- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Van Slyke, for one, has often wondered why Bonds didn't own Pittsburgh. All he had to do was perform with the professionalism of a Mario Lemieux or a Willie Stargell. Just keep your foot out of your mouth. "If Barry is guilty of anything," says Van Slyke, "it's of not attaching meaning to his words."
The press certainly did not help Bonds in his relationship with the city. Most of the local writers, who had often been rebuffed by Bonds, disliked him by the time he left. Although Bonds was often a hot quote, he was also combative and moody. Or unavailable. Or just rude. Several times he explained his relationship with the media this way: "I thrive off you guys because I love to make you come back to my locker begging."
Such arrogance can be tough to swallow, especially when it seems calculated. The Pittsburgh writers still tell the story of one of their brethren who penetrated Bonds's inner circle just long enough to be invited for a round of golf. The next day Bonds passed the writer without speaking. The writer insisted it was nothing personal—"That's just Barry," he said, invoking the all-purpose explanation of Bonds's behavior. But to judge by the vitriol that greeted Bonds's return to Pittsburgh this spring, plenty of writers took his behavior personally.
It's likely none of this mattered to Bonds. He professes to be thick-skinned. "None of you know me, anyway," he likes to say, brushing aside his bad press; anything written, he insists, is irrelevant. He told one player last year that Bonilla made a big mistake in going to New York. "I can handle New York because I don't get my feelings hurt the way Bobby does," Bonds said.
At least on the subject of Bonds, Bonilla agrees: "He doesn't care what people say. Barry hears it, but he pays it no mind."
Says Van Slyke: "I know Barry doesn't care what people think. It can't matter to him whether he's beloved here or not. It just can't, not the way he has behaved. All he's ever wanted—it's like his religion—is to be judged by what he's done on the field."
Van Slyke holds no grudge. After all, look what Bonds did on the field for the Pirates. After the final game last year, when it was obvious that Bonds would no longer play for Pittsburgh, Van Slyke told Bonds that he wished Bonds could stay for five more years. "He is," Van Slyke says, "the greatest player I ever played with, or will ever play with." Still, the day Bonds returned to the Pirate clubhouse, Van Slyke didn't budge from his card game.
Bonds has always been insulated from his peers. He grew up in a privileged neighborhood in San Carlos, Calif., the son of a famous Bay Area athlete. He had friends; to this day, one of his best friends is Bob McKercher, who works for a recycling company in San Francisco. McKercher has known Bonds since they were both six-year-olds. By his account Bonds was, and remains, a fun guy. He remembers Barry making fun of his dancing ability and then setting about with Barry's mother, Pat, to give this "Italian-Irish kid some soul." He remembers sleepovers with Barry that degenerated into all-night gigglefests. "And we'd go to each other's Thanksgiving dinners, like a revolving door, back and forth, and tape them on a video recorder," says McKercher. "I think people would pay to see Barry in his Afro."
But Barry could be aloof. The athletic director at Serra High, an all-boys Catholic school of 700 that Barry attended, remembers that other students tended to see Barry as "moody—basically keeping to himself." Kevin Donahue, who coached Barry in basketball at Serra ("He loved the limelight, loved to take over the game with two minutes to go"), says, "He was not cold, but if you weren't in his inner group, it might seem he was just keeping to himself. He might not say hi to everybody."
But in a pattern of behavior that continues to this day, Barry won attention from his elders. Donahue, who admits to having had minibattles with Barry (a pattern of behavior that also continues to this day), says that Barry demanded a lot of time and that Donahue was glad to give it. "You had to take time to get to know him, and I did that," Donahue says. "We'd talk often, about the jealousy in high school and how to handle it. It hurt him; we'd talk about it a lot."