This Week’s Best from Posnanski’s Top 100: No. 3, Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds could be an asshole, yes. But, like all of us, he is not monochromatic. He is complicated. When discussing Bonds’ reputation for being a jerk in the locker room, Posnanski writes the following:
*This personal thing must be said here: Barry Bonds was always nice to me. There was no apparent reason for it. He didn’t know me. He hadn’t read me. I feel sure he couldn’t have come up with my name if he was spotted all the letters except the “J.” But every time I needed to talk to him, probably a half-dozen times before 1998, a few times after, he was always accommodating, thoughtful — and could this be? — friendly. It was the strangest thing. It was like I reminded him of a childhood friend or something.
When I told other writers and people around baseball about this, they shook their heads and promptly told me their own Bonds horror stories. I kept waiting for mine. It hasn’t come yet. Maybe it will. But it would not be right or fair for me to discuss Bonds’ well-known media hatred without saying that he could be, when he wanted, an engaging, insightful and pleasant interview. He has a lot of charm. He dispenses it sparingly.
There are certainly times that all of us acted in a way we wouldn’t want written about; there are times we’ve been rude or mean or lashed out because we were hurt, and it doesn’t get played on loop, or written about 25 years later in an article discussing what a jerk you were when you were barely an adult. But from everything I’ve read about Bonds, he was not only a jerk. He was not a movie villain, hell-bent on ruining the day of everyone around him, every single day. As Posnanski says, he in fact could be polite and charming. That doesn’t excuse the times he was rude, or a jerk, or an asshole – but it must be said.
I think what makes me sad about Barry Bonds is that the people who do not like him dismiss that he seems to clearly suffer from deep insecurities stemming from a childhood and a life spent chasing the affection of a father who would not show it. As Posnanski puts it, Bonds wanted to be the greatest baseball player who ever lived. What Posnanski leaves unsaid is that Bonds felt that becoming the greatest baseball player who ever lived was the way to receive the love and admiration of his father, and of everyone else. And he never got it. He was deeply sensitive as a result. As his college coach put it:
“He wanted to be liked, tried so damn hard to have people like him,” Brock told Sports Illustrated. “Tried too hard. But then he’d say things he didn’t mean, wild statements. I tried to tell him that these guys, 20 years from now, would be electricians and plumbers, but he’d be making millions. … Still he’d be hurt. People don’t realize that he can be hurt — and is, fairly often.”
The tragedy of Bonds is that he was an incredible baseball player before steroids, and for some his numbers after 1998 are tainted. For some, his numbers before 1998 are tainted, because the steroids taint his integrity. I think that’s deeply unfair. It’s been written before, but Posnanski puts Bonds’ steroid use into the proper context of the time:
Then came 1998. Barry Bonds had an incredible year in 1998. I mean, no, it wasn’t incredible for him, but it was still so remarkable. He hit .303/.438/.609 with 44 doubles, seven triples, 37 homers, 120 runs scored and 122 RBIs. He won his eighth Gold Glove. He led the league in WAR for the seventh time. It was his seventh straight season with a 1.000 OPS.
And that year, he became the first player in baseball history to hit 400 home runs and steal 400 bases in a career. He was the player of his generation.
It should have been the year of Barry, one celebrated by all. It was, to say the least, not the year of Barry. No, 1998 was the year that people marveled at how far Mark McGwire could hit a baseball. No, 1998 was the year that people pounded their chests along with Sammy Sosa as he rounded the bases an astounding 66 times. No, 1998 was the year that Ken Griffey Jr. — so much more lovable — cracked 56 home runs and drove in 146 and won a Gold Glove (in center field!) and stretched the imagination.
And Bonds? Who? He was just this problematic outfielder who played for an also-ran Giants team and couldn’t hit in the playoffs. Yes, all his career, Bonds told people again and again that he didn’t care, he didn’t care, he didn’t care.
But 1998 was the year Barry Bonds discovered he did care very much.
Barry Bonds broke the game. That’s how good he was after 1998. The theory goes that Bonds saw how people celebrated McGwire and Sosa and others, and he knew they were using steroids, and he decided that it was time to go all in.
You can imagine Jack Nicholson’s line from “Batman” playing in his head: “Wait ‘til they get a load of me.”
There was no testing in baseball then. There was no outcry in baseball then. It was quite the opposite: The game was thriving! The home run was king! Nike reminded everybody that chicks dig the long ball! MLB even put out a comic book of baseball players with enormous muscles. Muscles were in!
So Barry Bonds got muscles. And he tilted baseball.
