Bonds, All-Star Game, Giants History
Bonds has the strangest relationship to the media of any baseball superstar I’ve known. It’s common for the superstars to have a priority list, talking to the top columnists, ESPN broadcasters and anybody from Sports Illustrated while giving the back of their hands to those further down the food chain. I know that from experience. In the early ‘60s, when I was just starting out with The Chronicle, I never got a civil response from Willie Mays.
But Bonds has been an equal opportunity stiffer of the media, talking only when he wants to. Most famously, in 1993, his first season with the Giants, he kept a writer from Sports Illustrated waiting for a week before he would sit down for an interview. Didn’t bother the writer, who happily spent a week in San Francisco eating at good restaurants on an expense account, but the top ranks at the magazine were infuriated. Later in the decade, when the magazine selected mythical All-Star teams from different countries, Bonds was left off the American team. Meanwhile, The Sporting News selected him as Player of the Decade.
When the Giants were still at Candlestick, Bonds was unpredictable. He wouldn’t talk to beat writers when he’d had a big game if his team had lost. Other times, though, before games, he’d go off on a rambling monologue, jumping from topic to topic, for perhaps half an hour, as writers gathered around.
I had one memorable post-game interview with him, which I’d set up with his personal public relations person, Rachel Vizcarra, who has been working for Bonds for about 20 years now.
When I first approached Bonds, he was grumpy, until I reminded him that Rachel had set up the interview. Then, he started talking and talking and talking, for close to 45 minutes. Among the things he told me was that he felt pressure because Bobby Bonds was his father, Mays his godfather and Reggie Jackson his cousin.
That was the first I’d heard about his connection with Jackson, but I put it in my column. Somebody from The Chronicle office checked with Dusty Baker, who had known the Bonds family in his youth, who confirmed it, so it turned out, I had a mini-scoop.
Obviously, not everybody had the same kind of experience, and Bonds’ reputation as an antagonist of the media grew. Ten years ago, I was writing that this would come back to haunt him, that writers would be quick to jump on him when they got the opportunity. The steroids issue gave them that opportunity. Writers and broadcasters close to the game know how widespread the use of performance-enhancing drugs is in baseball, but that hasn’t stopped them from focusing on Bonds, almost as if he were the only one.
It doesn’t bother Bonds, who has a remarkable ability to focus when he’s in the batter’s box, blocking out everything else. In fact, he often seems to thrive on being the villain when the Giants travel to other cities. Sometimes, it’s seemed he doesn’t even want people to know he has a warmer side. He’s contributed time and money to youth charities, for instance, but has forbidden the Giants to publicize any of it.
During All-Star week, the personable side of Bonds emerged. Perhaps it was the fact that the game would be played in his home park, perhaps it was because the fans, mostly from the Giants base, I’m sure, voted him into the starting lineup with a surge of electronic voting. Perhaps it was the fact that a special tribute was being paid to his godfather.
Whatever the reason, he held a 45-minute media session that was full of good vibes, answering everything but steroids questions. During the pre-game ceremony honoring Mays, Bonds was obviously tickled. He walked a half-step behind and to Mays’ right as Willie walked out on the field, steadying him one time when Mays faltered.
Before the game, when he was greeted by overwhelming applause from the fans who have loved him all these years, he tipped his hat – and then, tipped it again when he got more applause when he came to bat the first time. It was a rare look at a warmer, likeable Bonds.
Will his public image ever change? Ted Williams’ relationship to the media paralleled Bonds’ relationship. Like Bonds, Williams never really gave an inch, but in retirement, he became celebrated not just as a great player but a true American hero for his flying in two wars.
Bonds has no such wartime experience in his background, and he has the steroids cloud hanging over his head. I doubt he’ll ever be regarded as fondly as Williams was in later life.
But for a short time during the All-Star break, he dropped the figurative curtain from his persona and showed a warmer side. If only he could have done it earlier.
ALL-STAR MEMORIES: In a way, the All-Star game, with its separate periods of dominance by one league or the other, is a snapshot of baseball history.
The American League dominated the first part of the series, winning 12 of the first 16 games, and it was largely because the AL had earlier recognized the change in the game, from the dead ball era to the lively ball era. Babe Ruth ushered in the era, of course, and sluggers like Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg continued it; both hit 58 home runs to launch the first serious assault on Ruth’s seasonal record of 60, and Foxx had another season with 50 homers.
In the ‘50s and the ‘60s, the National League dominated the series because, starting with Jackie Robinson in 1947, the league had brought in black stars. Bill Veeck had brought in Larry Doby with the Cleveland Indians only weeks after Robinson’s debut, but other American League clubs were slow to follow, especially the Yankees and Red Sox.
Now, the American League teams have realized that it’s really a power game. Though the National League has had the bigger individual outbursts – Bonds’ 73 homers, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hitting 70 and 66, respectively, in 1998 – the American League has more consistent power. National League teams are more attuned to an older style game, bunts, hit-and-run, stolen bases, that limits their ability to put together big innings. So, in all the inter-league competitions – All-Star game, World Series, regular season inter-league play – the American League is dominating.
TRIVIA QUESTION: Can anybody name the one company which didn’t have a commercial during the lead-up to the first pitch on Tuesday night?
HISTORY LESSON: The Giants deserve credit for the way they honor their history. Hall-of-Famers Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda have all been involved with the team. There are statues of Mays in the front of the park, Juan Marichal near the Lefty O’Doul gate and McCovey behind the right field fence, and both the Cove and the strip of park beyond that are named after Stretch. The plaza where Mays’ statue rests is also named after him.
To continue the history, there is also a mosaic on the southeastern wall which shows the high moments of the Giants years in New York.
This is mostly the work of owner Peter Magowan, who followed the Giants in New York in his early years and then in San Francisco when his family moved to the Bay Area. Magowan gets assailed regularly these days by media people who wrongly blame him for the Giants’ decline, but he has a real love for the game. And, never forget, Magowan and others in the ownership group which formed in 1992, worked to keep the Giants in San Francisco – and then built a gorgeous park in China Basin.
SORRY, RAY: Earlier this year, I compared Barry Zito to Ray Sadecki.
My apologies to Sadecki.
SPORTS, CONCERT TICKETS: Tickets for major league baseball games across the country are available on the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link at the bottom of my Home Page. Tickets are also available for the various appearances of Norah Jones and Diana Krall –as well as tickets for hot summer concert tours featuring Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, and Gwen Stefani. among others. Click on the Bay Area or national links below and the whole list will come up.
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