After interviewing Barry Bonds, I have a better sense of who he is as a person and a player. I also have a better understanding of the delicate balancing act he endures every day. I don't want to be an apologist for the Giants' left fielder, but I'd like to fill in some gray areas concerning his personality, the situation with his teammates and the home-run chase.
For years, the media has honed in on the fact that while Bonds is a great, Hall of Fame player, he's never won a World Series and has never produced in October.
|Barry Bonds is testing the free-agent market after a record-setting season.|
Yet now we're asking him to be the hero, and we're asking him to talk about the home runs he's hitting, which puts Bonds in a precarious position.
If he talks about the home runs, he's selfish because he's not concerned about the rest of the team and the pennant drive. If he doesn't talk about the home runs, he's selfish because Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa took us along for the ride in 1998 -- why won't Barry in 2001?
Before the interview, I was told Bonds didn't want to talk about home runs. But as we talked, he opened up. Bonds was adamant that he's not pursuing anything. If he breaks the record, great. But he's not sitting around pining for 71 home runs.
When I asked about the last time he went out looking to hit a home run, Bonds replied "yesterday." Which was actually Monday when he was facing Jason Jennings from Colorado. I asked if he hit a homer and he said, "Not that time, but at the next at bat, I got him."
Characterizing Bonds is difficult. He doesn't exactly fit the blueprint of who we want for a star player. He's not a gung-ho-team-leader-inspiring-pep-talks type. He's simply not. Does that make him selfish? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe Bonds is selfish the same way Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson are considered selfish.
While in the Giants clubhouse, there was no need to solicit confirmation of Jeff Kent's comments from Rick Reilly's Sports Illustrated column. Two teammates openly shared their feelings that, while Bonds is a phenomenal player on the field, he's not a friendly guy and he doesn't have friends on the team. For them, it's a double-edged sword. While they realize the team can't make a run at the pennant without him, in some regards, they succeed in spite of him -- somebody has to step up and be the leader.
Bonds' view of baseball is all business, and he takes his job very seriously. When he gets on the field, he's got one thing and one thing only in mind -- doing his job. I attempted to advance that part of Bonds' job is being a leader -- not just by example but also by expression. But Bonds was adamant that he is who he is; he hasn't changed and he won't change.
Bonds told me that when he's on the field people say, "At least wave." But he says he's not on the field to wave, he's on the field to compete and play. While I understand his reasoning, I don't necessarily agree with it. It's no secret that the San Francisco clubhouse is not harmonious, and I think he could help the team by being more of a vocal leader. But by comparison, what kind of a leader was Joe DiMaggio? Certainly, DiMaggio led by what he did, not by what he said.
While in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to talk with Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling. Schilling was on his computer charting pitches when I asked him about Bonds. Without hesitation he flatly stated, "The numbers don't lie."
When I managed to pull his attention away from his computer, Schilling elaborated on the mind games and what Bonds does with the pitches he sees. He noted that Bonds rarely has a check swing and his pitch recognition is simply phenomenal. Bonds also hits the ball deeper into the strike zone than any other hitter -- he can wait longer than anybody.
Bonds' patient philosophy is seemingly simplistic: "Most pitchers throw in the 90s or high 80s. They generate most of the power. If you allow them to generate most of the power, then you'll be able to hit the ball far. But you can't generate power by yourself; it has to come from somewhere. They're giving me the fastball at 90 mph and all I'm doing is trying to slap it directly. It doesn't take much movement."
Bonds told me he plays because he loves the chess game -- wondering what the next pitch will be. A guy like Schilling knows what Bonds can hit. Bonds said that he can't take advantage of Schilling the way he can take advantage of a rookie.
Bonds has shown glimpses of leadership qualities. He's just very particular about when he chooses to reveal them.
Bonds knows he's not going to get pitches down the stretch. If a team he's facing is in a pennant race, he won't blame them for pitching around him -- he understands getting walked is a part of a game. But if a team is not in a pennant race, he said he'll be upset.
He also said that if he doesn't win a championship, his resumé will still be complete. He prides himself on 15 years of consistency. He nonchalantly says that he has hit 40 home runs every year, this year he's just hitting more. He cited Ernie Banks, who was a tremendous player yet didn't win a championship. But because Bonds is a player of the '90s, who is put side-by-side in terms of statistics and talent with his godfather, Willie Mays, we hold him in a different light.
Bonds has shown glimpses of leadership qualities. He's just very particular about when he chooses to reveal them. After clinching last season, Bonds told the team that they were going back on the field to thank the fans. Why he doesn't take advantage of his influence more often? I don't know.
Because of his greatness, a part of me really likes Barry Bonds, and I find myself wanting to like him even more. According to Bonds, the media has already missed the show. Maybe he's right.