Remember: we knew. We all knew! In August 1998, a writer saw a bottle of androstenedione (which was banned in the NFL and the Olympics at the time, but not baseball) in McGwire’s locker and wrote about it. McGwire and Sosa looked like bodybuilders. No one cared. MORE DINGERS! MORE DINGERS!
I don’t understand what an athlete in Bonds’ situation was realistically supposed to do. So many players were using steroids; certainly, not all of them. But so many. It was not being tested for; it was not against the rules. Most importantly, the players using steroids were being celebrated. What kind of message did that send to Barry, and the rest of baseball? Barry Bonds wanted nothing more than to be loved, and his incredible season was ignored because McGwire and Sosa and others were juiced and bashing baseballs out of the stadium at rates never before seen. He was supposed to just shrug his shoulders? That is deeply unfair.
I don’t understand the people who dislike him because he “broke the game.” Posanski touches on this, but it needs to be said: Bonds did not ruin baseball. He was not the first to take steroids. He was not the last. But even if he was, steroids didn’t ruin baseball. In fact, McGwire and Sosa’s 1998 season helped rescue baseball from the post-1994 strike doldrums. So many people made money because players used steroids. The game is more popular than ever, with attendance well above what it was before the 1990s. What gets lost is that baseball is entertainment. There’s no “sanctity of the game.” Bonds was entertaining, both before and after 1998. That’s what we pay money to see. If steroids helped him entertain more and entertain longer, so what?
But the thing I do not understand the most about Bonds, are the Bonds haters who take delight in his pain:
The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly caught up with Barry Bonds. He found a sad and haunted man. “I feel like a ghost,” Bonds said. “A ghost in a big empty house, just rattling around.”
How you feel about that quote probably says everything about how you feel about him. Are you thrilled that he’s getting what he had coming? Do you feel sad that Bonds, who did so many incredible things, cannot find peace?
Or do you feel a little of both?
From his earliest memories, all Barry Bonds ever wanted was to become the greatest baseball player who ever lived. He paid every price. He ignored every doubt. He raged over every hurdle. He cut every corner. He shut himself off from everything else. He brushed aside every other concern. He made more enemies than friends.
And he became the greatest baseball player who ever lived.
And what was waiting for him at the end? Remember what he said way back at the start of his career: “If I’m supposed to wait for you guys to applaud me, I could be waiting a lifetime.”
Here’s what waited for him at the end: Silence.
He’s not a cartoon character. He’s a human being. Yes, Bonds made lots of money (career earnings: $188,245,322). But money isn’t everything. And what else does he have? He doesn’t even have adulation. He’s cheered in San Francisco, but that’s about it. How can someone read the stories about his father, not connect the dots to the person he was as a young man, and then think, “I don’t care, fuck that asshole.” I’m not saying he should be completely absolved of his sins. But if you can’t find it in your heart to feel for someone who was so obviously hurting, I don’t understand you. If you can’t find it in your heart to forgive someone for mistakes made 20 or 30 years ago, I don’t understand you.
Bonds does not deserve your love, but he does deserve your understanding. -TOB
Source: “The Baseball 100: No. 3, Barry Bonds,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/08/2020)
PAL: As if we needed another reminder to be a good parent, eh? Bobby Bonds sounds like a real piece of work.
Posnanski’s approach (two essays – one for Bonds fans and one for Bonds critics) was a cool tweak in this series. A lot in here, so I think I’ll just add my two cents to points TOB brings up.
His greatness, especially at the plate, was something to see. And whether or not he has a bust in the Hall of Fame, I will tell my kids that I saw Barry Bonds play. It’s hard to even imagine someone being better than Bonds at his peak. It would have to be something entirely different, like Ohtani being a dominant starting pitcher for 5 years and putting up monster offensive numbers.
I will measure the best players from future generations against Bonds. What higher compliment could there be?
I sat behind home plate, in line with the right field foul line, and saw him send a pitch into McCovey Cove. And whether or not you rooted for him, everyone was in awe. A home run every 6 at bats. I mean, what the hell? Posnanksi said it – Bonds broke the game.
History will be very kind to Bonds. Whether or not he is elected into the Hall of Fame, his statistics will outlive the circumstances under which they came. The stats are too absurd. The highlights will live on. In twenty years, generations of fans will neither know nor care that Bonds was an asshole, just like we don’t care that Ty Cobb was an asshole.
