Baseballhead: Barry Persecuted

Michael Cox

Guten tag, damen und herren, es ist wieder Baseballhead, meine kleinen würste! I know it’s hard to be strong when Baseball Tonight keeps being pre-empted by the X-Games (motto: “People love watching skateboarders get crotched on railings”), but it too shall pass…

As Barry Bonds approaches Emergency Broadcast System proximity to the single-season home-run record, a curious thing is happening in the media. All the reporters and writers who were shunned by Bonds during his career are producing loud, forceful pieces to convince you that Bonds is a cad and a wastrel whom you should rightfully detest…unless maybe you’re a jerk yourself. Are you? Huh? Huh??

The latest such pure hatchet piece comes courtesy of Rick Reilly and Sports Illustrated, the magazine who recently surmised it can stave off the current ad revenue drought by making everything controversial. (We do it by eating Top Ramen.) In a column entitled “He Loves Himself Barry Much” (oh, quel humor!), Rick Reilly spends an entire page enumerating the reasons that “you don’t have to root for” Bonds. Meaning: Reilly would really, really prefer that you don’t root for Bonds.

Reilly’s conclusion, of course, is about as valid as his details. Ooh, Bonds has his own special chair in the clubhouse! Woah, he eats his own special meals instead of the clubhouse pizza! My God, he even does his pregame exercises on his own! Damn you, Barry Bonds, and damn your not rushing to be by Jeff Kent’s side when he wins the NL MVP! Fie! Fie!

Of course, anyone who is reasonably observant can name other players who do all of the above, yet are celebrated in the media. Ken Griffey Jr. has a special leather chair too, but he’s only hated by the press when his dry sense of humor is taken seriously. Roger Clemens has his own workout regimen that he refuses to share with his teammates. Somehow, I missed the photo of the entire A’s 25-man roster (or indeed, anyone but his brother) showing up at the press conference to personally congratulate Jason Giambi on his AL MVP.

Cal Ripken travels on a separate bus and stays at a different hotel from the rest of his team. Has for years. Yet we see the media on an insane mission to diefy St. Cal. Why? Because he talks to them. That’s all.

Remember that some sports reporters started their career tack soon after missing the cut for the varsity squad. They remember when the bigger kids gave them swirlies in the locker-room toilet, and long ago vowed to tell everybody that those mean players are doo-doo heads, like the scene in Waiting for Guffman where Corky St. Clair throws a tantrum in front of the city council: “I just hate you,…and I hate your…assface!”

(Okay, maybe you had to be there. Rent it sometime. You’ll understand.)

Reilly even goes as far as to scrawl, “Someday they’ll be able to hold Barry Bonds’ funeral in a fitting room,” and as his “proof” notes that the entire Giants dugout didn’t pour onto the field to whack Barry’s helmet when he hit number 500. Never mind that the Giants meticulously planned a ceremony for the event, and that the schedule didn’t include a group hug. It’s odd that Reilly, who gets paid much, much more to write than I do, couldn’t figure that out. Or perhaps more precisely, didn’t want to think about it.

The funny thing is that Barry Bonds can be one of the more personable guys in baseball. He can sit and chat like he’s in a room with friends, when he feels like there’s something to be said. Usually, however, there’s nothing to be said. Did you actually listen to any of Mark McGwire’s press conferences in 1998? They were excruciatingly dull exercises in answering the exact same questions, most of which were variations on, “How did it feel to hit number 53?” I would not wish interviews like that on anyone (okay, maybe Carl Everett).

Perhaps the problem is that baseball is played every day. In no other realm of entertainment must one suffer the press virtually daily — much less a press that has very little new to ask, instead relying on questions like “how did it feel?” and “what happened?” then hoping that you can come up with something entertaining. You’d think that the best answer would be to hire more skilled writers, but going by what those same writers say about each other, any intelligent, established journalist would stay far, far away.

I’m sorry, but I have to side with Bonds on this one.

When players don’t “play the game,” they’re disliked by reporters, and said reporters feel a duty to somehow shame said players into compliance. Bonds plays on his own terms. He doesn’t chase kids with his car, repeatedly pick fights with teammates, or even blame his problems on the press. He just wants to do what he believes makes him successful, and live his life with as little irritation as possible. He’s not hurting anyone, and he’s not breaking any rules.

Reilly, on the other hand, wrote a self-serving, vindictive article worthy of the New York Post, using second-hand information, and quoted a bitter (or perhaps just sarcastic) Jeff Kent, whom you’d think would be more respectful, considering Barry was on base for so many of Kent’s MVP-year RBIs. Funniest Kent quote (on the Giants’ chances if Bonds signed elsewhere): “See: Seattle Mariners.” Did Jeff put the colon in himself? Did he do it with his fingers, like when Dr. Evil adds quotation marks to “laser”?

Wait a minute. Reilly’s piece is so over-the-top that it might be intended as sarcasm. Let me read it again…

…Nope. Just stupid.

about the author

Michael Cox stopped having wet dreams shortly after seeing footage of Roseanne performing the national anthem. Offer the name of a really good therapist via our Contact Us page.

Originally published August 27, 2001

Published March 23, 2005

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