Now that his season is over, Barry Bonds can go home and rest the aching knee that kept him out of 148 games this season. His San Francisco Giants failed to make the playoffs for the second straight year, and he will have to wait until next spring to continue his assault on the record books. While he sits, the media will discuss every action he’s taken and every word he’s said in the last few years, and try to figure out who the real Barry Bonds is. Well, I’ve never had the privilege of meeting the guy, but the evidence supports the fact that he’s just a jackass. Let’s examine why.
As a young’n, Barry ran through the underground hallways of Candlestick Park while his late father, Bobby Bonds, played for the Giants. Oh how much fun it must have been to watch your dad succeed on such a grand stage.
But Bobby had some issues. He was arrested for DUI, which was not exactly seen well by the media, and this onslaught went straight to Bobby’s head. During the time when he was being chastised for his irresponsible act, the elder Bonds compared his mistake to Mickey Mantle’s well-publicized hard-partying ways. This defensive response ignored the fact that Mantle played in New York for his entire career, where he never drove to the ballpark, as drunk as he often was.
When your father feels mistreated, a father you’re very close to, and then brings that home with him, you begin to hate the people who made him feel so persecuted, regardless of their motives. And so Barry grew up to hate the media.
In 2005, Barry is 41 years old, and at that age, most baseball players spend their time reading on the beach. Yet he is under contract for 2006, and, as his body begins to break down (see the knee injury), he remains six home runs behind Babe Ruth for second most in a career. He’s 47 behind Hank Aaron for first.
Bonds has said that he doesn’t really care about breaking the record of Aaron (a family friend). Babe Ruth’s record, however, is another story.
“755 [Aaron’s record] isn’t a number that’s always caught my eye — the only number I’m concerned with is Babe Ruth’s,” Bonds has said. “As a left-handed hitter, I wiped him out. That’s it. And in the baseball world, Babe Ruth’s everything, right?”
But as he chases the records, time is doing the same to him: wiping him out. Only Carlton Fisk has hit 47 or more homeruns after turning 41, but Fisk was obviously just hanging for his last several years, and still only hit 53. Bonds’ apparent pride wouldn’t allow him to lurk as a part-time player in the National League, where he would have to play the field during every game in which he started. With two surgically repaired knees, such a feat would become more and more difficult. So Bonds could join an American League team after next season, where he could DH and be celebrated every time he stepped up to the plate. However, only two particular northeastern teams could afford his high salary.
Why not the Yankees? Well, later in his career, his father played for New York, and the sensitivity that had been festering since his days in San Francisco was carried along with him to a city where the members of the media don’t bend over backwards to be kind. Again, Bobby raised the Mantle issue, implicating that since the Mick was a Midwestern country boy, and since Bonds was not, the media had protected Mantle and gone after Bobby unfairly.
If there were malicious writers in the New York media during Bonds’ career, that’s unfortunate, but not unique to his time. And fans during Mantle’s career were actually given greater access to the players’ personalities than they have at any time since then. People felt as though they really knew Mickey. With Bobby Bonds, however, the only side they got to see was the sliver of sensitive surliness revealed in print. As a result, fans never warmed up to him quite as much. It didn’t help that Bobby would show immense talent from time to time, yet never put up the consistent superstar numbers his abilities suggested. So, Barry refuses to play in New York.
And Boston? Well, Boston is “too racist” for Bonds. No one can ignore the fact that there are certain ugly events in Boston’s past regarding race relations. The forced busing of black students through throngs of angry South Bostonians when the schools were integrated comes to mind. The longtime owner of the Red Sox, Tom Yawkey, was known to be a white supremacist, which contributed to Boston being the very last team in baseball to feature a black player, a full dozen years after Jackie Robinson stepped onto the field for the first time. But to classify the entire city as racist is a step short of reality. Unfortunately, there are bigots everywhere, from California to China to Massachusetts, but there is no particular preponderance of people with such tendencies in Beantown, the capital of what may be the bluest state in the nation.
The over-sensitivity Bonds inherited from his father has made him reactionary and quick to snap instead of more reasonable. Even before talk of breaking records was relevant, a young Bonds was visited by Michael Jordan in the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse, and, according Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News, “Bonds was so strangely obnoxious that Jordan told an official, ‘Get this guy away from me.’ So went the meeting of two of the greatest athletes of our time.”
And then there’s the steroids issue. And whether or not he breaks the all-time home run record, his exemplary statistics are always going to be viewed with a raised eyebrow. Though technically the proof that Bonds used performance-enhancing substances (and, according to him, this was unintentional) was supposed to be sealed, many conclusion-jumping folks have been mercilessly burning him at the stake.
Bondy posits that the reason Bonds has never been adored unconditionally is a combination of the fact that people believe he has cheated, and “maybe, yes, there is some cultural racism going on, too, in the way he is covered.” But at the root of it all is his attitude. Though there’s an explanation for it, it’s not a viable excuse. It’s harder to be impolite than it is to be polite, and as long as Bonds continues to go out of his way to snub teammates, the press, and even some fans, the largest blemish on his legend will be that he’s an ass, the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite some time.