My biggest takeaway from this story is actually a reminder of a lesson I had to learn from Kirby Puckett, my boyhood hero. We don’t know these guys. We love one small, insignificant part of them. We choose when we care. Kirby Puckett was the short, keg of ballplayer that brought two titles to Minnesota. He did it all with a giggle and smile. Everyone’s hero. Turns out he was far from a hero when not in the public eye. By several accounts, he could be pretty gross and mean in ways that are far more important than being rude to a reporter.
And yet, history has already been kind to Puckett, and he wasn’t half the player Bonds was. It might take a little longer, but the same is coming for Bonds. So Bonds was a selfish prick. Do you care what kind of friend Picasso was? Do you not appreciate For Whom The Bell Tolls because Hemingway was jerk drunk? There are pricks at every office, and some of them are very good at their jobs. Bonds’ personality had zero impact on my enjoyment when I watched him hit. Sure, he was annoying, and I think he always wanted it both ways (leave me alone, but appreciate how great I am), but if you think any of that came into play for anyone in a San Francisco bar during a real Bonds at-bat (not an intentional walk), you’re crazy. We were amazed, all of us.
Sports Need to Stay Shut Down
The sports world quickly shut down last month, after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 just before the start of a game in Oklahoma City. Everyone applauded how quickly they put their health of the players, employees, and fans. Hurrah, the billionaires did the right thing!
Yeah, that lasted all of, oh, three weeks. What began as low rumbles almost immediately started gaining steam last week: leagues are exploring ways to finish or hold their season. Over last weekend, the reports about MLB, in particular, seemed to be gaining enough steam with reporters who are typically in-the-know that it seemed inevitable: MLB wants to host their season with all teams being housed in Arizona, playing games in empty stadiums, with players sitting spaced out in the bleachers instead of in the dugout.
This is so incredibly stupid.
It’s stupid logistically. What about the staff? How do you keep players from infecting themselves on the field? A player could easily infect another player on a slide into second, or even touching a baseball touched by an infected player. Even if you put all players in hotels, how do you ensure they stay locked down? How do the players feel being away from their families that long? Same with the staff, including medical staff and other employees that make game days happen? I could go on and on.
It’s stupid on a moral level. This would require THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of tests – there are approximately 800 players on major league rosters every season. Add to that coaches and staff and we’re talking at least 1,200 people who would require regularly testing to ensure they are healthy and able to play. Even if you only tested them once a week, that’s approximately 30,000 tests in a 6-month season, at a time when testing is still scarce, and resources for processing tests are stretched thin with major back logs. How can they justify those testing resources going to baseball?
It’s stupid on an entertainment level. Make no mistake: they do not want to do this to lift the nation’s collective spirit. This is about money, pure and simple. I love baseball, and if you read this blog you probably know I miss it dearly. But I have serious doubts that I’d be tuning in to watch this. Baseball with no crowd? Buddy, that is batting practice. Are people really going to care? And if not, why are we risking people’s health and utilizing precious resources and subjecting players and staff to this insane plan?
This plan is absolutely madness. And it has to stop. -TOB
Mike Gundy, a Complete Moron, Gets Torn to Shreds
You may remember Mike Gundy, the longtime football coach at Oklahoma State. He went viral in the 2000s for his, “I’m a man! I’m 40!” speech. His teams have been middling, and so he’s made a name for himself again by sporting a ridiculous mullet.
But this week, perhaps taking a cue from our Commander-in-Chief, Gundy offered some insanely idiotic, dangerous, self-important arguments about how Oklahoma State Football should not be shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Longtime college football writer Pat Forde was not having it. Here’s the lede:
I would like stock tips from Noted Expert Mike Gundy. Also, some cooking recipes. Could he offer best practices to our educators? How about weighing in on the Middle East?
I’m dying to be enlightened. Really.
Clearly, Noted Expert Mike Gundy knows far more than just football. Not that he’s been great in that regard lately—his Oklahoma State teams were 15–11 the past two seasons, 8–10 in the Big 12—especially given his $5 million a year salary. But it is now abundantly obvious that labeling him a mere football coach is too limiting. He is a Renaissance man, a visionary capable of seeing solutions where others see problems, a savant so cleverly disguised as a mullet-haired meathead.
Take, for example, the wisdom Noted Expert Mike Gundy dispensed upon the masses Tuesday in a media teleconference. When the only topic that matters in today’s world came up—the global COVID-19 pandemic—he flexed his intellectual prowess. He showcased his grasp of public health, economics, the workings of higher education, college athletics in general and other topics.
