Barry Bonds is having a tremendous World Series with 3 home runs, a .500 batting average, and an incomprehensible 2.144 OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging). This comes after his second season of historic production. Barry Bonds has never been convicted or even arrested of any crime. The closest thing to a scandal that Bonds has ever been involved in, that I am aware of, was the claim during the 1994 strike that he had withheld child support while he along with the rest of the players was not getting paid.
He has had altercations with teammates, the most famous and public of which was the June 25th shoving match with Jeff Kent in the Giants' dugout. Bonds was seen as the aggressor-mostly because Kent told the press how standoffish Bonds is with teammates-, but it should be remembered that he came to the defense of David Bell, whom Kent was upbraiding for a poor throw that pulled Kent off second on a double-play ball. That event is now viewed as the turning point in the Giants' great season.
And yet Bob Klapisch writes that with all Bonds has done it's Still not enough to like. Klapisch points to the towering home run that Bonds hit in game 2 off closer Troy Percival in the ninth to bring the Giants within one. The criticism of the home run is that Bonds "didn't leave the batter's box" but "[i]nstead, he fell in love with the 485-foot home run...which, in a single frozen moment, revealed the depths of Bonds' self-absorption."
Klapisch failed to mention the frustration that Bonds must have felt having been thrown only three strikes in his five previous plate appearances, resulting in four walks (one intentional) and one impatient first-pitch groundout. Bonds finally got a pitch to hit and he destroyed it. Perhaps, he paused at home to leave an impression with the Angels' that he would not be defeated even in losing a ballgame. Perhaps, he did it because he surprised himself with the blast. Perhaps, he did it because he is an egomaniac who was enjoying his moment. Perhaps, it was a combination of the above. Whatever the reason, what difference does it make? It is not an infrequent occurrence for batters to admire their home runs at the plate today. And for the prattle by McCarver, Morgan, about how such action is demanding of some sort of repayment the next time in the box, what difference do such actions really make over the course of a game or a season?
Bonds grabs Torii Hunter in a playful bear hug after being robbed by him of a home run in the All-Star game. Bonds has brought his son with him to the game throughout the playoffs. Bonds publicly campaigned for the Giants to re-sign the selfsame Jeff Kent with whom he had been "feuding", bearing no grudges but rather trying to do what's best for the team.
Bonds is called emotionally distant when he says things like, "I just want to go to the ballpark, do my job like anyone else, go home and be with my family." When Bonds said that people still ride the bus in reference to fans returning to the ballpark if there had been a strike, he is not seen as a good union man or an honest person but rather as boorish, spoiled, and self-involved. During the series Bonds choice not to shake hands with teammates as the lineups were being announced; instead of this being part of his approach to staying focused on the game, it is seen as his insouciance in dealing with the men with whom he is going into combat.
Obviously, most if not all that we hear about Bonds is reported by a body of journalists who have made it abundantly clear that Bonds does not pay them the props they feel they are due. (Who're the self-involved ones?) They create an image of an aloof, self-loving and self-promoting egomaniac. I'm not saying that Klapisch is necessarily one of those journalists, but his and every other piece written about Bonds is tainted by the largely media-created persona of him. The talk-radio shows are peopled with the brainless disciples of such drivel.
Personally, I find it refreshing to have a player speak his mind. There are enough of the types that learned their clichés as they learned the game a la Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham. I find Bonds to be intelligent and introspective whenever I hear him interviewed. But then again Sir Charles Barkley has always been my favorite basketball player, too. So maybe I have an affinity for the controversial type.
It is odd that the media follows Barry around seeking a story to make fans love him (or hate him) when most other players are just assessed by what they do between the white lines. Jeff Kent for example was not widely criticized for refusing to do a TV interview after his 2-HR game 5. Some would view this as racist, that the media cannot accept the best player being African-American. I agree that there is a double standard but I prefer to think that such a high performance level on the field raises the expectation level for the character of the individual off the field. We expect that all of our celebrities and politicians be squeaky clean, the people we want to be. They are held to a higher level than we apply to our friends and family or even to ourselves. They quite often let us down. The double standard is even more pronounced when we delve into someone's psyche for watching his own home runs or for just having a seemingly dour demeanor, especially when there are other athletes who have done far worse things (the devotion to ex-con and admitted gambling addict Pete Rose is particularly curious).
It reminds me of the double standard applied to the two stars that the Phillies had when I was kid: Greg "The Bull" Luzinski and Mike Schmidt. Schmidt was obviously more talented, but Luzinski was more popular. The fans could identify more with a player with an everyman appearance like The Bull who excelled and found the talent-laden Schmidt to be cool and distant.
Love him or hate him, Bonds is one of the truly great players in the history of the game, arguably the best ever. Instead of dealing with such trivialities as does Barry appear to be happy to play on a given day, why can't we, the baseball-viewing public, just enjoy him for the immense talent that he is? Why can't that be enough for us? If you need some melodrama mixed in with your baseball, go rent The Rookie.