and over: This is a team sport. And the media and public accepted it. Now, I just hope they do the same thing for me. As time goes on, maybe we'll get to see if there's a double standard."
While Bonds continued to deny that he had a legitimate chance at the record, others told ESPN the Magazine something else.
Luis Gonzalez: "Without a doubt Bonds can do it. He's got a short, consistent swing, he can hit the ball out to all fields, he doesn't get himself out by swinging at bad balls. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he did it."
Brian Jordan: "Unless you walk him every time up, he's going to have a chance."
Dusty Baker: "The scary thing is that right now, the best is still ahead. Bonds is a second-half home run hitter, which most guys are. The pitchers begin to lose a little velocity in the second half and their ball doesn't sink or move as much, their breaking balls aren't as sharp. Historically, Barry's strong in August and September when the pitchers start to wilt a little bit. Who knows?
"The whole thing boils down to his health."
"I'm going to enjoy the ride as long as I can, but it's still going to end up like it always has," Bonds said. "I've had hot streaks before, and I've never hit 50 in a season.
"There are some things I can't understand right now. The balls that used to go off the wall are just flying out. I've tried to figure it out, and I can't do it. So I stopped thinking about it. I can't answer that question. I don't understand it either. Call God and ask Him."
At 228 pounds, Bonds was 20 pounds heavier than he was five years prior - but he said he had cut down heavy lifting in favor of flexibility. His dedication in these areas was the result of missing 60 games in 1999 with elbow, groin and knee injuries.
"He's playing with underclassmen now," Baker was quoted in ESPN the Magazine, and perhaps the manager had hit the nail on the head. "You get to his age, and if your body can still perform, you're like a senior playing with freshmen and sophomores. Through experience, process of elimination, he knows what guys throw him and when. Hank Aaron told me that. You get to a point in your career where the guesswork becomes easier because you've seen everything so many times. Well, Barry's at that point."
Bonds may be the only power hitter who chokes up one or two inches from the knob, a habit he developed because when he was a kid hanging around his dad at the ballpark, he played with big bats, where he had to choke up. He is able to crowd the plate like Frank Robinson used to because his hips and hands are so quick, and he is thus able to pull balls on the outer half of the plate.
Four "home run parks" have been added to the league since McGwire hit 70 in 1998 - Houston, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Of his first 47 hits in 2001, Bonds had 26 homers and only 11 singles. In the history of baseball, there was only one player ever to finish a season with more home runs than singles. That was McGwire, who has done it three times.
Some National League teams, in response to Bonds, had started playing the third baseman up the middle, the shortstop to the right of second base, and the second baseman in short right field, similar to the "Williams shift" started by Cleveland manager Lou Beaudreau in the 1940s. However, by 2001, Bonds so rarely put the ball on the ground that the shift was not terribly effective.
Bonds rarely checked his swing or had his bat broken, signs that he understands the strike zone and was seeing his pitches as well as can be done.
His talents on the field are undisputed. They always have been. The bigger question, ESPN the Magazine wanted to know, was "is he ready to be loved?"
"We all want to be loved," he told them.
He also understood his place in history.
"My Godfather played center field and my father played right field," Bonds told Bob Padecky. "I am having the privilege with playing with ghosts out there."
"One small swing for man, one giant moment for baseball," wrote Padecky of what it would mean if Bonds were to break McGwire's record.
Rod Beaton of USA TODAY continued the drumbeat of national media, imagining "Bonds on Broadway," playing for the Yankees the next year.
One of Bonds' best friends in baseball is Bobby Bonilla. It is an interesting friendship, like the one Bonds shares with Sheffield. Bonilla and Sheffield are street kids; Bonilla from The Bronx, Sheffield from Tampa, where baseball and his relationship with a cousin, Dwight Gooden, helped keep him out of trouble. Both are black.
Bonds grew up spoiled and privileged. He attended a mostly white private school, Serra High of San Mateo, and grew up in a predominantly white suburb, San Carlos.
It is worth noting that one of his best friends in San Carlos, if not his best friend, period, is Hoskins, another black man. Hoskins, like Bonds, did not grow up in a "black" neighborhood, and so he and Bonds may have gravitated to each other for this reason.
Does Barry actively seek out other African-Americans? He has many white friends, and while many take issue with him, very few say he is a racist.
Bonilla and Sheffield may offer him something different than the suburbanite Hoskins. In recent years, black athletes talk about being "real." This seems to be a need to identify with African-Americans; their music, clothing, speech, and the need to be proud of themselves and earn respect.
Another San Franciscan, O.J. Simpson, had been accused of "going white" long before he was accused of killing his blonde bombshell of a wife.
Left to his own devices, Bonds may have gone the "white" route. One can easily envision him getting into the music of Frank Sinatra. He already dresses like a preppy. On the other hand, there is the "Riverside" of Bonds - the family and history that was there before his father became a star and moved the family to the Bay Area. The family that still resides in this part of Southern California called the Inland Empire. This was where Barry had experienced Christmases that his Arizona State teammate and friend, Charles Scott, said were not "white Christmases…ski trips to Tahoe."
In choosing Bonilla and Sheffield, Bonds chooses other great athletes who have dealt with labels, sometimes unfairly. All three are supremely confident and can be outspoken, but are careful about who they talk to, and about what subject matter.
Perhaps the racial angle has less to do with the fact that all three have had their ups and downs with the fans, and the press. They have experienced contract hassles, and feel misunderstood.
Bonilla, who was like Bonds' older brother when they were young stars leading Pittsburgh to the gates of the Promised Land in the early 1990s, says he has "nothing but love" for Bonds.
As Bonds got closer and closer to history throughout 2001, both he and Sheffield were vociferous in voicing their opinion that their pal was not just one of the best, but the very best who has ever played the game.
Bonilla, a man of many travels, had not seen his career take off like Bonds. In 2001, he was a Cardinal, an interesting development, since that made him a teammate of McGwire.
St. Louis is, perhaps, America's greatest baseball town. New York and Boston fans are as knowledgeable and passionate as they get, but they can be too rude for school.
To be a New York sports star at the level of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Seaver, Jeter, Frank Gifford, or Joe Namath, is to achieve the very highest level of pagan idolatry in this country. Only selected short-term heroes approach the level of heat these guys generate - John Glenn right after his space flight in 1962, Douglas MacArthur after returning from Korea. Among Presidents, perhaps only Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower were at this pitch. When he ran for President in 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy was treated like a "rock star," complained Richard Nixon to J. Edgar Hoover. No actor or real rock stars can quite get to where the New York athlete is.
Marilyn Monroe learned this when she was married to DiMaggio. After returning from a trip to Korea, where she entertained the troops, she breathlessly exclaimed to DiMag, "Joe, you've never heard such cheering."
"Yes I have," replied DiMaggio like a bucket of ice.
