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Archive for Saturday, April 7, 2007

Bonds’ critics claim plenty of ammunition

Giants slugger has offended many - from fans to teammates to media

April 7, 2007

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— Who knows which fan will catch the historic blast that crowns Barry Bonds as baseball's all-time home-run king.

But the teenager who caught the one tying Babe Ruth's 714 had this to say: He hates Bonds.

Just 21 swats shy of besting the record 755 home runs set by Hank Aaron a generation ago going into Friday night's game against the Dodgers, the Giants slugger has emerged not as a role model but as the most divisive figure in all of professional sports.

Bonds - and many of his fans here - couldn't care less.

Even as his surly behavior and suspicions of illegal steroid use overshadow his achievements, he maintains his petulant swagger on and off the field - grandstanding home runs, barking at reporters and snarling at requests for his autograph.

Many baseball fans have responded with the raspberry. On the road, Bonds is booed lustily by crowds who hurl insults. "Steroids!" they chant. "Cheater!"

In Giants-loathing cities like Los Angeles, he's often jeered not just each time he takes the plate but long before - through pregame practice throws, team introductions and on-deck warmups.

In San Francisco, the son of longtime favorite Bobby Bonds and the godson of Willie Mays has remained baseball royalty.

Loyalists handle the moody slugger with kid gloves, choosing to ignore his character flaws as long as he sends baseballs splashing into McCovey Cove.

"I'm here to watch Barry play ball," said Tony Chaney, 27, who attended Giants opening day this week in a team jersey bearing Bonds' name and No. 25. "I go see Tom Cruise movies, too, and that guy's the original prima donna. I couldn't care less."

But the adulation is waning. When Bonds was announced Tuesday, heckling could plainly be heard. During a preseason game last week, Giants fan Javier Meneses yelled "Where's the juice?" using a slang word for steroids.

Meneses was against the team's decision this spring to give the 42-year-old Bonds a one-year, $15.8-million contract so he could break Aaron's record as a Giant. He said he has grown tired of the selfish antics of a player who openly berates teammates and scorns team photos and fan appreciation gatherings.

Bonds' sour attitude, he says, has taken the joy out of the home-run race. "It's not just the drugs," he said. "It's about being a jerk."

"The guy's a complete idiot," said Giants fan John Merizom. "But I'm not here to judge his morality or personality. I pay my money to see Bonds perform between the lines."

Bonds saves his worst contempt for the media. Attempts to interview him for this story were unsuccessful. In 2001, when a reporter asked about his home run total after he declared the matter closed, Bonds snapped: "Did you go to deaf school?"

Ardent fans don't fare much better. At Giants spring training in Arizona last month, Ed Aceves pleaded with Bonds for an autograph for his children, explaining that he had failed to score the keepsake in four years of trying.

Barry Bonds acknowledges the crowd after hitting his 735th career home run Wednesday night in San Francisco.

Barry Bonds acknowledges the crowd after hitting his 735th career home run Wednesday night in San Francisco.

"If you're going to scream at me," Bonds smirked, "I want you to keep your streak active."

"I wasn't screaming," Aceves, 35, a Phoenix telemarketer, said later. "I was just asking. I love the guy's talent, I just hate the whole ego thing."

In a 1993 interview with Sports Illustrated, Bonds said he was mystified by fan demands. "Why can't people just enjoy the show?" he asked. "But in baseball, you get to see us, touch us, trade our cards, buy and sell jerseys. To me, that dilutes the excitement."

He blasted autograph seekers: "When I go to a movie, after the final credits roll, I get up and leave. It's the end! But I'm supposed to stand out there for three hours and then sign autographs? If fans pay $10 to see Batman, they don't expect to get Jack Nicholson's autograph."

Some baseball insiders get similar abuse. Pete Diana, a former Pittsburgh Pirates team photographer, still reels from a major-league Bonds snub.

In 2002, two Pirates groundskeepers died in a car crash on opening day. Both left their children without health insurance, Diana says.

All season, he asked visiting all-stars such as Sammy Sosa and Randy Johnson to sign mementos for auction to help the families. Everyone agreed - except Bonds, a former Pirate.

Players warned Diana not to approach the peevish Bonds. "But I figured he knew both men when he played here," he said. "But when I asked for his help, he cursed at me. I tell you, that guy's going straight to hell."

In his biography "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero," author Jeff Pearlman describes how the 12-year-old nephew of Pirates pitcher Danny Darwin once handed Bonds a baseball card to sign. Bonds ripped it in half.

"In the most basic sense, he's not a nice person," Pearlman said of Bonds, who refused to be interviewed for the book. "He can be charming, but it doesn't happen often. He's the most despised athlete in America. In his defense, he's almost socially retarded. He doesn't know how to deal with people on a human level. It's the way he was raised."

Even as a kid growing up in the Bay Area, Bonds was aloof.

"There was always a sense of entitlement with Barry," said Neil Hayes, whose 2006 Chicago Sun-Times column describing his time covering Bonds for a Bay Area paper was headlined: "What's he like? You don't want to know." "Nothing better describes him than the magazine headline 'I'm Barry Bonds and You're Not.' He can treat you like dirt but, boy, you still better bow to him."

At Arizona State, Bonds was so disliked that coach Jim Brock let players vote on whether to kick his star athlete off the team. "The verdict was 22 to 2 - only two guys voted to keep him," Pearlman said. For obvious reasons, Bonds stayed on the team.

Bonds' arrival in San Francisco in 1993 sparked a team resurgence after years of failure. Owners later built a new ballpark to capitalize on their superstar. Many locals refer to it as the stadium that Barry built.

"Giants fans hated Barry in Pittsburgh," said Brian Murphy, a local radio sports talk show host. "He came here as the preening egotistical jerk he is now. But suddenly he was playing for the home team."

Bonds soon installed himself in a separate bank of lockers that came to be known as "Barry's Kingdom."

Tyler Snyder, 19, who caught Bonds' 714th homer, called him arrogant: "Nobody likes him. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon."

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