Remember when Barry Bonds could hit — and that was all that mattered?
Even he forgot how he got there.Mixed emotions. Gray area. Middle ground. Conventional wisdom.
None of these things existed on planet Barry Bonds. At least until Tuesday.
In his first exclusive interview since his continuous game of home run leapfrog left him playing backseat driver to Hank Aaron, Bonds sat down with ESPN’s Jim Gray.
“I’m only human,” he said, after telling Gray that the whirlwind of steroid allegations “hurt.”
When asked about the potential for asterisks next to his records at the conclusion of his age-defying, era-defining Hall of Fame career, Bonds dropped the h-word again. And added that he’d be disappointed.
Then he dropped another four-letter word: Love.
Barry Bonds loves Albert Pujols, the Cardinals slugger who recently, publicly came to Barry’s defense. Bonds even said he hopes Pujols breaks his single-season home run record.
And over the course of the rest of the interview, Bonds apologized for any negative comments he made about Babe Ruth, his lack of institutional (emotional) control as a burgeoning young star and lamented the point of wanting to be liked.
Going so far as to categorize the litany of alienated journalists, teammates, fans and ghosts of baseball past as witnesses to the “old Barry.”
You remember him.
The cocky prima donna. The shiny cross earring. That bat, cocked high, hitching overhead in smooth, utter defiance.
He didn’t so much catch cans of corn in left field; he rhythmically glove-tapped before snatching them from the sky like a rabid Venus Flytrap.
He didn’t bunny hop like Sammy Sosa or play bat-handle-hot-potato like Mark McGwire; he stood motionless in the batters box, as much in awe of his own prodigious blasts as the fans paddle-fighting for the money balls in McCovey Cove.
Bonds didn’t sign with Nike, Adidas or Reebok. Or any of the traditional baseball labels: Wilson, Rawlings or Mizuno.
He rocked Fila.
And if you walked him when he was younger, the definition of five-tool, he’d steal second and third. On your best pick off move.
He’d tell anyone who would listen how blessed he was. How he played the game at a different level because he didn’t know another existed. That his old man passed down the top of his All-Star genes and God filled in the rest.
But on Tuesday, Bonds had a different message.
He claims to have told his son that he needs to stop being angry, to learn how to forgive if he wants to avoid living through the same Hell on Earth his father created in the effusive wake of each 360-foot jog around the bases.
Problem is, that Bonds is good for no one.
Not for network television, if you were one of the three people who actually watched him cry during ESPN’s ill-fated “Bonds on Bonds” reality show.
Not for the networks and newspapers (paging: Pedro Gomez) who hang on every word Bonds doesn’t say.
Not for the son he preaches to in the face of perjury charges and plausible jail time.
But especially not for Bonds himself. The man whose myth somehow managed to outgrow his awesome talent.
Not on one leg. Not with bone chips in his elbow.
Those are the reasons he’s smiling now. Bonds knows that not even the Kevlar pads he latches in the on-deck circle can protect him anymore. MLB’s witch hunt – that’s what their steroid probe is – won’t leave him unscathed. And asterisks next to his final career stats are a best case scenario.
Which is why he needs to channel the “old Barry” now more than ever.
Forget about opinions and apologies. Provide front page cannon fodder for columnists, PTI and Around the Horn. Channel his affinity for the other four-letter words and the race card he now says he wants to fold.
Because the “old Barry” thrived on dissension, lauded the naysayers and fought back with his maple sword.
The “old Barry” could flat-out rake.
This new epiphany may turn out to be an alright guy, but he waddles around the diamond like Redd Foxx in a Sanford and Son rerun. And when an entire nation, outside the incestuous bubble on The Bay, utters nary an echo of salutation, your chances of being liked don’t register.
On any scale.