Still, ask McGwire where he would rather take his hero worship, St. Louis or New York, and he will tell you it is St. Louis. New York chews people up and spits them out, like a bloody Presidential campaign that leaves both candidates' private lives hanging like open intestines.
St. Louis fans love baseball and are just as knowledgeable as their East Coast counterparts, but they are polite. So it was with The Cardinal Nation, outwardly civil towards Bonds when the Giants traveled to the Gateway City. Whenever he stepped to the plate, he heard almost as many cheers as boos.
Vahe Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked why Bonds works so hard to be difficult, when being a good guy would be easier. He "just has to be Barry," an unnamed "colleague" told Gregorian. Bonds perhaps sensed that St. Louis was an important opinion center: McGwire's "Mecca," home of the game's truest fans, and a symbol of Middle America that stands for what the coasts do not stand for. Bonds gave an insightful interview to the St. Louis media, saying he did not want to retire "unloved," like Albert Belle. Instead, he wanted to go out like St. Louis icons' Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson.
The St. Louis writers were comparing him with Mays, saying that to do so was no longer a "stretch." His lack of post-season success was "the only entry missing from his dazzling resume," and they were also saying something else worth noting, that he was more "fascinating" than their own McGwire. Bonds was a "spectacle," and that was what we ask of our sports heroes.
Baseball experienced a magical season in 2001. Over in the American League, Ichiro Suzuki, the "rookie" right fielder of the Seattle Mariners, had come over from Japan and electrified his team into the best first half ever. But Suzuki does not speak English.
Americans are a diverse lot and we welcome people of all ethnicity's, races and nationalities into this beautiful land. We fell in love with Sosa, a Dominican, in 1998.
However, Americans still connect with other Americans more than foreigners. They can relate to a person who has gone to schools here, who has grown up with the music, the TV shows, and the movies of the United States.
So it was with Bonds.
Dave Stevens was getting a lot of play. People wanted to know about the kid from Serra High.
"He hit one of those long, towering drives you see him hit into McCovey Cove,'' said Stevens, recalling an epic homer Bonds had hit in high school, which had come to be remembered as the "homer at the beach."
``We got so excited, everybody was there at home plate, and when we got back to the dugout and looked up, all the scouts were gone. They had seen what they came to see.''
``When you're a child and thinking about playing in the Major Leagues, just having that opportunity alone is special in itself," Bonds told the reporters in St. Louis. "I thought having my number retired in college and having my name up there on the board at Serra High School was pretty special.''
Bonds was a "special talent" when he was a teenager, Stevens said. But despite his pedigree, he claimed Bonds did not get special treatment. Stevens actually said he had not realized who Bonds' father was until a month into Barry's first varsity season. This seems hard to believe, since Bobby Bonds had starred for a baseball team just a few miles away from where Stevens worked. One would have thought that every high school coach from San Francisco to San Jose was drooling over the chance to get Bonds. Private schools can recruit and give scholarships to players. Public schools are supposed to get just the students who live in their districts, but that rule is badly abused.
Bonds lived in the batting cage, Stevens recalled.
``He wanted to learn everything there was about the game,'' Stevens said. ``He wasn't cocky in a sense that he thought he knew everything, and I think that's why I was able to challenge him so much. He was receptive.
``He had tremendous drive that he wanted to be the best at everything. I think that desire to excel is what has set him apart. Once he crossed the white line, he came to play.''
Bonds played center field and batted leadoff at Serra, hitting .404 in three seasons on the varsity.
``Except for that instance with the wooden bat, most of the balls Barry hit were like they were shot out of bazookas,'' said Stevens. Bonds hit one home run more than 400 feet off the Mitty High gymnasium in San Jose, and blasted another more than 450 feet at St. Francis High in Mountain View that landed in a parking lot across the street. ``One of the first things I noticed about Barry was he had great balance at the plate and his swing was snap-of-your-fingers quick. You didn't have to do much fine-tuning.
``I have pictures of him at home at bat and they don't look very different from the way he steps in the batter's box today.''
McGwire is not a guy who gets jealous. He was not jealous of Barry, not of the media attention or the chance that his record was in jeopardy. When I approached Big Mac (an old friend from my USC days) around mid-season and told him I was writing a book about Bonds, because Barry had a chance at the record, he wished me luck. He certainly showed no problem with the possibility that the record could fall. Still, he continued to say that until Bonds reached 60, his pace should not be taken seriously.
He had earlier been asked what player was most likely to break his mark, and his answer was not Bonds, Griffey, Sosa or Vladimir Guerrero.
"He's probably not even born yet, to tell you the truth," he had said.
McGwire is a self-effacing man. He had turned down an opportunity to write an authorized autobiography after the 1998 season, reportedly for a $1 million advance, according to a literary agent I spoke to. He told me he would not write a book until "10 years after I retire," and that it would be less about his baseball career, and more about "what I've learned in life."
Bonds acted as if McGwire was the king and always would be.
"Mark McGwire's home run record is not in jeopardy," was his mantra. "Mark McGwire is bigger and stronger than all of us. Mark McGwire hits the ball harder than anyone who's put on a uniform. The balls we hit, we have to hit 'em. Mark McGwire hits 'em 550 feet, upper deck, almost out of the stadium. He mis-hits 'em, they're 402 feet. We mis-hit 'em, the infielders and outfielders are going like this <he waves his hands as if signaling `fair catch.'> We have to hit 'em to hit 'em 402 feet.
"My wife is tired of seeing me on TV, and so am I," Bonds told assembled St. Louis, San Francisco and national media, about 80 altogether, gathered at a press conference. "I don't even turn on the television anymore. After a while it's just too much. Especially when there's so many more parts of the game that's going on, I think it takes away the whole perspective of the game of baseball."
"I've never received that much attention," joked Bobby Bonilla, just a little wistfully. Bonds seemed to want to use the opportunity to lecture the press a little.
"The media should look into the mirror and see why you are changing," he said. "Because I don't believe that I have changed. I'm the same person…I don't feel I'm any different."
Bonds did admit he wanted to get to 50, a mark Mays had goaded him about
"Truthfully, I just want to get my Godfather off my back," laughed Bonds.
Bobby Bonds had turned Barry around to hit left-handed from the first day he picked up a bat. From his earliest childhood, he had been nurtured to play the game of baseball.
An article in ESPN.com described the kind of influence Mays had on him. One writer described going to Shea Stadium a few years after Mays and Hank Aaron had retired, for an old-timer's game. The writer first got Hammer's autograph, then went to Mays, who refused to sign his autograph because the guy had not chosen him first. The man was thinking on his feet, though. He asked Mays, since he would not sign for him, would he at least say how good did one have to be to get to The Show back in his day. Back then, there were Negro Leagues, and many minor leagues, stretching all the way to Class B, and Spring Training was like an Army camp full of young hopefuls.
"Three times as good," Mays had said.
Mays then went into a tirade about being black in America. He was convinced that, no matter their avocation, a black kid had to be much better than white kids in order to succeed.
