Another reason Bonds seemed to fall off the radar was his surly personality around the ballpark. For 13-plus years Bonds had an unmatched record of standing up reporters, of blowing off autograph seekers, of dogging teammates, of taking every opportunity to remind everyone that there is only one Barry Bonds—and you're not him. Over the past year or so, however, Bonds has become a kinder, gentler superstar, one who laughs and smiles and—gasp!—occasionally opens up to a reporter, rambling on about his paper route when he was a teen; his three-story, 12,500-square-foot house; his appearances on Beverly Hills 90210 and Arli$$. ("I am," he says, "a terrible, terrible actor.")
"When Barry lets his guard down," says Rockies catcher Brett Mayne, a former teammate, "he's a charming guy." On Opening Day at Pac Bell, Bonds spent nearly 40 minutes before the game signing autographs. A man who generally shunned endorsements—when Madison Avenue wasn't shunning him—Bonds has recently become a pitchman for the 2000 Census, Armour Hot Dogs and a Sega Dreamcast baseball game. Most shocking to those who know Bonds, San Francisco's KNBR radio is broadcasting weekly The Barry Bonds Show, during which listeners can call in and speak to Bonds. "Sometimes you have an awakening in your life," says Baker. "Barry seems to be more cognizant of the people around him. I really think he enjoys having people like him."
Oh, there will be skeptics. There should be. "I think Barry's making more of an effort to be liked, I really do," says Estes. "But if it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, it's probably a rat. At thirtysomething years old, you're never going to change who you are, deep down. Your true colors are always going to shine through."
But what if Bonds's true colors have never been revealed? What if it's taken the gradual winding down of a career, the 6-4-3 double play of time, to persuade him to drop the armor? "I'm just making myself a little bit more accessible to the public, as well as the media," says Bonds, who, angry over a 1993 cover story, refused to speak to SI for seven years. "I haven't in the past, and it has affected me," a reference to the paucity of endorsement deals. "Am I a nicer person? I think that's the wrong statement. I'm not mean to anybody. I have my moments when I want to do something and moments I don't want to do something. But that doesn't make me a bad person."
Maybe so. But as Bonds sells hot dogs and works on his gladtameetcha smile and recounts his 90210 experience for the 97th time, there is one layer of permafrost—one tiny bit of aloofness—that he will not alter. As far back as his days with the Pirates, teammates and coaches have routinely been enraged by his refusal to offer tips and guidance. Bonds may be one of the game's keenest observers, but he keeps most of those observations to himself. "Barry has a great wealth of knowledge," says Dunston. "He picks up little things a pitcher's doing, a hitter's doing. But he doesn't feel the need to share it."
Bonds, still reclining in his chair, ice pack still on his neck, is asked about this. He adjusts the pack, shifts into a more comfortable position and thinks for a minute. "If you're the star, you're supposed to go out of your way for everybody else," he says. "But I could tell a guy things that I know, and the following year he might be on a team I was talking about, and now he's telling his guys what my tendencies are or what I might do. How smart would that be?" He grins. "Hey man, I've gotta keep my edge."
Were it up to Bonds, he would spend all his nonbaseball time at home in Los Altos Hills, Calif., roaming through his three-story house, goofing around with his wife, Liz, and his three kids, Nikolai, 10, Shikari, 9, and Aisha Lynn, 16 months. The cofounder of Digital Interiors, a San Jose-based company that installs state-of-the-art technology in homes, Bonds is something of a techno-geek. He loves fidgeting with the latest gadgets and doodads, and his house is wired with eight computers and 19 televisions. With the touch of a cellular phone, he can do everything from adjusting the temperature to closing the garage to firing up the Jacuzzi. "Really, I'm not that much of a geek," he says. "I'm a people person, believe it or not. I'll talk to anyone."
"Really, anyone. I mean it."
So what if, on The Barry Bonds Show, a listener calls up and, as sports talk fans are wont to do, shreds Barry Bonds as the biggest jerk since Steve Martin?