By Skip Bayless
Page 2

If possible, he's even better and worse than ever. He continues to astonish, with his bat and his mouth. At 41, Barry Bonds is again proving to be the greatest hitter and biggest jerk in baseball history.

Feel free to substitute less printable terms for jerk.

No athlete I've been around has mixed my emotions the way this guy has. Mixed 'em like a Molotov cocktail.

Bonds Argues There are More Serious Issues then Steroids Right Now ESPN Motion

More than ever, I'd rather watch a Bonds at-bat than any other moment in sports. Yet his recent words and deeds have finally made it impossible for even me -- a Barry fan -- to separate the hitter from the jerk.

I used to be able to forget all the bad stuff when Bonds anchored his left leg in the batter's box. I used to rationalize that he was a much better teammate than most fans thought -- Jeff Kent was just jealous -- and that Bonds was THE reason the Giants were always in contention.

But now that he has let down his team and let down parents everywhere, I finally find myself rooting against this big, uh, jerk.

I'm not sure which offends me more: that Bonds damaged (if not wrecked) his team's chance to win the mild, mild West by delaying his return, or that, upon his first visit to Washington to play the Nationals, he scoffed that Congress has been wasting its time with the steroids issue.

As a sign at RFK Stadium on Tuesday night said: "Junk Bonds."

But yes, his comeback has been even better than James Bond in "You Only Live Twice." After missing the first 143 games with what he said was a bad knee, Bonds waltzed back into the lineup on Sept. 13, and in his first at-bat, battled San Diego's Adam Eaton for 11 pitches before hitting a tailing laser to left center that came within a foot of leaving SBC Park.


At 41, the man didn't even need a minor-league rehab stint. He launched No. 707 on Wednesday night -- just seven short of Babe Ruth  and that's four home runs in four games. That's even beyond Bonds.

And that's what makes me -- and others inside the organization and close to the Giants -- suspicious.

You assume Bonds had off-season arthroscopic surgery on his knee ... but with this guy, you never know. In the past, he told reporters with a chuckle that he sometimes misleads them just to get even for all the "negative stuff" they write about him.

You assume he hurt the knee again and had a second surgery ... but Giants insiders say the story the media was given was bogus. They say Bonds and his handlers wanted the team to announce he reinjured the knee when he banged it against a clubhouse table, when in fact that isn't how it occurred. So who knows what really happened, if anything?

You assume the knee got infected, as Bonds said it did. But who knows?

Remember the kill-the-messenger soliloquy he delivered to the media in spring training? The one in which he used his crutches and his son as sympathy-seeking props and blamed the media for reporting his leaked BALCO grand jury testimony and the claims of his former mistress, who also testified to the grand jury?

Bonds reportedly told the grand jury that he used a substance that prosecutors believe was steroids.

So, by all means, it was the media's fault that Bonds chose a personal trainer who eventually would plead guilty to conspiring to distribute steroids. And yes, Barry, it was our fault that you dumped your longtime mistress after moving her to Phoenix and that she hit the talk-show circuit to say you often talked to her about your steroid use.

Bonds leaned on his crutch at spring training and said: "You wanted me to jump off a bridge, I finally did. You finally brought me and my family down ... So now go pick on a different person."

It's possible that Bonds' knee had very little to do with his absence for most of the season. It's quite possible he simply decided to take his home-run balls and go home.

It's also possible he wanted to lay low while the BALCO investigation ran its course.

And yes, it's also possible that a relatively minor cartilage cleanup procedure -- usually a month-long recovery, at most -- turned into a six-month rehab.

But people around the Giants wonder.

If Bonds could immediately turn back into Bonds on Sept. 13, why couldn't he have returned a week or two earlier? Was that too much to ask of a guy who's making $22 million this season, a guy who was allowed to spend most of the summer at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif.?

Yes, the Giants had won eight of nine before he rejoined them in Los Angeles. But in the seven games he was with the team before he actually played, San Francisco went 2-5. Those losses could loom larger if Barry's team falls a game or two short of the begging-to-be-caught Padres.

The Giants trail San Diego by five games, but have three left with the Padres.

Bonds' mere presence in the lineup is so menacing for division rivals -- especially the Padres -- that you have to wonder what took him so long to return. The answer you hear from people who know Bonds is: He just wanted to remind everyone that he's Barry Bonds and that he does everything on his own time and terms.

Way to help your team, Barry.

And you're still sitting out day games after night games when you're only in uniform for the final two and a half weeks of the season?

Way to earn that salary, big guy.

Then again, was it a coincidence that Bonds returned a couple of days after Giants owner Peter Magowan said publicly -- and shockingly -- that for the first time, the Giants would entertain trade offers for Bonds?

Probably not.

Magowan had had enough of his $22 Million Disappearing Man.

It also was no coincidence that Bonds waited to make his mind-blowing remarks about the steroid issue until his first visit to Washington. He wanted to rub Congress' nose in it right under Congress' nose.

Remember, the biggest reason Bonds avoided having to testify before the congressional steroid hearings in March was that he was still involved in the ongoing BALCO investigation.

And remember: For the past three or so years, FBI sources in the Bay Area have indicated that Bonds was the primary target of that investigation. Either Bonds has been very lucky or very clean, or he has hired very good lawyers.

Tuesday at RFK, Bonds set another major-league record for audacity.

Asked whether Congress has wasted its time trying to clean up the steroid problem in sports, Bonds said: "Pretty much, I think so. Yeah."

Though he acknowledged the problem, Bonds said: "There are still other issues that are more important. Right now, people are losing lives and don't have homes. I think that's a little more serious. A lot more serious ...

"We're the United States. We have a crisis here that everybody needs to start contributing to. Not pointing fingers. Contributing to."

The nerve of this guy using the Gulf Coast disaster to trivialize the seriousness of the steroid epidemic facing this country. Obviously, the Katrina tragedy is far more pressing, but does that mean we should forget about all the teenagers abusing steroids?

That was the main goal of the hearing. Members of Congress wanted sluggers to tell kids about the potential dangers of steroid overdosing. Mark McGwire and (after the fact) Rafael Palmeiro wound up incriminating themselves.

But has Barry Bonds ever mounted his soapbox to preach to kids about the evils of steroids? Not once. His basic message is always: We're entertainers. You media people should just leave us alone and let us do what we need to do to entertain people."

Unfortunately, too many fans agree with Bonds.

My stance has always been to either make performance-enhancing drugs legal, or make the testing and penalties so severe that the cheaters can no longer cheat.

But kids' emulating their heroes and using unsupervised mega-doses of black-market steroids is an entirely different issue. Apparently, Bonds didn't watch the March testimony of the parents who lost children because of steroid abuse.

No real tragedy there. Right, Barry?

Now you wonder how many members of Congress -- who continue to investigate Palmeiro for perjury -- would like to waste a little more time investigating Bonds.

He's all but daring them to.

He's Barry Bonds and they're not.

And even I can no longer root for him.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.

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