This reminded me of my own first meeting with Mays. When I played college baseball, our team was taken to hear Mays speak. I expected to hear stories about being on deck when Bobby Thomson hit the "Shot Heard 'Round the World", or sentimental remembrances of Leo Durocher.
Instead, for 45 minutes Mays graphically described the South of the late 1940s. His entire talk centered not on his Major League career, but his pre-big league days, mainly his short minor league tenure prior to the Giants' calling him up in May, 1951.
He talked about what rednecks called blacks from the stands. He talked about fleabag hotels that blacks stayed in because the nice hotels would not allow them. He spoke of restaurants that would not serve them.
Willie Mays is from Alabama, so he knew about bigotry all his life, although growing up black is different than traveling around with a professional team while black. He saw things when he ventured out from his little world in Fairfield that stuck with him all his life. He was bitter.
Once, a man found himself on an airplane, sitting next to Mays. Mays kept to himself, as did the man, who recognized him. At some point in the flight, the man had occasion to request something of Mays. Not an autograph, or tickets. Some kind of request that one passenger might make to another sitting near him during the course of a flight.
"Fuck you," Mays is supposed to have said. The story eventually made the rounds of the sports radio circuit.
Once, Barry Bonds entered the dugout, and found a sportswriter talking to his father, then the Giants' batting coach.
"Get the hell out of here," Bonds barked at the writer, who looked at Bobby. Bobby just gave him the, "What can you do?" look.
Did Willie Mays influence his Godson, and in what ways?
In "Ball Four," Jim Bouton revealed, or at least was the first to publicly talk about, the "double standard" in sports. He pointed out that among the league batting leaders, a large percentage were black. However, the percentage of blacks among the league's statistical leaders was much greater than the percentage in the league overall.
This confirmed Bouton's premise that you had to be better to get to the Major Leagues if you were black than you were if you were white. If it was close, the white guy would get the nod.
Bouton is so liberal, some of his more Neanderthal teammates thought he was a Communist, but he had a point, and Mays had confirmed it at Shea Stadium in the 1970s.
Some blacks call baseball a "white man's" game. Basketball is the game in the hood. There are not many good baseball facilities in the inner cities, but you can play hoops on any outdoor court.
Here it is, straight up. Blacks are the best athletes in the world. Period. End of argument. Aside from all the evidence available by looking at baseball, basketball, football, and now even sports like tennis, golf, and vollyeball, the evidence is out there every day. Just look around and do your own sociological study.
Take Marin County, California, where I grew up and played high school baseball. Marin is an affluent, upscale, liberal suburb of San Francisco. For those reasons, it is not a gold mine of prep sports talent, like its gritty, across-the-bay neighbor, Oakland.
That said, there have been some good athletes from Marin. My senior year at Redwood High, we were ranked number one in the nation in baseball, "mythical" National Champions.
In Marin, 75-90 percent of the populace is white. 10 percent is black, if that. Half of the best athletes ever to come from Marin are black.
Get the point? Next time you go to the health club, look around. If I had a nickel for every time I was in a gym that was 80 percent white, but the biggest, strongest, most physically impressive individual - in essence, the guy (or gal) who looked like the best athlete - was black, I would be a hundredaire.
Many contend that to discuss such things is not politically correct. Some blacks think it is racist to suggest that they are naturally the best athletes, implying that they do not measure up in the area of hard work, discipline and mental courage.
Let me state right now that not only has it been my experience that blacks measure up in these areas, I think they often exceed their white counterparts? Why? Mays hit it on the head. They feel they need to be better.
Are they hungrier to succeed in sports than whites? Maybe, although the whites who get to the top level, like everybody else at that stage, is a different kind of animal. The drive, competitive desire and ability to handle pressure of the big league athlete is not normal. The longer a pro plays, the more they hone these innate abilities.
So stating that blacks are the best athletes is just a fact.
The Boston Red Sox gave Mays a try-out at Fenway Park in 1949. Willie Mays! He knocked 'em dead, of course. Read some of the old stories of scouts and players who saw Mays as a kid, for the first time. Unless he had a broken leg or pneumonia, Mays was going to be Mays and Ray Charles could see it. The Red Sox sent him packing without could so much as a "hello, good-bye, shit or go blind." 10 years later they hired their first black, a dud named Pumpsie Green. The Red Sox Curse has nothing to do with Babe Ruth.
Want to know who Barry Bonds' biggest influence is? Willie Mays. You had better believe that in their many quiet moments, Mays told these stories to his young protÈgÈ.
Oh yeah, and his father, Bobby? His biggest influence had been Mays. It was no accident that Mays was Barry's Godfather.
How about cousin Reggie Jackson? Reggie had plenty of stories of racism in Baltimore, where he lived much of his youth. Baltimore had been the ante-bellum South, a Confederate stronghold only about 40 miles from Abe Lincoln's residence during the Civil War. Jackson was probably the best young prep athlete in the nation in the early 1960s, but colleges were not exactly beating a path to his door. He went to Arizona State, at the time not the high-powered school it is today, and starred in football and baseball.
In 1967, Jackson played for Oakland's Class AAA Birmingham Barons. The A's owner, Charlie Finley, was from Birmingham, and one day brought his friend, Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, to see Jackson play.
Afterward, Finley took Bryant into the clubhouse to meet the strapping, bare-chested Jackson.
"Now this here's the kinda nigger we could use on my football team," Bryant said to Finley in front of Jackson.
"It was a funny thing," Jackson, who is a philosopher, later recalled. "I knew Coach Bryant meant it as a compliment in his way, and that's the way I took it."
Four years later, Bryant's Crimson Tide was killed in a home game by USC, led by a black sophomore fullback from Santa Barbara, California named Sam "Bam" Cunningham. Bryant asked USC coach John McKay if he could "borrow" Cunningham. He marched Cunningham into the 'Bama locker room, stood him in front of 70 downcast, beaten white kids, and announced, "Now, this here's a football player."
The next day, Jim Murray of the L.A. Times welcomed Alabama into the Union.
Then there is McCovey, a stoic gentleman and one of San Francisco's most popular players. McCovey and Mays had both played for Alvin Dark. Dark was from the Deep South, and had been friends and teammates with Mays in New York. A deeply religious man, Dark would come to grips, eventually, with his racial views, but not after he got in trouble with the press, suggesting of blacks that "they a different kine" from whites.
McCovey would come to view white attitudes towards him with a certain amount of cynicism. He knew whites invited him to their golf tournaments and banquets not because they loved blacks or him, but because he had thrilled millions on the ballfield. He also knew that there was a certain liberal guilt factored into the equation.
Therefore, Willie Mac had no problem asking for money to attend the golf tournaments and banquets. In a way, it was payback for social inequities, and there are plenty of guilty whites willing to pay.
"A man a my statue, don' atten' no events of this natchure without being remunerated," McCovey once told a man inviting him to attend a charity event at the Meadow Club in Fairfax, California. The man taped the conversation.
