ESPN.com - MLB Playoffs 2002 - Still not enough to like
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Friday, October 25
 
Still not enough to like

By Bob Klapisch
Special to ESPN.com

Making their pitch
Throughout the World Series, ESPN.com will have two of its writers go head-to-head on a variety of topics. Today's question:

With a memorable postseason performance, has Barry Bonds undergone an image makeover?

Bob Klapisch says that Bonds still hasn't won over the nation, but Sean McAdam thinks he has completely rehabbed his reputation. What do you think? Vote below.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Pose was magnificent in both form and function. Barry Bonds didn't leave the batter's box. He didn't move. He didn't even breathe. Instead, he fell in love with the 485-foot home run in Game 2 last Sunday which, in a single frozen moment, revealed the depths of Bonds' self-absorption.

Oh, it was a perfect home run, alright. Actually, it was beautiful. Such was the bi-product of Troy Percival's 96-mph fastball and Bonds inhuman bat-speed. The ball was met so squarely, it left Edison Field with violence, creating an arc so breathtaking, it cemented Bonds' claim as the game's strongest man.

Trouble is, he remains impossible to like, let alone love. Bonds has raised his profile in the 2002 World Series, and he's shed the reputation for postseason failure. But it'd be wrong to think Bonds has become the center of the Giants' universe, or that they're one win away from a world championship solely because of him.

Of course, he's having a great Series, batting .500. But the Giants are 8-0 this postseason in the games he doesn't homer, and 2-5 when he does. The Giants acknowledge how they try to avoid a dependency on Bonds' muscles, and said as much after a 16-4 flogging of the Angels in Game 5.

"Barry gets a lot of publicity and rightfully so, but we have lost of guys who contribute night in and night out," said J.T. Snow. "That's the beauty of this team."

Snow was talking about Kenny Lofton, who had three hits, and Jeff Kent, who hit two homers in the a four-RBI night. Don't underestimate what Kent's arrival meant to the Giants on Thursday, or the ease in which they disposed of Jarrod Washburn.

They took a 6-0 lead in the first two innings, and no matter what Mike Scioscia says about the Angels' ability to erase most of that deficit in the middle innings, the fact remains: the Giants amassed 16 hits, and not one of them was a Bonds home run.

Of course, no one expects Bonds to slug 400-plus beasts in every at-bat. And to be fair to him, he had a terrific first-inning at-bat against Washburn, staying down on a sinking two-seam fastball, driving an RBI double into the right field corner.

It's moments like that when it's possible to see just how talented Bonds really is. Not because he can hit a fastball farther than any living, breathing major leaguer, but because he knows the strike zone, rarely swings at bad pitches and is disciplined enough to accept bases on balls.

No one argues these points. But Bonds still hasn't won over a nation that wonders, just who is this man? Why, one asks, did Bonds have to admire that home run on Sunday? Why, after his third home run in three games on Tuesday, did he have to take seven slow steps before busting into a Sunday stroll -- with his team trailing by four runs? Why does he continue to address reporters -- and through them, the fans -- in that condescending, flat tone in his voice, complete with that dead, far-away stare.

Bonds says he loves baseball, but he doesn't seem to love the engine that drives the game. Forget about the interview-process, he has no particular link to his Giants' public, and doesn't seem close to his teammates. He's so aloof, he hardly even argues with umpires who occasionally call borderline strikes against him.

When asked about the emotional distance, Bonds admitted it's all part of a larger philosophy he holds toward the sport.

"My friends say, 'You're a big baseball player, you can do this, you can do that,'" Bonds said. "I just tell them, I'm like that surfer boy. I just want to surf, dude. I don't want to own a store.'

"I just want to go to the ballpark, do my job like anyone else, go home and be with my family. That's all fine and dandy but that's not why I chose to play baseball. I chose to play because I want to be the best at it for whatever it is for me."

On paper, such proclamations sound endearing, but it's still not possible to embrace Bonds as Everyman. Not when he's this joyless, night after night. He may love his family and we assume he's good to his friends, but he sure doesn't seem to love his gifts -- or even his current blessing, which is finally making it to the World Series.

Is Bonds really absorbing this climb to the top? Who knows? We'll have to take Dusty Baker's word for it when he says, "Barry is a very emotional man. He just keeps it all inside."

Maybe we'll get a better glimpse of his soul if the Giants win Game 6. Then we'll see how Bonds celebrates -- if he celebrates. We're waiting to see if he allows the Giants to pour champagne on his head.

If so -- if Bonds actually smiles and possibly even weeps in triumph -- we'll finally see accept him as human. Until then, Bonds remains a perfectly-constructed, impossibly-muscled home run machine.

And to all to admire Bonds ... well, it's like the warning to those visiting Michelangelo's David:

Look, but do not touch.

Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.





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