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Bonds not helping image by withdrawing from WBC

Posted: Wednesday January 25, 2006 11:45AM; Updated: Wednesday January 25, 2006 2:16PM
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Barry Bonds wouldn't want the World Baseball Classic to get in the way of his offseason golfing.
Barry Bonds wouldn't want the World Baseball Classic to get in the way of his offseason golfing.
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Say what you will about Barry Bonds -- and if you say he's a needlessly surly, cantankerous prima donna most of the time, you won't get an argument here -- but you must admit that he certainly isn't image conscious. It's refreshing, in a way, that in an age in which celebrity athletes carefully craft their public profiles, Bonds refuses to play the PR game. He does exactly what he wants and he doesn't give a flying fungo what anyone thinks of him.

So Bonds surely doesn't care that he bypassed a golden opportunity to garner a bit of good will when he announced earlier this week that he won't participate in the World Baseball Classic, which begins on March 3. He had originally agreed to play and was included on the United States roster, but he withdrew after deciding that it was better to save himself for the regular season. There is some logic to the decision, and the San Francisco Giants are no doubt relieved that their meal ticket won't be risking his 41-year-old knees in any uniform other than theirs, but pulling out of the WBC is still a bad move. Consider it his first error of 2006.

His concern for his health is understandable, especially after missing nearly all of last season with knee problems, but the risk of injury in the WBC would have been minimal. He wouldn't have even had to bring a glove to the ballpark, because he'd almost certainly have been strictly a designated hitter, and manager Buck Martinez undoubtedly would have treated him as gently as fine china.

"Would you like to take batting practice today, Barry?" "Would you rather not stretch today, Barry?" "Would you like a foot massage between innings, Barry?"

Bonds could have done as much as he liked, with relatively little pressure to perform well. If he had smoked a few homers, it would have added to his legend; if not, it would have been chalked up to preseason rust.

More important, Bonds would have gotten points from the public simply for showing up. It's amazing how wearing "USA" across the chest can improve an athlete's public perception. That's at least part of the reason why Kobe Bryant, another player with image problems, jumped at the recent invitation from USA basketball to play in the 2008 Olympics. A late-inning homer against, say, the Dominican Republic in the WBC finals would have done more for Bonds' popularity than 100 negative steroid tests.

By pulling out, Bonds only draws more attention to that steroid cloud hovering over him. There has already been speculation about whether the random, Olympic-style testing that he would have been subject to had anything to do with his decision. Could Bonds have been juicing during the offseason? Did he want to avoid being tested for tournament play? That seems unlikely, given that he's already been subjected to testing ever since Major League Baseball adopted its new policy, but Bonds only fueled the suspicion by first agreeing to play and then backing out.

It's only natural to wonder whether he thought he could beat the drug police. It's not that everyone who considers Bonds a villain would have suddenly considered him a national hero if he had played in the tournament, but he could only have improved his standing in the public's eyes.

The memory of Bonds, perhaps draped in the flag after helping the U.S. to victory, might have turned at least a few boos to cheers this summer as he chases Hank Aaron's home run record. Making even a token appearance in the tournament would have made Bonds a little easier to like, but being liked has never been high on Barry's list of priorities. There are some games that Barry Bonds will never play, and we're not talking about baseball.