Barry and the Babe
Let's take his recent run-in during the All-Star game festivities. Everyone knows the quote about "wiping out" Babe Ruth. For those who read the news assiduously about their favorite team and player, we learned, after the hurricane of media hubris and hubbub and self-santimonious harrumphing, what the true situation was: Bonds was just joking around with the media in the room about "wiping" out Ruth and he had made this clear to the crowd of media around him. And that makes a lot of sense, again to those who care enough to read and know the context in which things are said, because Bonds knows the history of baseball, unlike most of his brethren, who probably couldn't name one player who finished their career before the mid-60's other than Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.
Let's take a look at what the media, many of whom probably were not there at the interview, did with this story. There were many columns blasting Bonds for not knowing of Babe Ruth's contributions to baseball and many just used that as a jumping off point to bring up past discretions on the part of Barry Bonds. Of course, not all of the media misconstrued what happened but there are those who ran off with it based on the sensational headline shocker that was passed around. None of them, apparently, bothered to find out the true context of what was said, I suppose, in the name of expediency and editor's strict deadline.
All We Are Saying, Is Give Context a Chance
Bonds' problems with his quote on Babe Ruth reminds me of John Lennon's comment about the Beatles and Jesus. Both men had a unique way of seeing and saying things, and if the context of what they are saying is not passed on by the reporters, then the reader will misconstrue what was said. Basically what John Lennon was trying to say was that it appeared that the Beatles were more popular with Jesus and that he thought it was wrong of their fans to do so. Some reporters, for whatever reasons, only reported the first part of the statement and the firestorm of protest ensued.
Similarly, Bonds, from the account I read in the newspaper, was trying to be funny by saying he was going to "wipe out" Babe Ruth. In fact, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, Ann Killion, reported that everyone who was in the room understood the context of what Bonds said. And, frankly, as a competitive person, this is something males have been saying to each other for centuries in friendly and not so friendly games, out of our alpha-male impulses to out-do each other, but also in the spirit of having a little fun.
I can understand the immediate reaction to the statement that the public may and would have regarding the statement. That statement by itself is shocking. But what about context? Why doesn't the press do a better job about the context?
Why, because it is easier and better to generate the controversy that seems to drive many in the media today. The same thing happened last year at the conclusion of the World Series. Bonds was with his son at his locker, waiting for the press to come in and talk with him. However, the press, being so eager to hear his every word, started pushing in and were close to stepping on his son. At that point, Bonds told everyone to back off, in order to protect his son, which, as a father, I can understand why he would do that.
But what does some of the press do there? The ones who were in back, and didn't know what the context of that statement is, go off on that statement without understanding the context of the situation. Then other reporters who were not there take the statement and runs with it based on the half-reported situation. Most probably have a poor opinion of Barry already and figures that it sounded like the truth. And from what I read, some of them were well respected veterans of sports journalism, of well-known newspapers and magazines, who I would think should know better. I haven't heard of any public apologies yet (not that I read all the other newspapers regularly but such an unprecedented action would surely rate headlines nationwide).
And that is what they did in this situation again with his comments on possibly passing Babe Ruth. I'm no journalist but doesn't anyone check to see what the context was? Isn't or shouldn't that be part of the journalism creed, to communicate what happened as exactly as possible, as fairly as possible?
Playing the Game
Why do some reporters let players like Jeff Kent, no pussycat himself, get away with outrageous behavior, like mooning a mixed crowd of reporters, while other players, like Barry Bonds, seem to draw to him the wrath of the basest elements of people? I think the reporters just know which side of their bread is buttered: Kent gives great quotes on slow news days so you don't cross him unless you want to lose access while Bonds rarely gives quotes anyway and has a unique way of saying things so why not get the great headline "twisting" what has been said as it will be a while before Bonds will speak again anyhow.
Here's a severe paraphrasing of what Bonds has said in an interview I had heard or read before that I found very enlightening. In it, he asked why the media is not nicer to him because he doesn't smoke, drink, take drugs, gamble, carouse, or beat his wife and is a good and devoted father to his children (I may have threw in a few as I really don't remember the exact interview; at minimum, he hasn't been accused or found guilty of any of these). Isn't this refreshing in this day and age of athletes getting headlines for rape, multiple children, mass orgies, multiple drug relapses, gambling problems, and par-tay har-tay? Why don't the press focus on the good side of not only Barry but other athletes? Why always with the negative without balancing with the positive, at some point?
Not that Bonds is perfect. The main problem I have heard about is that he barely tolerates reporters, hardly ever gives quotes, and have been very rude to them at times. It's true, he doesn't have to treat the media like he does. Plus, since they have a soapbox to talk from, it wouldn't hurt to curry their favor so that they don't talk poorly about you.
However, I don't know that I would not do the same if the media treated my Dad poorly, like it did to Bobby, Barry's Dad. I probably would hold a grudge too, as I would have wanted to protect my Dad too and yet couldn't, since I would have been a child then, like Barry was, when his Dad was in the majors. And, with the way he has been treated during his career, that probably just reinforced his feelings of distrust and lack of respect for the media. This doesn't forgive his actions but at least it is understandable because of the behavior of some of those in the media.
In addition, he is a relatively private person, so that does make it hard for the press to try to report on his positives, I will give them that. But it is not like I had to dig that hard to find out the positives of Barry. And obviously some of the press is doing the job of reporting his good side, else I wouldn't know about that. But it is almost like there is a big bull's eye on his back that draws journalists to start firing away without checking what the facts of the situation is.
MVP: Most Valuable Person
Isn't it great that we have a player so dedicated to his craft that he actually prepares 6-8 hours a day during the off season, waking very early in the morning during a time when ordinary mortals like us would rather sleep in when we don't have to be working. I have read that he wants to earn the money he's being paid and not let the fans down. Furthermore, I have read that he does this also because he doesn't want to let his teammates down.
How many players come into the season fat and flabby and needing to get into condition? How many just plain don't try during the season? How many actually practice during their off season in order to become a better player? How often do you hear players say they feel like they owe it to the fans and then back it up 24x7 365 days of the year by working out and keeping their body in peak physical condition?
It is such commitment to excellence, quality, and customer satisfaction that should be admired and hopefully emulated. But that side of him is rarely mentioned by the press. And there is a certain faction that seems to delight with misrepresenting Bonds whereas the rest do not bother to defend him, which I don't blame them for since they are trying to do their job as objective reporters.
For a last example of how his actions are misrepresented, when Bonds started making his gesture at home plate after a home run, I recall some of the media using it as a stepping stone to take another swipe at him and criticize him, just like his comment about the Babe. Again, a little checking to get at the truth would reveal a sad and yet very sweet and endearing truth. Barry had lost a close friend and, to pay tribute to his dear departed buddy, he does his salute to the skies to dedicate the homer to his good friend.
Doing a good job. Working hard to earn your pay. Dedication to becoming the best you can be at your job by preparing, exercising, and practicing year-round when you don't have to because you feel you owe it to the people paying your salary. Trying to make sure that the customer gets 100 percent. Knowing that friends and family are the most important ingredients to life. Aren't those qualities that should be appreciated and extolled? I certainly think so.
Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fan's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player. E-mail him at GoGiants_25@yahoo.com and maybe he'll reply back.
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