BASEBALL'S SUPERMAN, BARRY BONDS, BREAKS HIS SILENCE
by Steven Travers
American Reporter Correspondent
SAN FRANCISCO -- Editor's Note: Steven Travers, a longtime AR Correspondent, and sports writer for the San Francisco Examiner, has just finished his authorized biography of Barry Bonds. We proudly present this excerpt from the book, which is due in bookstores in April.
When Bonds arrived in New York for a four-game series at Shea Stadium, the New York press was all over him. Some said Bonds' breaking the record so soon cheapened it. Billy Crystal's HBO movie "61*" suggested that there should be nostalgia for this record, but Bonds was heading for it with all the subtlety of Sherman marching through Georgia, with the ink barely dry on McGwire's new record in the books.
Some said Bonds deserved the record because he was a great player having a great year, as opposed to Maris, a good player who had a great year. Comparisons were made with Luis Gonzalez, a good player having a great year. Was McGwire a great player? He was a great home run hitter, but he could not hold Bonds dirty jock strap, as they say, as an all-around ball player. Others argued that McGwire and Bonds had "earned" the right to chase the record, since they were already members of the 500-homer club. Maris had not even hit 300 career home runs and will not make the Hall of Fame.
The season-long argument that Bonds neither had the support, nor endured the scrutiny endured by McGwire in 1998, was brought up. He lacked "charm." He was not the "rightful heir" to the record. Sosa was.
Bonds' gap between his previous high, 49 and a potential record would be similar to Maris' 39-to-61 jump. Bonds, however, like Aaron, had four 40-homer seasons, six 30-homer seasons and the kind of consistency that enabled Hammer to reach 755.
In an article called "Bonding With Barry," New York Daily News sports writer John Harper said "no matter what Barry Bonds does, his remarkable run at history was never going to resemble the feel-good story that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa authored in 1998." He continued with the New York theory that the mystique surrounding baseball's single-season home run record disappeared along with Maris' name from the record book.
"But now, as Bonds brings his 54 home runs to center stage in New York tonight for a weekend series with the Mets," wrote Harper, "he is being portrayed nationally as a player so selfish that his teammates can barely tolerate him."
The spacious quarters apart from his teammates in the Pac Bell clubhouse that included a recliner and a big-screen television for his personal use were brought up as "evidence" that makes Bonds "easy to dislike, and perhaps difficult for America to embrace,"Mike Piazza at one point had superstar status on a par with Bonds', yet he couldn't be more different in personality. He blends in easily among teammates. Piazza thought it "absurd" for Bonds' superstar trappings to be such an issue.
"Me, I don't like an entourage," Piazza told Harper. "If I'm going to go shopping, I just go. I don't need any special treatment. In here, I like being one of the guys, hanging out. "Barry Bonds may be different, but if he's getting results, I don't care. The locker room stuff, I think that's so overrated. You don't have to be the best of friends with everybody in the locker room. You don't have to take guys out to dinner.
"Don't get me wrong. I think it's good when you have good guys on a team, but it's sort of a bonus. There's nothing Barry Bonds can't do on a baseball field, so as far as I'm concerned, I want him on my team. I don't have to be his best buddy." Piazza was also probably frustrated by the Mets' disappointing season, and was thinking about the run production Bonds would bring to his club, plus the fat pitches he would see with Barry hitting in front or behind him. Piazza was astonished that anybody on his own team, in the middle of a pennant race the Giants were in the thick of, would take shots at their star player.
"How can you criticize a guy who's carrying you to the playoffs?" Piazza asked. "If Barry Bonds was a nice guy, very gracious, cheery, outgoing, a breath of fresh air - great. But he's not, at least not all the time. I don't think he's a bad guy, but hasn't he been this way his whole career?
"Why all of a sudden is this coming out now? Because he's having the year he's having?"
In the wake of Reilly's piece, Kent insisted his quotes were "doctored up pretty good," and accused Reilly of bearing a grudge because Bonds turned down an interview request from him the previous week. "He wanted to pull the trigger big-time," Kent told the press. "It sounds like he did."
"What do they think, that we're supposed to be break-dancing in here?" Bonds had said. The controversy added a little excitement to Bonds' home run chase as he arrived at Shea, a place in need of some pizzazz in this down year for the home team.
"If he does hit 70, wow, I can't even think in those terms," Piazza said. "I don't have a problem celebrating it. I think it'd be a cool thing." The Associated Press had this to say during the Mets' series:
"He doesn't care whether fans like him. He doesn't care whether teammates like him. "Winning a World Series, that he does care about. "'Is it important for you to be liked be your colleagues?' Bonds asked Friday at a news conference at Shea Stadium. 'Yes. But what can you do if they don't? That's life. You can't change it. You pray for these people.'"
Bonds arrived in New York with 55 homers, needing 15 in San Francisco's final 35 games to tie the season record.
"I don't feel I have a bad relationship with Jeff," he said. After games, Bonds said, "we all go our separate ways. That's normal. He has his family and goes his way and I have my family and I go my way. . "... If he wants to go out to lunch with me, I'd love to go. If he wants to ride motorcycles, we'll ride motorcycles." So is Bonds a "lone wolf?" "That's between us," Baker answered when asked that question.
"I don't want to get into that, I really don't," owner Magowan said. Magowan, wearing a Giants cap, sat on an end of the third row for the New York news conference but didn't ask any questions of his biggest star, who earned $55.2 million in his first nine seasons in San Francisco. Bonds, who frequently claimed he was misquoted or taken out of context, was making himself available primarily in group interviews, where there is taped evidence of the exact words.
When McGwire and Sosa chased Maris, they generated a "warm, fuzzy feeling among many fans," said the AP. "The impression Bonds has left is of distance and coolness, which he says is created by a media unhappy with him. "Bonds, who is black, didn't give a direct answer when asked if he thought racism played a part in the reaction to his chase.
"'Does the KKK exist?' he answered. `Sure. Probably. I don't know. Is it affecting me? No. Does it bother me? No.'
"It hasn't changed drastically," he continued, referring to the racism faced by Aaron in 1974.
"There are still people don't like people of all kinds of races," said Baker, who played in the latter part of Aaron's era. "One thing I've noticed: The lack of fans of color in every ballpark."
"I think about Hank Aaron," Bonds said in a telling remark. "Babe Ruth is second. I don't think about second place. I've been there before."