- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
They have learned they are beyond normal citizenship. Why else would 40,000 people in Candlestick Park clamor to get close to them, to touch them? Why would the shoe givers grovel to have them wear their brands? Why would writers wait six days to be granted interviews?
In a corner of the clubhouse, Willie Mays, so far beyond citizenship as to be baseball royalty, practices golf swings with an invisible jumbo-headed driver while schmoozing with some shoe givers. Mays, the greatest Giant there ever was, is a special assistant to the club's president and general manager and is an all-purpose reminder of its past glory. Sometimes he's also a reminder of the Giants' past churlishness. Just this morning, in the San Francisco Chronicle, columnist Glenn Dickey compared Mays with Bonds—both great players, of course, but both mercurial characters. "Both men," Dickey wrote, "can be a royal pain in the rear."
"Glenn Dickey," says Mays, lifting a magnificent drive onto the fairway, "is an ——." Mays is especially upset about a passage in the column in which he reportedly said to another player, "——the fans."
"I never said that," Mays is saying to the shoe givers. "And anyway, that was 40 years ago." The shoe givers agree that even if he had said that, it was probably with reason.
Suddenly Mays seems determined to obliterate that column with a single public-relations act. "You still waiting to see Barry?" he asks the writer, whom Mays himself had blown off just live minutes earlier ("Gotta work, gotta work, gotta work," he'd said). Bonds is his godson. Mays played with Bobby Bonds, who had a record five seasons with at least 30 homers and 30 stolen bases and is Barry's father, but Mays's ties to Barry go beyond that. "Knew the boy's mother," he says. Now Mays seems friendly, as if to say, "Is this a royal pain in the rear? I don't think so." He volunteers to retrieve Bonds and set things straight. "I'll go get him," he says. "He's not as bad as you think."
Mays walks off to the trainer's room to get this job done. After a minute he returns, hacking at his hamstring. He is pantomiming treatment. "Ice," he whispers. "He's getting ice." And no more is said about Bonds, who snoozes undisturbed in the trainer's room. Mays and the shoe givers go back to their golf swings.
Once this spring, or so the story goes, Bonds hit an impressive home run, then turned in the batting cage to face his teammates and said, "Am I not a special —— person, or what?" Bonds claims it wasn't that way at all. He says he made a boastful comment, but that it was meant to be playful and not to be mistaken for arrogance. When Bonds is arrogant, there is no mistaking it. Yet the incident articulates two important facts: Bonds is quite special, and he knows it. You cannot deny his performance. Why should he?
In the last three seasons, during which he won two MVP awards and narrowly missed a third, he averaged 111 RBIs, more than 30 home runs and nearly 45 stolen bases a season, and he won three Gold Gloves in leftfield. And he's only 28. He began this season, his eighth in the big leagues and first with the Giants after seven years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, as if he were just hitting his stride. In April he batted .431 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs and won the National League Player of the Month award. And his torrid pace continued right into this month; at the end of last week Bonds was hitting .419 and ranked either first, second or third in seven offensive categories. After he hit two home runs (one of them one-armed) in a game against the New York Mets, Jeff Torborg, the Mets' manager, said, "Bonds belongs in a higher league."
He is so complete a player that it's almost infuriating. "Let's think of the things he can't do," said Ted Simmons, the Pirates' general manager. He is joking; there's nothing Bonds can't do. The day before Simmons said this, Bonds had climbed the leftfield wall to rob a Pirate of a homer.
Giant shortstop Royce Clayton is just as admiring. "I've never seen anyone like him," he says of Bonds. "Barry is like Magic Johnson—he makes everyone around him better."