Bobby Bonds came to the big leagues from Riverside, California, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles. Now, Riverside is relatively multi-ethnic and is a bedroom community full of L.A. commuters, drawn to its open spaces and less-expensive housing.
In the 1960s, Riverside was more rural, and a black kid was going to deal with a certain "redneck element." Still, it was a nice place to grow up in, like the sprawling San Joaquin Valley that produced Olympic star Rafer Johnson and his Hall of Fame football brother, Jimmy.
Bonds came up to the Giants in 1968, and was a hit right off the bat. He was a budding star, the heir apparent to Mays, and popular with the fans.
Within a few years, however, he had become difficult to deal with. His performance on the field did not live up to his promise. He had personal problems and drank too much. There came a time in which his public drinking binges became a running joke.
Bobby became distrustful of everybody, especially writers and general managers. He felt the general managers did not pay him what he was worth, and listened too closely to the writers who ultimately suggested that he be traded, which he was almost every year after a while.
So Barry Bonds was surrounded by some serious pieces of work in the form of his father, Mays, McCovey and Jackson.
He grew up watching these giants launch bullets during batting practice. He heard them laugh, cry, moan, and complain. He surely must have known secrets of their love lives, tales of debauchery, sex and drunkenness. These were human beings, not gods, subject to all the oddities of daily life like the rest of us.
Mays had been considered a very eligible bachelor. One day he arrived in the clubhouse and announced, with a smile, "Hey, fellas, I just got married."
Nobody knew anything about it, but they all smiled and congratulated him.
"You all know her," Mays then said. "Marguerite."
There was stone silence in the room. Many of the players did know her, and they did not consider Mays' marriage to her to be a happy thing for Willie. Their skepticism would prove correct.
Barry Bonds was married young, too, to a light-skinned Swedish ÈmigrÈ babe who had moved to the swinging city of Montreal. Montreal is a French-Canadien province known for its beautiful women and wild strip clubs. Sun Bonds was said to be friendly with many National League ball players who visited the city when in town to play the Expos. She was a woman with a past.
That marriage produced children, but not much happiness. Bonds himself publicly acknowledged that his wife was not faithful. Predictably, the union ended in one of the messiest public divorces of the past 10 years.
Athletes are incredibly sexual beings, and their peccadilloes are well known. Athletes and strippers go together, in the words of talk show host Jim Rome, like "peanut butter and jelly." In Atlanta, the owners of the Gold Club arranged for high-profile athletes to engage in fantasy sex with beautiful strippers.
They also have a fascination with group sex, usually involving a lot of them with one, or just a few, women. These women are often referred to as "freaks." The National Organization for Women must really love hearing this stuff.
One top athlete decided to marry a stripper who had a notorious reputation for having sex with many high-salaried athletes who came by her club when they were in town.
The player then made a round of phone calls to these star athletes, asking them that, as a favor to him, uh, he'd really appreciate it, uh, if they'd, well, not screw this girl anymore because, well, he was gonna marry her.
"Bad move," one of the "other" players, who prefers anonymity, said. "Guys were callin' around, and like it was, `Did'ja hear what so-in-so's doin'. He's gonna marry that ho. He's gotta be wack.'" Or something like that.
One New York Yankee player married a nymphomaniac in the 1950s. His wife loved New York, because when the Yankees were on the road, she had her fill of Brooklyn Dodgers' and New York Giants' players. Her husband quickly discovered what was going on, but he was in love with her, determined to make a go of it. He asked for and eventually was granted a trade to a city that had no other Major League teams. At first, the marriage seemed to have righted itself, but some girls just gotta have it. His wife eventually found the arms of truck wdrivers, milkmen and drunks at the local bar, and the marriage ended in divorce.
In his classic 1984 autobiography, "The Wrong Stuff," Bill "Spaceman" Lee tells of minor league groupies who "did the whole bull pen."
The Oakland A's had to deal with a scandal with one of their minor league clubs in the 1980s. One of their young players, the son of a prominent Major Leaguer, had a real way with the ladies, and began to pimp them to his buddies, only for free. There were two girls involved, 16 years of age, pure jailbait in halter-tops, shorts like those worn by Daisy in "The Dukes of Hazard," and high heels, driving around in a red sports car.
Have you ever seen 30 young men pick their jaws off the parking lot?
One day, the player decided to stage a gangbang in his hotel room. The two girls were arranged on the bed, and groups of two or three guys at a time were brought in the room. The girls serviced the team, one player after the other. Horndogs waited outside the room, and the line stretched down the hall and on to the stairs.
One pitcher swung by, and took a peek into the room. His first baseman was having fellatio performed on him. The first sacker saw him, and invited him to join the festivities.
"Hey, man, c'mon in," said the first baseman, "and get some head. It's free."
The pitcher was no saint, but that day a little angel standing on his shoulder told him to get the hell out of there. He left for dinner. When he returned, the parking lot was filled with the flashing lights of police cars.
One of the girls was the lillie-white daughter of this small town's mayor. Most of the players were black or Latino, which, unlike the girls, did not go down well. At all. Players were getting arrested for everything from statutory rape to unpaid speeding tickets. It was ugly.
One girl in the Appalachian League was called "roster woman" because she slept her way through the Bristol Tigers, and at mid-season moved in on the Johnson City Cardinals, most of whom were living in a place called the Mid-Town Motel. One wing of the motel consisted of players. The other wing consisted of hookers. "Roster woman" had the Cardinals taken care of by Labor Day, and she did it all for free - much to the consternation of the hookers.
Luis Polonia played in the A's organization when I was with them. Luis enjoyed underage girls. He was good buds with one of my friends. One day my buddy confronted him.
"Hey, Luis, why is it you've got four kids with four different chicks?" he asked him. "I mean, it ain't right."
"Hey man," Luis replied without batting an eyelash. "I looove to fuck."
Sexual hijinks are by no means relegated to the profesionals. According to one urban myth, a sexy UCLA basketball cheerleader once fainted at a game, allegedly because she had fellated the entire team to completion the previous evening. Legend has it that doctors had to pump her stomach of the Bruins' semen. Everybody has heard stories about high school girls who enter the locker room to take on the whole football team.
Sometimes the sex games go beyond the coeds. The wife of a prominent college coach was notorious for seducing the players on hubbie's team. She wore short shorts and, according to one of the players, "used to shove her titties in your face, ya know." I know. Her exploits became publicly known, and when the team traveled to play a game against a conference rival, a sign was draped for all to see, asking the coach if he knew where is wife was.
Her husband once recruited two players, but they arrived at the campus before their student housing was available, so the coach let them stay at his home. Coach and wifey had to leave for a few days to attend a conference. The two players had the run of the house so, like Curious George, they rifled through Coach's drawers. There, they discovered 8 by11 color glossies of the wife in various positions of intercourse and oral action. The players, both of whom later played at the highest professional level, could not verify that any of the men in the photos were Coach, leading them to conclude that the couple were "swingers," and Coach , uh, liked to watch.
