This is my favorite Barry Bonds interview ever. Happy, gracious, smiling--dare I say, sweet?
So sad, really, that we had to wait for last summer’s Westminster Dog Show to see it.
I would have loved to have seen this version of Barry Bonds on a stage in Cooperstown this July, vulnerable and grateful and human, offering an acceptance speech at his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, stripped clean of the sneer and the anger and arrogance that were too often his companions on a baseball diamond.
Oh, Barry. We probably will never fully grasp the back story, the complicated relationship with your father and some of the indignities he endured on his major league odyssey, indignities that evidently left their mark on you even before you embarked on your own path, leaving you to peer at the world through untrusting eyes.
My God, I wish Bonds could have fully embraced just how special he was long before he succumbed to the siren song of a laboratory Svengali. The comparisons to his immortal godfather, Willie Mays, were not without merit. Bonds, like Willie, could do it all on a ballfield. Run, throw, catch, hit, hit with power. Long before the numbers became more inflated than his hat size, Bonds was well on his way to constructing his own case for baseball immortality. He didn’t need bigger and better, or more and more.
No, it doesn’t qualify as tragedy, Bonds failing to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in this, his 10th and final year on the writers’ ballot. Farce, maybe, that the greatest home run hitter in baseball history will not be cast in bronze, as ludicrous on the face of it as Roger Clemens, the game’s most decorated pitcher, also falling short in the voting announced Tuesday.
Bonds and Clemens have not been erased from history’s telling of their place in the game. Their records have not been expunged. The memories—splashdowns in McCovey’s Cove, swings and misses in Fenway and Skydome, Yankee Stadium and Minute Maid Park—will endure. In time, through the vote of committees empowered to render more forgiving verdicts, they may yet claim their place in the Plaque Gallery.
But every so often, accountability—that often overlooked presence in the back of the room—demands to be heard, and renders a judgment that may seem arbitrary and unfair when applied to just one or two among many, but nonetheless makes an authentic claim on a man’s soul. Integrity may be hitting below the Mendoza line, but every so often it still gets its time at-bat.
Barry and Roger are not innocent; they both understand why they’re on the outside looking in, even if the regret is unacknowledged or buried. But perhaps those charged with running the Hall ought to do a little soul-searching of their own and overhaul a selection process that as presently constituted offers no consensus on how to separate the heroes from the antiheroes. And those entrusted to vote, the writers, may wish to reconsider whether making such determinations belongs to those assigned to write history’s first draft, not to make it.
I had an extended conversation with Barry Bonds when I was with the Boston Globe before a Giants game back in 2004, when he was closing in on Henry Aaron’s home run record, but the BALCO storm clouds were already closing in. We talked about how the adulation and windfall of endorsements that might have been expected in the wake of his historic feats had not materialized. He professed not to care.
“The only person I need love from is God,’’ he said. “That's all that matters. How you're doing with the higher power. All the rest of the stuff is irrelevant.
"I ain't never played baseball for fame. I just play to play. I ain't never liked fame. I don't need that [expletive]. I don't need fame. Fame is taking care of your bills, your kids, and your household and having respect, that's about all. That's famous to me.’’
I won’t forget how we ended our chat, Bonds sitting in front of his locker, bat in his hands.
"See, we're like baseball bats," he said. "We're equipment. When this breaks, they get another one to replace it.
"In any sport, you try to do the best you can and don't break, so they don't replace you. That's all I do.’’