SAN FRANCISCO -- He tried, I'll give him that much. At least, I think he tried. That's because you can never tell with Barry Bonds whether you're getting the truth or getting played.
Bonds wore his three-piece, investment banker gray suit, flipped the power switch on his smile, and although not exactly charming, he was civil, cooperative and, at times, even poignant during Monday's nearly hour-long All-Star Game media session. Don't get me wrong -- there wasn't a group hug at the end, but there were several post-interview handshakes with reporters. And though I can't prove it, I swear Bonds had a man-crush on a middle-aged, Gannett columnist who got the San Francisco Giants star to talk about finding inner peace.
But I'm not buying it. For someone supposedly in touch with his inner Barry, Bonds still acts as if the world owes him a Hallmark "I'm Sorry" card. He isn't afraid to apply three coats of self-pity to any subject.
Of course, Bonds is absolutely right to question MLB commissioner Bud Selig's petty and undignified, "maybe I'll be there, maybe I won't" non-stance regarding Home Run No. 756. No matter when and where Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's career home run record, Selig's attendance should be mandatory. Asterisks can be attached later, but until then, Selig should quit acting as if he has to clean his garage that night.
"Does it matter to me?" Bonds said. "I think it's just terrible the way it's gone down. That's all. But that's up to Bud, it's not up to me. I'm going to do my thing anyway. I have to go out there and play for my teammates. That's up to Bud. Bud is his own man. I respect him. He is his own man. Whether Bud shows up or he doesn't show up, I'm still going to play baseball that day."
Bud is his own man? I respect him? What the hell is going on here?
What a weird hour it was. Reporters, photographers and TV cameramen formed a semicircle six deep around Bonds' interview station. It was so congested that when a reporter suffered a medical condition in the room, security personnel barely had enough space to wheel him past Bonds' table and through a back door. Nobody wanted to lose his or her spot.
Meanwhile, not more than 30 feet away, Philadelphia Phillies All-Star center fielder Aaron Rowand could have swung a fungo bat in his interview area and not hit anyone. The same goes for other National Leaguers who watched with disbelief, bemusement and maybe a bit of awe as Bonds held court.
There is no ignoring that Bonds, especially in this city and in this game, remains the centerpiece of baseball. You can talk all you want about Alex Rodriguez, but Bonds' tortured, conflicted and sometimes joyless march toward Aaron's record is the story that still matters. And because it matters, so does Bonds -- and the baggage he brings to curbside check-in.
You've seen the suitcases: alleged steroid and performance enhancer use grand jury testimony an ongoing federal inquiry an MLB-sponsored investigation a personal trainer (and friend) in jail stories of alienating teammates and managers. And that's just the big luggage.
"My thing is that I feel disappointed in some of those fans that are influenced by third-party judgments and have not given me that opportunity of just [getting] to know me," Bonds said. "Fans in San Francisco know me. Fans here know me. Fans outside the city only get to see me three days. To judge me based on a third party, that is what disappoints me. You're judging me based on a third party, when yet I've actually done nothing wrong to you. I've gone to your stadium and just tried to entertain you. I've just tried to play my game the best I can, and you've allowed a third party to influence you on basing your opinion on who I am."
Bonds wouldn't say who the third party was, which was strange. Then again, so is Bonds sometimes.
Bonds gives you two chances to "know" him: by the way he plays and by his Web site. That's it. Or you can seek information from the unapproved third-party sites, such as the media and leaked grand jury testimony.
If the steroid, etc., allegations are true -- and I believe they are -- Bonds didn't just entertain, he cheated. And if he cheated, he compromised the game he says he loves and the home run record he's about to break. But Bonds can't understand why fans might allow for that possibility. It's as if he thinks the investigations, the federal one and the one conducted by Sen. George Mitchell, have nothing to do with him.
"In time, it will pass," Bonds said of the dent marks in his reputation. "That's how I look at it. It pretty much has passed for everybody. Right now, I take it on the chin and keep on moving. I smile and keep on going."
There is hate mail, of course, some of it chillingly racial in nature, Bonds said. And there are the boos, jeers, the oversize syringe props on the road. Bonds is used to that. He has become the visiting villain.
"They're going to come see the show no matter what," he said. "I went to go see 'Batman and Robin,' and I liked the Joker too and I wanted him to get killed. I still went to go see the movie. You're going to come see it."
Bonds is baseball's movie. Selig might not like the ending, but there's not a thing he can do about it. So he'll sit in AT&T Park late Tuesday afternoon and hear the cheers when Bonds is introduced as a starter. It might be the last time Bonds and Selig are in the same stadium together.
"I think people like me," Bonds said. "I don't think people dislike me."
When the session ended a few minutes later, and Bonds had shaken several reporters' hands, he stood up and declared, "OK, we're out of here." In his hand was the digital recorder he had held during the session. Rather than rely on third parties, he was going to have the interview posted on his Web site.
Then a small, foreign reporter rushed up to Bonds as the Giants player began to walk down from the small stage area. The reporter began to raise his yellow foam-covered microphone, but Bonds pushed it down and kept walking.
"I'm done," he said.
Peace. It's a beautiful thing.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.