Whatever floats your boat.
Of course, the question inevitably comes down to, What do the wives of athletes think of all this? Good question. Many of the wives are the very girls who made themselves available to the players. Many met them in bars and night clubs, and calculated their efforts to do this very thing. Former player Jimmy Piersall once said they were all just a bunch of "horney broads." However, athletes, for all their crazed activities, are actually still a Puritan bunch. They tend to come from solid families, because a supportive family unit often helps promote their athletic careers. Fathers who coach little league and take the time to practice with their sons. Mothers who sacrifice their time to drive kids to practice.
Therefore, the players are less likely to marry the kind of glamour girls that rock stars and other entertainers tend to hook up with. Wives wait with their kids in a family area outside the clubhouse, and one is struck by the fact that they do not seem to be the bombshells that one might expect these studs to be with. The reason is that the players often marry a "girl just like the one that married dear old dad," after they have let their yah-yahs out for a few years with the more, uh, promiscuous women. The players do not want these groupie-types to be the mothers of their kids. At heart, most athletes are conservative, they tend to vote Republican, and when it is all said and done, they take family values seriously. A fair number of wives are high school sweethearts.
The wives tend to see their lot in life as a compromise. The boys will be boys. The trade-off is that they get to be big league wives and live in luxury, because their husbands make huge money. Sometimes, however, the men go too far. In the 1980s, Boston star Wade Boggs had an on-going affair with a woman named Margo Adams. Margo went public in a nude pictorial/article in Penthouse, stating that most of the Red Sox' players had mistresses, and that their preferred form of contraception was "facial cumshots." Now that's an intersting image!
A few years later, Pittsburgh wives had had enough. Some of the guys were flying their extra-curricular women to cities on the road, and the wives got wind of it. They started to call hotels that the team stayed in, asking for copies of phone bills, saying they needed them for tax records. Of course, the numbers included calls to many of these "travel girls." One player stayed one step ahead of this effort by having his agent provide him a calling card number on the agent's phone bill, so the calls to his mistress did not appear on his hotel, cell or home phone bills.
Baseball players tell these stories all the time. One can only imagine how many of these kinds of tales Barry Bonds heard growing up. It was these kinds of men and this kind of world that shaped Bonds, who laughed when I asked him about his father.
"He used to climb in my mother's window in Riverside," Bonds said, "tryin' to `get some.'"
As Bonds moved through his career, he chased these ghosts and came to live the stories they had told him. He honored them but he also overcame them. He had to move on, to be his own man, a new kind of man in a different era. His close friends paint a picture of a man who eschewed the wild party scene. Bonds was not a partier. He was not a swinging bachelor. A monk? No, he was handsome and single and opportuinities were there, but he did not "line up" the women, or engage in heavy drinking. There has never been a hint of accusation that Bonds has been a heavy drinker, and definitely not a drug user. All indications are that when the groupies and "Baseball Annies" made themselves available in modern orgies worthy of Caligula's Rome, Bonds was more like that pitcher with the angel on his shoulder, telling him to beat it out of there.
The rules, in every way - race, sex, money, free agency - had changed for him, and for the better. In this respect, he also owed the old players who had lived the stories he heard. What must it have been like for Bonds as he moved up the ladder, playing at Arizona State and the Alaska Goldpanners, then in the minor leagues, and finally getting to the bigs? Was it like they had told him it would be? Better?
Once, the lives of athletes had a secret quality, but books like "Ball Four, "Pat Jordan's "False Spring," "Semi-Tough" by Dan Jenkins, and "North Dallas Forty" (along with a handful of expository sports films) had revealed the realities of professional sports to the world. The young men entering the ranks were no longer shocked at the hi-hinks; rather, they more often than not looked forward to them. The son of a big leaguer who had arranged the shocking hotel room sex acts for A's farmhands was big league prodigy, too. He probably had been planning these festivities his whole young life, anticipating the day he would be a pro ballplayer. In the case of Barry Bonds, he was a lot of things when he came up, but being a wild fornicator, in the tradition of Babe Ruth, was not one of them. He could have been. The fact he rejected such a lifestyle is to his great credit.
Bonds' love of family and friends goes back to Riverside. His family moved to San Francisco when Bobby broke into the Majors, but it was on the desert-hot fields of Riverside where Bonds first learned the game, and it is Riverside where his grandparents, on both his father's, and mother Pat's side, reside.
"Oh, I still spend a lot of time there," Bonds told me. "I love it there. That's why I love playing the Dodgers. My grandparents come to every game at Dodger Stadium. They came to all my games growing up."
Most San Franciscans have a built-in hate for all those in Los Angeles and environs, but Bonds has roots there. This may explain why he shows no special disdain for the Dodgers, and his signing a free agent contract with them would not have been out of the question. In some ways, it would have meant coming home.
Would Bonds ever go into detail about his relationships with all the people in his life - his first wife, the icons he grew up with, his father, friends, and family? Did DiMaggio ever do that? When it came to the subject of Joe D.'s wife, Marilyn Monroe, you could not have pulled a pin out of his butt with a tractor.
As spring turned into summer, everybody was speculating on this new American icon, and the continuing effort to find an elusive nickname that would match The Sultan of Swat, The Yankee Clipper, The Galloping Ghost, the Big Train. "Barry Bombs Away?" The suggestions kept coming.
David Schoenfield of ESPN.com became the latest to try to and figure him out.
"Underrated and hated?" wrote Schoenfield. "He is by the fans. In my five years of working at ESPN.com, we've run many polls along the lines of `Who's the best player in the game?' Ken Griffey, Jr. always wins. Bonds? Never. Doesn't come close to winning. And if we put a poll up right now asking, `Who's been the best hitter over their career, Bonds or Tony Gwynn?', Gwynn would win in a landslide.
"Which is a joke. Gwynn is a chunky singles hitter; Bonds produces chunks of runs. Gwynn has scored 100 runs or driven in 100 runs a combined three times in his career. Bonds has done it 17 times. Despite Gwynn's higher batting average, Bonds still gets on base more and obviously has more power. Gwynn has played 140 games seven times in his career, just once since 1990. Bonds has played 140 games 12 times. While Bonds is labeled as selfish, Gwynn sits at home all winter watching video of himself hitting, eating ice cream sundaes and getting fat."
Schoenfield pointed out Bonds' .688 slugging percentage in 2000, the best of his career (and higher than any single-season total by Griffey), along with his Gold Gloves and stolen bases. Griffey, he said, was 31 at that time, but had been in a decline since 1997. Schoenfield doubted that Junior would be an MVP candidate at age 37.
