The Goods on Barry
Barry Bonds is three of my least favorite people. Still, I promise, the next 700 words will be all rose petals to him. Hold all calls from Jeff Kent. By Rick ReillyTwo for one
Special players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have compiled enough Hall of Fame credentials for at least two players to get in. By Tom VerducciSupporting casts
The Giants' offense consists of Barry Bonds and little else, which makes their pursuit of the playoffs this season that much more remarkable. By John DonovanBarry's game
Bonds' march toward Hank Aaron never seemed more inexorable as it did in the last weekend of August, when he drilled three homers at Atlanta. By John Donovan
Pushing 70 (Oct. 8, 2001)
With the greatest slugging in recent memory, the Giants' remarkably efficient Barry Bonds was primed to break Big Mac's record. By Tom Verducci
I have come, over the past several years, to appreciate Barry Bonds. I won't be running for the vice presidency of his fan club, and I'll not be leading any cheers when he passes Babe Ruth sometime soon. When he blasts his way past Hank Aaron, which he seems sure to do, I won't be breaking out the noisemakers.
Still, I'll be watching. Won't everybody? Watching Bonds is a constant tug of war, a marveling at what he's able to do and a wondering at how he does it. To see Bonds step to the plate, to watch him stand majestically and threateningly over it -- flicking his big, black bat, sticking that armor-plated right elbow over the dish, his left elbow high behind it, leaning in just slightly, glaring out at the mound -- is the most awesome sight in baseball today. There is a palpable sense of history in the making every time No. 25 comes to bat. There is a sense of imminent violence, of an explosive swing and a ball crushed into the night, screaming its way out of the park.
And then, of course, there are the questions. Always the questions.
Bonds is by far the most feared and fearsome hitter in baseball. Someday, when fans talk about Bonds, they will say that he changed the entire complexion of a game, that when he was at his peak, rivals were so scared of him that they would routinely give him first base rather than have him swing that bat. The threat of Bonds, sometimes more than the reality, made opponents fold under the pressure.
Fans will remember, too, when he swung. More than anything, the swing stands out. Short, fierce and powerful. And quick. As quick as any swing ever. Bonds can take the best inside pitch and turn on it in a blink. Sneaking a fastball by him is like trying to get a frown out of the Mona Lisa.
Back in April, Bonds faced Eric Gagne, the Dodgers' closer, in a ninth-inning duel in San Francisco. The Dodgers had the lead, and Gagne could afford to pitch to Bonds, so he gave the slugger his A game. Gagne reared back and fired a 101 mph fastball -- a perfect pitch in a lot of ways, low and on the inside black -- and Bonds, incredibly, pulled it foul. Five hundred feet foul.
On the next pitch, he crushed a 99 mph fastball to centerfield for a two-run home run.
"That was my best time in baseball there," Gagne said at the time. "He's the best ever."
Bonds' home runs are not, like those of many sluggers, majestic arcs that disappear slowly and artfully into the stands. Bonds' homers tear into crowds, or over them, past slack-jawed fans, through their hands. His homers leave the park in the quick whoosh of a held breath, dunking their way deep into McCovey Cove. Nobody hits home runs as hard, as far, as dangerously as Bonds does. Maybe nobody ever has.
But then there are the questions. Always the questions.
Baseball fans want to embrace their heroes, and the biggest of baseball's greats have returned that warmth. Bonds will have none of that. He does not want the applause. He rejects the worshipping. He does not need anything from people outside of the game. He wants to play, like his dad, Bobby, and his godfather, the great Willie Mays, played. That's it.
The younger Bonds comes off as icy and aloof, even to some of his teammates. Reporters find him surly and uncooperative. Many fans recoiled last summer when Bonds lashed out against the iconic Babe Ruth, predicting how all of the Bambino's records soon would be his. "Don't talk about him no more," Bonds said.
And then, of course, there is the big question, the one that threatens to haunt Bonds for the rest of his days. The specter of steroids.
The whispers about his use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, the blatant accusations, have followed Bonds for years. Critics point to his physique, how he has grown over the years. That can't be done without chemical help, they say. They point to his age. No 40-year-old has ever done what Bonds is doing, they cry. Must be the drugs.
And so, it's a constant push and pull with Bonds. The thrill of witnessing his unbridled skill and power. The gnawing suspicion that it's not all natural. The need to admire, to touch his almost tangible greatness. The feeling that it's not real at all.
Will all that uncertainty, all those questions, still be there in 20 years? In 30 years? Will a figurative asterisk be stuck by his name in the record books? Will anyone care?
Or will the home runs, the swing, the power and the presence be what is remembered?
I've come to appreciate Bonds in the past few years for his pure skill and for his unerring and uncanny ability to carry on despite all the roiling around him. I don't care for his public persona, and I don't know about his private one. But to me, they hardly matter. He's a ballplayer. Nothing more.
I know about the steroid questions. I wonder, like everyone else. And I can't help but suspect. It's only natural, I think.
But you know what? A big part of me -- maybe the na´ve part -- hopes it's not true. Not for Bonds' sake, necessarily, but for baseball's sake. And, honestly, for the sake of all of us.
I'd like to think that what we're watching now is as special as it appears.