What if Barry Bonds were a nice guy? What if he signed autographs, kissed babies and made nice with the media?
Would you keep the plastic syringes at home? Would you tear up the homemade signs? Would you cheer him on as he chased Hank Aaron’s home run record?
Here’s another way to put it: Do you boo Bonds because you think he used steroids, or because you think he’s a jerk?
“I think it’s a combination of both,” said Joe Garagiola Sr.
There’s no doubt that baseball fans’ animosity toward Bonds is due in part to the belief that he wouldn’t be closing in on Aaron’s record — Bonds needs 10 homers to pass Aaron — if he hadn’t used performance-enhancing drugs.
Aaron is a hallowed figure. His 755 homers is baseball’s most cherished record, if not all of sports. That he’s about to be passed by a pharmaceutical lab seems treasonous.
“You can’t find anyone who has a bad word to say about Aaron,” said Jeff Pearlman, author of the book, “Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds And The Making Of An Antihero.” “People have a lot of respect for that guy. They have no respect for Bonds.”
So, is it Bonds’ demeanor that drives the hatred? Or the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs?
Fans are quick to forgive their heroes. New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi has apologized for using, in his words, “that stuff,” and he’s no longer a pariah.
Sammy Sosa is chasing 600 homers and hearing nothing but cheers. Mark McGwire could come out of retirement today and he’d be spared the vitriol directed at Bonds.
They’re perceived to be nice guys.
Bonds, on the other hand, hasn’t earned that get-out-of-jail-free card.
Some have suggested that Bonds is a victim of racism. A recent ESPN/ABC News poll seemed to support that theory. Seventy-four percent of black fans wanted Bonds to break Aaron’s record compared to 28 percent of white fans.
“There’s been a lot of talk that if he was white, he wouldn’t be getting this kind of treatment,” Pearlman said. “But he’s been so bad to so many people for so long it’s hard to determine where the line is, where him being a jerk stops and racism and people angry about performance enhancers begins.”
There’s no way to know for sure whether racism is a part of the Bonds’ fabric. But it’s instructive that blacks were also much more inclined to believe O.J. Simpson was innocent. With that in mind, it may not be the racism of whites that drives poll results but the loyalty of blacks.
Which leads us back to the original question: Why do fans vilify Bonds?
And would they be more forgiving if he had the personality of, say, Luis Gonzalez?
“If he had the personality of Gonzalez? I think so,” Garagiola said. “I think they read where he’s a bad guy, they’ve heard he’s a bad guy, and they believe that. He’s not Mr. Congeniality. He’s not going to win that contest. That works against him.”
Arizona State baseball coach Pat Murphy considers Bonds a friend. He regrets that the public doesn’t see the Bonds he encounters in private.
“I’ve seen a side of him that would shock everybody,” Murphy said.
Murphy recounted a story in which he and another player were in Bonds’ house, and when the player told Bonds he was going to blow off the media so he could stick to his routine, Bonds said, “Don’t do it. Don’t make the same mistakes I made. You’ve got to give them access.”
Doctor, heal thyself. Bonds skipped his scheduled press conference in New York last week.
“He doesn’t make it easy on himself,” Garagiola said.
In his book, Pearlman vividly recalls Bonds’ three seasons at ASU.
On the first day of practice, Bonds parked his Trans-Am in the space reserved for coach Jim Brock.
The following season, Bonds and three other players missed a curfew while the team was in Honolulu for a four-game series against Hawaii.
Outfielder and team leader Oddibe McDowell told the players, “We’re trying to win a national championship and you guys are just killing us. So when we get back to Tempe, y’all are gonna have some serious punishment running to do.”
Three of the four players nodded. Bonds said, “Who do you think you are? You’re not the coach here. Jim Brock is. You can’t make me (expletive-deleted) run.”
Brock suspended Bonds and told the team it could vote on whether it wanted Bonds back.
Now, remember: The Sun Devils were eyeing a national championship. Bonds was their most gifted player.
Yet, only two players voted to keep Bonds on the team.
(Brock overruled the players and reinstated Bonds).
The moral of the story:
Act like a jerk, and no one will forgive your trespasses.
Twenty-three years later, nothing has changed.
Listen to Scott Bordow every Monday at 1:05 p.m. on The Fan (1060 AM) with Bob Kemp.