Kent's primary reason for winning the 2000 MVP award, Schoenfield said, was his RBI total: 125 to Bonds' 106. However, Bonds had a higher on-base percentage, higher slugging percentage, more home runs and more runs scored. According to Stats Inc., Kent drove in 125 of 1,036 available RBIs (12.1 percent). Bonds drove in 106 of 761 (13.9 percent). Kent had 275 more RBI opportunities than Bonds. In other words, Kent had a huge year because Bonds was on base in front of him so much, giving him better pitches to hit in prime opportunities. Give Kent credit, he came through, but calling him more valuable than Bonds was a token, a bone in order to create some kind of equity of sorts.
"Feared?" wrote Schoenfield. "Ask National League pitchers who they fear the most."
Nick Peters of the Sacramento Bee wanted to know why a guy who averaged 21 home runs in his first four years and 25.1 in seven seasons in Pittsburgh could "suddenly" be in the 500 Club and challenging the 70 Club.
"He wasn't a prototypical homer-type guy, but he could do everything," Giants' bench coach Ron Wotus, who outhit Bonds .315 to .311 when they were Class AAA teammates in Hawaii, told Peters.
"Barry was a slender guy, more into speed than power. The Pirates weren't into weight training then, so Barry wasn't nearly as big and strong - but you could see all the talent."
"You can't predict that a guy will hit 500, but with that bat speed and power you always have a chance," first base coach Robby Thompson, also a rookie in 1986, told Peters. "At the time, Barry was slim and more of a gap hitter. But he had a great body, and he's put some muscle on it. There aren't too many guys with his kind of talent."
Bonds was beginning to "embrace the chase" with the media, but he was enjoying his increased fan support, too. After a Friday night 10-5 victory over St. Louis, Bonds went to a nightclub with Bonilla.
"I think everyone in the whole entire club said hello," Bonds told Marcus Breton of the Sacramento Bee.
"A lot of people said congratulations, some people said we hope you break the record, others said we hope you don't break it but we congratulate you anyway. But they were all nice and it was a different feeling."
A bruised right wrist kept him out of the Saturday afternoon game against the Cardinals, but "I'm alive and breathing," Bonds told a breathless world. "The circulation
is still going. I'll be out there tomorrow, end of story"
San Francisco rallied for four runs in the eighth inning to beat St. Louis 5-2. Bonds could have been used as a pinch-hitter, but Pedro Feliz was used instead. Feliz drove in the go-ahead runs with a bases-loaded single.
Bonds had gone a week without a home run. He was still well ahead of the previous fastest homer pace in baseball history, but hitless in his last 18 at-bats.
He already held the Major League record for homers before the All-Star break, beating the previous mark of 37 set by Reggie Jackson in 1969 and matched by McGwire in 1998. Bonds still had 24 homers in his last 36 games. He had missed seven of the Giants' 80 games this year; most because of the regular days off Baker gave to him.
It was also pointed out that for all the talk about Bonds' pace, McGwire had belted 14 homers in his last 26 games and eight in the last 13 once he broke Maris' record.
The Barry Bonds Love Tour continued, and writers noted that he "was relaxed, congenial and enjoying himself."
CBS came to Pacific Bell Park for a segment on him. ESPN was the "all Barry, all the time" network. A trip to 7-11? There he was on national magazine covers and the front pages of newspapers from Seattle to Miami.
``Ants walk to food and whatever's good they cling on,'' Bonds had said, with just a hint of his familiar sneer.
Bonds was charming and insightful except when he was not. It was also worth pointing out that Bonds' harshest critics have included teammates and members of the Giants' organization.
Bonds, perhaps taking a trip down Memory Lane to his days with the nuns at Serra High, said he did not want to be ``crucified for whatever decision I have to make'' regarding his contract situation.
Crucified? That is a pretty strong word.
A peek into Bonds' life occurred when a reporter wanted to know if anything in his personal life had ever distracted him from baseball.
``I guess my divorce was widely known,'' Bonds said. ``I think I handled it pretty good. That was the only thing in my life that was really nerve-racking.''
Companies were calling Bonds about endorsements, one of the most surefire signs that an athlete had achieved a high level of popularity. Bonds had always believed he deserved the spotlight, at least on the field, and now he had it, front and center. Most importantly, he seemed determined not to spoil it. He seemed to realize that he needed to help people appreciate him, rather than his youthful philosophy; that his talent would "overcome his behavior," wrote Peters.
Bonds' was having more first-half fun than McGwire, who was surly until well into August, 1998. To this day, Big Mac complains about what it was like, reminding everyone that Sammy Sosa did not have to withstand the scrutiny all season. In June, 2001, he still felt that projecting Bonds to hit 70 was ``quite hilarious.''
The media said Bonds was doing it all by himself, for some reason not giving credence to the numbers being put up in Arizona by Luis Gonzalez. Bonds was occasionally prone to overdoing the situation himself.
It was ``the loneliest thing I've ever gone through in my life," he said, claiming that his father, his teammates and his Godfather did not want to talk to him about it. Apparently they were afraid of jinxing him.
Still, that kind statement reeks of melodrama, as if Bonds was a judge weighing whether to send a man to the electric chair, or an elected official considering the consequences of sending young men into battle.
It is still just baseball. The National Pastime.
When every angle in your life is covered, is that lonely? The man who spent $2.7 million on McGwire's 70th home run ball had been tracked down for his opinion. Roy Firestone had raised the race issue. Bonds, hanging out with Bonilla in St. Louis, was mobbed like Kid Rock. His wife did not want to turn on the TV anymore.
Bonds has it all. He had earned $100 million in salary in his 16-year career, $77 million from the Giants, the rest from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He is happily married, the doting father of three children.
He lives in a house with 19 television sets and drives a silver Jaguar.
He comes from as royal a lineage as any baseball player ever, a man literally groomed to be the best baseball player in the world, like a young, 19th century German prince prepared from birth to lead a nation and its armies. However, such an upbringing comes with pitfalls. Another young prodigy, Todd Marinovich, had been groomed for football stardom in much the same way. He rebelled, turning to drugs, rock music and surfing. Bonds' acceptance of his role is admirable; the way he handled it is something to marvel at. It was not easy. Sometimes advantage works against you.
Bonds has looks and there is talent in his face and personality. He is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and is very photogenic when he smiles.
He has the body of a 20-year-old. He should be a poster boy for Gold's Gym.
Does he have true contentment?
Bonds tells the story of Eddie Murphy, who was hot stuff when he made "48 Hours" and "Beverly Hills Cop," but did not maintain that level of stardom over subsequent films. Bonds wanted to know why so much had been expected of Murphy, instead of simply enjoying his considerable talent. Bonds seemed to think that there is an underside to fame, based on people's desire to see the great ones fail.
While he may be right, there is a tabloid fascination with failure, it is not, however, a national obsession. Average people care less about such things than he thinks. They take notice when it happens, but do not urge it along. Sometimes a celebrity will show a psychological desire to sabotage himself, like when Senator Gary Hart invited Miami reporters to follow him around and investigate his alleged extra-marital affairs.
What followed was "Monkey Business," Donna Rice and a slew of Guess? Jeans ads.
