Demons of a Bondsian Past

The interleague series against the Red Sox felt like the cool Candlestick wind of the 1990's. And not because Billy Mueller, Alan Embree, and Dave McCarty were in town (yes, the same Dave McCarty you thought you saw checking parking stubs with Steve Decker in the season-ticket-holders lot). It felt like pre-2001 because the man-god Bonds let his old nemesis, Human Barry of the Past, sneak into the media with a comment about the civil-rights climate in Boston.

Against the Sox, Big Poppa found himself in a medium-slump that was highlighted by a 1-9 showing at the plate and some tomfoolery in left field. But we do not chime that this is the Old Barry unable to perform under pressure. We know that the colder he gets, the greater the upswing (example: one homer the first week of the season, six the next). The last four years--arguably the most prolific in baseball history--have convinced us to look at his accomplishments, not failures, to predict what he'll do next.

These records have ameliorated the public view of him. Now, most fans take into account that he is a lover of children, pennants, and baseball bats (as expressed in the Sportscenter clip when he licks the barrel of his maplewood with disturbing affection). We see him as a Paterfamilias of wisdom and stature already bronzed by the forgiving light of history. Even Balco hasn't been strong enough to ease his man-godliness, to outweigh the on-base and slugging percentages that, more than any Edgardo Alfonzo homer, help the club win.

But it wasn't always like this, prescient Giants fans. In the past, Human Barry's off-field comments diminished his exploits, telescoping his struggles in areas like the postseason. It was as if everyone's dislike could be justified by his failure.

He gave plenty of ammunition. Like years ago when he said he was the best left fielder of all-time, nearly interring Teddy Ballgame. (Ha, looking back, funning thing is…).

Or in 2000. He commented that no one should expect a prodigious postseason on his part, implying that he wouldn't get enough pitches and that others should pick up the slack.

These are two examples of the Old Human Barry. We see in them insecurity and a desire to prove oneself.

But with the man-god's apotheosis, with the 2002 postseason and the sweet excuses of old age, these comments have been trivialized, as if the legend overshadows the struggle that achieved it. Which works out fine for Barry, who no longer gives much weight to what he says because it doesn't bite like before. (He told a bunch of reporters in New York, "I have fun with you guys because half the [stuff] I say, I don't believe anyway").

So why did his comments about Boston cause such a stir? Beyond the fact that most people won't touch the issue of racism with a stick…unless it's a ten-foot cattle prod, to misquote the Good Doctor Thompson.

Listen closely: "[Boston is] too racist for me…That's been going on ever since my dad was playing baseball."

This isn't about race, or cities, or the hurt feelings of an elegantly-cursed fan base. It hints at an experience Barry's father encountered or heard about, one that Bobby must have discussed, years ago. A visceral moment transferred through generations and made more poignant by loss. Especially on Father's Day weekend.

We like the Human Barry when he hits a homerun off Randy Johnson and chokes with emotion in the dugout. That is the stuff of clichés. But when loss manifests itself ungainly, like in a disparaging comment, we confuse the person with his achievements, seeing shortcomings again.

At least that's what Thom Brennaman did on Saturday's national broadcast. (If I could hit one announcer in the face with a dodgeball, it would surely be him. And maybe Rick Sutcliffe, on the ricochet).

Brennaman waits until Big Poppa had gone 0 for 2 with a strike out, avoiding the required awe of a normal game. He diatribes that a ballplayer has no place to disparage a city as racist (though a broadcaster, obviously, has the obligation to defend it.) He attacks Barry's "closed-off" personality. He even compares Bonds to Marquis Grissom, essentially saying that Marquis is the kind of guy he'd like to have a beer with, Bonds the one he'd throw the empty cans at.

First of all, Thom, take that lame "h" out of your name. It makes you look like a junior-high super dork, hiding in locker-room stalls with the likes of Tim Kurkjian, hoping to avoid wedgies from Kevin Mitchell and other bullies.

Second of all, Bonds is cold to people like you for a reason. Because you make omniscient character judgments from a press-box perch. Because you have never been a ballplayer who would throw in a fatty chew and talk about exploding sliders (not that many of us have, but we don't mouth off on national TV.)

Steve Lyons, Brennaman's broadcast partner, did play ball. Yes, the same Lyons who relishes that he once unbuckled and dropped his pants after sliding into first, who now gets tipsy from in-game wine tasting. Thom paused for reassurance after he finished his Bonds-hate. Lyons cleared his throat, responding that Barry had always been open with him. An awkwardness worse than any mistranslated Shinjo statement ensued. (Okay, maybe not worse than when Tsuyoshi said that his lifelong dream had always been to hit .200 in the major leagues…)

The game progressed and Barry went on to make an error, allowing the tying run to score. He didn't run out a bobbled grounder, and boos lingered in the grandstand.

But I will attribute these boos to the thronging Red Sox fans who'd bathed themselves in hundreds of dollars of Anchor Steam (and how!).

For a while now, these sentiments of expectation and disappointment have been banished from the beautiful park by the bay, along with other unpleasantries like Julian Tavarez's emotion. If Bonds fails, it is no longer his fault, but that of cowardly pitchers, or a sore back, or clogged sinuses. Which, in a sense, is true.

What a remarkable change in perception. One that flickered briefly this weekend. But we are watching the formation of a new Human Barry, the version history will embellish, much like the gilded acceptances of a jovial Ruth or studious Williams. One that will feel commensurate with his achievements.

Brennaman and others will still disparage, coaxing horns from all the new devilish echoes of Bonds' past. The logical answer is for Barry to stop making such comments. Fair enough. But Big Poppa really, truly doesn't care about the opinions of people he doesn't respect, which probably includes most of us, ironic Giants fans. Whether that's aloof or godlike is up to you.



Tim Denevi is a raving Giants fan who can't decide if he would rather have Mike Aldrete or Marvin Biz-nard pinch-hitting with the game on the line. E-mail him with your opinion on any issue at denevi@hawaii.edu

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