“The NCAA, the presidents of the universities, the Power 5 conference commissioners, the athletic directors need to be meeting right now and we need to start coming up with answers,” Noted Expert Mike Gundy said. “In my opinion, if we have to bring our players back, test them. They’re all in good shape. They’re all 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22-year-olds. They’re healthy. A lot of them can fight it off with their natural body, the antibodies and the build that they have. There’s some people that are asymptomatic. If that’s true, then we sequester them. And people say that’s crazy. No, it’s not crazy because we need to continue and budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”
Noted Expert Mike Gundy isn’t just talking the talk here. He is an omniscient observer with a plan. He wants to have his staff and support personnel, roughly 100 people, back to work in the Oklahoma State football facility May 1. Then the players after that.
Ooooh, fire. Forde was just getting started, though, and I highly recommend you read it. -TOB
Source: “Mike Gundy’s Pandemic Plan Is Ridiculous,” Pat Forde, Sports Illustrated (04/07/2020)
PAL: Dan Patrick also lit into Gundy on this during his radio show. My favorite point: pro athletes, those who get paid to play, aren’t coming back, but let’s talk about bringing the student-athletes back. There are few things higher on the unintentional comedy scale than self-important college football coaches.
This morning, The Athletic posted a complete breakdown of the night when the Utah Jazz – Oklahoma City Thunder game was cancelled just minutes before tip-off when it was realized Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19 the night of Wednesday, March 11. That positive test led to the suspension of the NBA season. NCAA, MLB, NHL were all to follow within 48-hours. Travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines were put in place for folks coming back from anywhere in the E.U., amongst other parts of the world. Shelter in place was issued for 6 Bay Area counties beginning the following Monday. In my mind, that positive test for Gobert was the spark that lit the fuse (even when there were some very alarming details coming out of the Seattle area before March 11.
A lot of us have felt the absence of sports over the past four weeks. Of course, it’s not that important, but I realized how many moments of my daily routine intersects with sports. Coffee, breakfast, check the scores. Lunch was a time scanning a handful of sports sites for interesting stories to write about for Fridays. Having the Twins game streaming audio while I go for a run. Having the Giants game on in the background while making dinner. Again, not that sports is anywhere close to a top priority, but the absence can’t be ignored. And that’s what happened on a very large scale when this Jazz-Thunder game was cancelled just minutes before tip: as a country, we couldn’t ignore the pandemic. I don’t think many of us could wrap our heads around how scary it was going to get over the next month, but we couldn’t ignore it because it came with the absence of sports, pretty much overnight.
This story tracks the Jazz in the days and weeks leading up to the positive test. It’s an interesting look at how an organization handles crisis management. This story makes it seem like the team was actually a bit ahead of the curve in terms of educating employees and players about COVID-19. Some of that had to do with coach Quin Synder growing up 12 miles from the nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where the first epicenter of the U.S. outbreak took place, and his brother running a market in Pike’s Place. Snyder’s brother, Matt, is also friends with the Seattle-based band, Pearl Jam, which cancelled its world tour two days before the Jazz-Thunder game. So Snyder was following the story extremely closely and asking all sorts of questions early on.
Another nugget from this story: Thunder’s Chris Paul being a good guy. Never liked Paul, but this was a nice gesture for the Jazz as they waited for next steps after the game in OKC was cancelled:
Thanks to a generous and well-timed assist from Chris Paul, their moods were lifted approximately an hour after the game had been called when sources say a delivery of beer and wine arrived. Paul, the Thunder point guard who also serves as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, arranged for his longtime security guard Gene Escamilla to deliver the drinks as a way of helping them all pass the anxiety-ridden time.
Other crazy details from the story:
- The Jazz had a difficult time finding a hotel in OKC that would take the team after the positive test.
- Regardless of how wealthy one might be, it’s not easy to find a flight for someone who has COVID-19 – Charter flights aren’t safe. It had to be private, with additional precautions.
- It sounds like this ordeal has driven a wedge between Utah’s two best players (Mitchell and Gobert) – Mitchell is still upset about this, even though he’s been told that no one knows whether he gave it to Gobert or Gobert gave it to him.
A worthwhile read, but I get it if you need a break from pandemic news. – PAL
Source: “Behind the scenes with the Utah Jazz during the days that changed everything”, Shams Charania, Sam Amick and Tony Jones, The Athletic (4/10/20)
Video(s) of the Week
-These always crack me up.
Behind the scenes footage of Miller’s call as Ishikawa wins the 2014 NL pennant.
Bill Murray perfectly capturing the power of John Prine.
Tweet of the Week
Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘Jesus, The Missing Years’
R.I.P., John Prine. While Dylan spoke loudest to me in my teens and twenties, Prine’s music resonates in me now more than ever. Every day, his stories get funnier, sadder, more caring, and more true.
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