"I never said I was perfect," Bonds told one press conference. "I can be a butthead but I am not a butthead. Look, I would love to write. I would love to tell a story. But I can't. I flunked English. There are a lot of things I wish I could do but I can't. But what I can do is play baseball. Why can't people just leave it at that? I don't understand. I just don't understand."
Well, Barry, we are all glad you would love to write and tell a story. I am more than happy to help you, and the result is this book! Heck, I would love to be able to hit home runs, but I cannot, so we all do what we can do.
Bonds has never understood the social contract of fame, the strings that are attached. He simply does not recognize that the money he makes derives not just from his ability, but from the hype of publicity that the media creates. It is no different for the musician, the actor, even the politician who spends money for advertising, and prefers the free exposure that the press can provide. He is free to give up the money tomorrow. Nobody is stopping him.
Bonds told the media April 17 that he "wouldn't be around" long enough to hit his 661st homer, which would put him past Mays. But he will be, and more. That is what Scott Boras' packet would say.
That packet was put together highly, precisely, and for the pure purpose of securing Barry Bonds more money. Bonds did not need to hire Boras. He could have told Boras not to make those kinds of projections. He chose to dance this dance.
"I don't want to set myself up for that," he said of breaking past Mays, but he does set himself up for that. If pressure makes him uncomfortable, then why let his agent present his past and all potentially future employers a virtual book on the records he will set, and why that makes him worth the money they ask?
There is a term for this. It is an old clichÈ. It is "you can't have your cake and eat it, too."
If it could be said that if Bonds ever was in a slump in 2001, the period from late June into early July, before the All-Star Game, was that time. Going up against Colorado's Mike Hampton, a tough left-hander, Baker decided to switch things around a little bit. He moved Kent to third, and Bonds into the clean-up spot, but quickly moved Bonds back to third. Bonds had not batted cleanup since August 11, 1999.
The columnists by this time - namely Scott Ostler and Ray Ratto - had taken to calling him Barry (no last name required) or The Barry. Bonds had hit a slight funk, at least for him. Of course, he was still playing fine defense, getting on base, and his team was clutching for every win they could get, doggedly hanging within five games of Arizona.
After the All-Star break, after the All-Star break. That is when Dusty Baker teams get on the right track. A crucial series at the BOB loomed after the break. They just had to hold on.
The Giants were a team fighting for the division, a spot in the play-offs, a chance at the Big Dance. Bonds, whether he was hitting home runs or not, represented a major cog in this effort. All their focus was centered on winning.
This club had a shot at winning not just because of Bonds, but because of other key players. On June 26, they beat Los Angeles at home, 14-8. Bonds went 0-for-4, with no RBIs, no runs scored, and two strikeouts. Rich Aurilia made up for him, going 4-for-5 (including a homer), driving in four men, and scoring twice. Jeff Kent was 2-for-5 with one run scored and an RBI. Aurilia was headed to the All-Star Game, batting .349. Shawn Estes was 7-2 with a 2.90 earned run average, and Russ Ortiz sported an 8-5 mark with an 8.51 ERA. At 41-36, they were a game and a half ahead of the Dodgers after beating them in the slugfest.
Lost amid all the hoopla of Bonds’ season was an off-hand comment he had made at his June 25 press conference prior to the Dodger game. He said he knew himself better, he was a smarter player than when he had been a younger man. He said that young players think they can do anything, but now he played within his “circle.” His key comment was that he was getting more sleep now than when he was a kid.
As a youngster, Bonds had made the club scene. He was an eligible bachelor and lived that life, although as it has been emphasized, he avoided drinking like his dad, and was never a wild man. When he married, it was to an exotic, sexy girl. The two of them did not exactly settle into an “Ozzie and Harriet” lifestyle, but now, he had found true love with Liz, an old friend from his high school days. He was joking about being in bed by eight on a Saturday night because his little daughter would crawl in with them and drift into never-never land.
The man had settled down.
3,000 miles away, another man named Bonds was trying to find himself. Bobby Bonds, Jr., six years younger than Barry, was playing for Nashua, New Hampshire in the Atlantic League.
Bobby, Jr. looks more like his father than his brother does. For 10 years, he had, like Jalal Leach, a Giant farm hand, beat the bushes, never making more than $3,000 a month. Known as B.B., he had recently divorced and decided to give up the game. He lived with his parents in San Carlos and worked for a paving company in Redwood City, where the hot, gritty work occasionally took him to his brother’s house.
He would knock on the door and invite himself in for lunch.
“You’re here again?” Barry would jokingly say.
Looking to support his two young children, now living with their mother in Alabama, Bobby had decided to accept a job offer from a shipping and receiving company in Piscataway, New Jersey. Then the Atlantic League called. Maybe the name “Bonds” would sell tickets. He agreed, for $2,100 a month, $700 less than he had made the year before in Somerset. He was living with a couple he had befriended a couple of years earlier.
The Atlantic League is an independent league, not affiliated with any big league clubs. None of the players are prospects, except for the occasional draft holdout who goes there to stay in trim until his agent negotiates a multi-million dollar deal.
Butch Hobson, a former Alabama football player and Red Sox third baseman who had experienced his own personal problems, was his manager, maybe looking for some kind of redemption.
Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams was a sideshow in Atlantic City, where he was a coach. The same thing? This league is in Stephen King country, and many of its hanger-on participants could be characters from one of his novels.
Still, it is a better life than paving roads. One is reminded of Kevin Costner, who plays Crash Davis in “Bull Durham.” When told he has been brought to Durham strictly to guide the career of Nuke LaLouche (Tim Robbins), he claims, “I quit," right then and there. The manager and his assistant coach just look at him, non-plussed. They know he will not quit.
The manager says, “Whaddaya gonna do, work at Sears?”
That stops Crash in his tracks.
“I worked at Sears once,” says the assistant coach, played by Robert Wuhl. He moves in for the kill. “Ugly work.” He shudders at the memory. “Ugly.”
The point of this exchange is that the job at Sears very well may have paid as much as Crash, Wuhl or the manager were making with the Durham Bulls. However, given the chance to work at Sears or in baseball, there simply was no choice in the matter.
So Bobby Bonds, Jr., who could have made more than $2,100 a month, and had some security in his life working for a shipping and receiving company in New Jersey, was instead doing - in his way, the only way he knew - the same thing as his older bro.
He was not alone among “sibling all-stars.” The league also employed the brothers of Jose Canseco, Barry Larkin and Tom Glavine. Jose had played in the league until getting another shot at the Majors, and he departed ungraciously, calling it a nightmare.
For guys whose other choices are bagging groceries, paving roads or working in warehouses, honorable jobs that count and make this country go, the league was a dream. Maybe not the dream, but a dream.
On July 2, the day the Giants lost at Los Angeles, 8-6, Baker announced that he was reducing media access to his star. He was mired in a 4-for-39 slump against the tough Dodger pitching so far. He had hit only one homer in his previous nine games.
