Bonds Feeds His Cottage Industry

By Art Spander
Updated: May 23, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — He said he hasn’t read the Sports Illustrated article, the one which damns him with faint praise and makes San Francisco, the Bay Area, seem like a place out of time and out of step.

He didn’t know about the op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, the one implying all judgments about Barry Bonds are entirely racial.

Bonds perused the Times article, shook his head and offered that half-smile that said more than words, the one that asked why we didn’t have something better to do than dissect every facet of his life.

A cottage industry, that’s what it’s become, attacking Barry, defending Barry, sending legions from the Eastern time zone, the Right Coast if you choose, to find out what goes with Barry and citizens who of their own free will cheer the man.

Bonds, meanwhile, keeps appearing in the lineup — Wednesday night was the Giants’ 45th game and Bonds’ 41st start — and keeps waiting for pitches at which he can take a cut while the fans at AT&T keep waiting for that next home run.

For both it’s been a wait.

Two weeks since the last homer, the 11th of the season, the 745th of his career, leading to speculation Barry’s injured, that the right knee is bothering him, that the hamstring is hurting, speculation Bonds dismisses summarily.

“My legs are fine,” he said. “I’m healthy. My body is fine. I’m just exhausted.” Look, he reminded, two months from that 43rd birthday, what he’s accomplished this season deserves some acknowledgment. He’s proud. He should be.

11 homers. A batting average above .280. And all those irritating bases on balls.

“The walks are killing me,” Bonds conceded, who got two more Tuesday night in the Giants’ 4-2 win. “My legs are tired. You’ve got to get pitches to hit.”

We’re making too much of all this, Bonds said, this chase of Hank Aaron.

“I’m not playing for statistics,” he contends. “I’m past that stage of my career. I want to win a championship. That’s why I don’t talk about me anymore.”

He doesn’t have to talk. Others talk. Others write. Others rip Bonds for his alleged steroid use. A witch hunt, some claim. A legitimate supposition, others say.

Nobody refers to Sosa or McGwire or even Jason Giambi, who only the other day pointed out baseball, the people in charge, owe all of us, fans, players, journalists, an apology we’ll never receive for the failure to control substance abuse.

It’s Bonds who is a pariah, surely because it is Bonds who is nearing that cherished mark of 755 home runs.

“He’s taking a bullet for a whole generation,” Mike Krukow, the Giants TV announcer and a former pitcher, has said more than once. “The smear job on this kid is ridiculous.”

A smear job? Or an unbiased listing of facts. The debate goes on. So to the pleasure of the crowds at the ballpark, so does Bonds.

Barry the man. Barry the problem. Barry the ballplayer on whom the Giants rely almost too heavily.

“He’s been playing a lot,” Bruce Bochy, the Giants manager, said. “I have to remind myself he’s approaching 43. It’s amazing he’s been doing what he’s been doing. But he’s done such a good job carrying us. I’ve been letting him go.”

The game is the thing for Bochy and for Bonds, who has made contributions which go unnoticed, contributions which have nothing to do with power.

“His passion for the game sometimes gets lost,” Bochy said. “Barry wants to win. He knows the game. He’s a guy I’ve talked to about the game and the players. He’s been very helpful to me. People don’t know he’s got a great sense of humor. He’s always got some great one-liners.”

What he hasn’t had lately are the home runs. He’s always gone in streaks, had good stretches then bad ones, even in 2001, when he set the single-season mark of 73.

“He’s had some tough calls go against him,” Bochy said. “I’ve looked at them on video. When you think about it, he knows the strike zone as well as anybody. He doesn’t complain (about the umpiring).

“Barry’s going to be fine. It’s something people are not accustomed to, but all great hitters go through it. The game isn’t easy. He’s almost 43. He is human. Even though he doesn’t seem to be.”

He’s Barry Bonds, who can’t escape the attention. And as the headline in Sports Illustrated says, “He’s Our Barry.” For better or worse.