There was an implication, whether Baker meant it or not, that the writer’s were at fault for Bonds' failure to continue hitting like nobody in baseball history had ever hit.
On Independence Day, the Dogs scored three in the eighth before 36,948 at Chavez Ravine, to beat the Gyros by 4-3. Bonds walked twice, but went 0-for-3. On this day, when traditionalists superstitiously predict the standings reflect what they will be at season’s end, San Francisco found themselves at 44-39, six and a half back of Arizona, and two behind the surging Dodgers. It was summer time, but the livin’ was far from easy.
By this point, Bonds’ memorabilia was starting to move up in price. Heretofore, his 1987 Fleer rookie card had sold for $20-$25. Now, that card in PSA-10 (perfect) condition was commanding $1,125, and 1986 Topps Traded Tiffany Bonds cards were going for $4,550. Bonds was also moving from the exclusive domain of the Chronicle Sporting Green. On Sunday, July 8, he was all over the front page under the heading “VERRY BARRY” in typeface slightly smaller than, say, “FIDEL SAYS COMMUNIS WAS MISTAKE.”
Mike Weiss, an award-winning features’ reporter, wanted to know if he was a hero, prima donna, superstar, recluse - or all four? His conclusion? All four.
Every detail of Bonds’ life was getting the treatment by now. He had tied a College World Series record with seven straight hits his sophomore year at Arizona State. He had hit .404 in three years on the varsity at Serra (you mean he had to toil on the freshman team his first year?).
However, a new statistic emerged. 1,152 Bay Area African-Americans had registered as bone-marrow donors as part of a leukemia campaign that Bonds sponsored, but did not publicize.
Bonds the philanthropist is a very real concept. Many top athletes have foundations to serve this purpose. Cynics note that they are tax write-offs. In the 1980s, when the big money was starting to roll in and these foundations started to emerge, many were poorly run and ended up getting shut down due to incompetence.
Michael Jordan put his mother in charge of his, but she had no idea how to run this kind of operation, so it folded. Jordan, like most athletes, meant well, but had made mistakes. Now, however, most agents had financial advisors and experts on the “team." Foundations like Barry’s were serving a very positive purpose in communities.
When I first approached Bonds about writing a book, it was made very clear to me that any profits he derived would go straight to his charities. This is a complicated character, but he is a man with a very noble streak.
Photos of Bonds with daughter Aisha were often gracing the newspapers, and it was with his kids where Bonds’ smile glowed. Still, this was the same man who had made a Sports Illustrated writer, who had flown from New York for an exclusive with him, wait for days for the interview. Whas'up with that?
Bonds had by now moved well past Griffey, Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, or any of the previous pretenders for the title “Best Active Ballplayer.” He was challenging Mays for “Best Living Ballplayer.” Beyond that? Read on.
With the All-Star Game coming up, Fox analyst Tim McCarver created some controversy with remarks about Bonds' so-called "artificiality." McCarver was a Major League catcher for many years. He had grown up in a wealthy family in Memphis, Tennessee during the days of the Jim Crow South. His family employed black servants, and they were the only people of color McCarver came in contact with. He attended all-white schools, and played with and against all-white teams.
He came up with the Cardinals, the same team that David Halberstam used to illustrate a changing America in "October 1964." Young McCarver was at first uncomfortable with all the blacks and Latinos on the team. However, there was no denying that the leader was Bob Gibson. Gibby is a big, strong, opinionated black man.
Gibson knew McCarver was uncomfortable, so he took matters into his own hands. On the bus one day, he saw McCarver drinking a Coke.
"Mind if I have a sip?" Gibby asked McCarver.
McCarver reluctantly handed the can to him. Gibby took a big old honkin' slug from the Coke can, like Samuel Jackson drinking some of Frank "check out the big brain on Brett" Whaley's "tasty beverage" in "Pulp Fiction." As they say today, McCarver learned to "deal with it," and was never uncomfortable again. In the photos of Gibson's greatest moments, it is McCarver who congratulates him on the mound.
Now, he was considered one of the best baseball minds in the game. McCarver is bright and, obviously, opinionated. He was no stranger to controversy, however. Once, football/baseball star Deion Sanders, angered by McCarver's on-air remarks, had poured ice water on him in the clubhouse.
"To me, it has a ring of artificiality and phoniness that because you're on pace to break Mark McGwire's record that all of the sudden you're trying to be Mr. Nice Guy," McCarver said about Bonds. "That's strange to me. What turns me off is Barry Bonds trying to all of the sudden clean up his media image. There is a problem when you all of the sudden decide to try to be nice with the media. Either you're a nice guy or you're not a nice guy."
McCarver was scheduled to announce the up-coming All-Star Game, and no doubt would run up against Bonds at some point. In the Pac Bell press box, opinion sided with Bonds on this. A number of writers felt it was McCarver who was
"artificial" and "phony." Many felt he had gotten big-headed with his success as a national TV announcer, and that McCarver was the one who treated people without respect if he felt they were below him.
"From a reporter's standpoint, whether it's electronic or written, all they expect is civility out of somebody," McCarver had continued to say. "And en masse almost, everybody has been treated in an uncivil fashion or in a fashion they deem uncivil from Barry Bonds' standpoint.
"McGwire can be surly, but he gets it. He can play the game <with the media>. Bonds doesn't want to be a part of it. My personal feeling on it is you don't have to be a nice guy and Mr. Congeniality to break a record. If he breaks the record, then good for him. I'll stand there and be ready to hug him.
"That will be a one-way hug, I guarantee it.”
On July 9 at Seattle’s Safeco Field, the All-Stars gathered for the annual Home Run Contest. Somebody from Major League Baseball must have gotten to Bonds, because he was there with bells on. He just did not win the contest. Luis Gonzales did. Bonds, however, was all over the news accounts of the showcase event, conducting an interview for ESPN with his children next to him.
Bonds was not the only drawing card in Seattle, however. It was now revealed that if any photographer could get into the Mariners’ clubhouse and snap a nude photo of Suzuki, the shot would go for $2 million in Japan. What a world!
The Giants were well represented at the game. Bonds started in left, Aurilia at shortstop, and Kent at second. Ripken made it his last hurrah, winning the MVP award in leading the Americans over the Nationals, 4-1. Bonds grounded to pitcher Roger Clemens, whose ass he did not have to kick, in the first inning. He went down swinging in the fourth.
There were no incidents with Tim McCarver.
Interestingly, Bonds would later say that the Home Run Contest had helped him regain the upper cut in his swing. In the second half, that upper cut would be front and center on the national stage. What he had experienced so far was nothing compared to what would happen in the next three months, on and off the field.
The Giants had gone 18-16 in games in which Bonds homered in the first half. He was at .305 with 39 homers and 73 RBIs. He needed 32 to catch McGwire. His team was in third place at 46-42, five and a half behind the D’backs, and three and a half behind Atlanta in the emerging wild-card scenario.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism