There are going to be a multitude of columns about Barry Bonds over the next 24-to-48 hours discussing his personal “brand,” his desire to rehabilitate his image, his Hall of Fame chances and, of course, his refusal to go into details about his personal history with performance-enhancing drugs. A lot was covered in this morning’s press conference at Scottsdale Stadium which lasted almost half an hour, and a cynic can have a week’s worth of field days with several of Bonds’ comments.
But if we want to get crazy and assume for a few minutes that Bonds is actually a human being instead of a baseball-destroying roids monster, the most interesting thing Bonds said came after the “official” press conference concluded.
It’s been over a decade since Bobby Bonds passed away. He served as the San Francisco Giants hitting coach for several seasons, and when Bonds was asked by a reporter what he learned from his father’s coaching style, Bonds didn’t mention mechanics.
“He challenged me a lot. He challenged me a ton. Both him and Willie (Mays),” said Bonds.
“But not everyone can take that. Not everyone’s capable of dealing with it. Not everyone’s molded like that. Some people are more sensitive than others. I wasn’t.”
Bonds complimented all the great coaches he had throughout his career, citing Jim Leyland and Bill Virdon (“one of the best outfield coaches I ever had in my lifetime”), along with Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou and Bruce Bochy, who sat alongside Bonds throughout the press conference. It’s interesting that he called out Virdon, since Bonds famously got into it with Virdon and then Leyland during Spring Training in 1991 (Rob Neyer wrote a great explanation of the argument and embedded a video featuring Leyland cursing Bonds out here).
Did that confrontation destroy Bonds’ relationship with Leyland or Virdon? No, quite the opposite. Bonds thrived on conflict and animosity, something he described in perhaps the most interesting snippet from the press conference. The transcription is underneath, but the video is a must-watch just to hear his vocal inflection when he says “I can still be crazy.“
“I was a different character playing. Now I’ve had time to slow down and do other things. As you’re gone for a while you have a tendency to reflect on certain things. I needed that guy to play. It’s who I was. It’s not who I am in my daily life,” Bonds said.
How has he changed?
“Same person, just different character. Have this guy over here (puts his left hand over his left shoulder) that’s crazy, and you have this guy over here (puts his right hand to the right of his right shoulder) who’s not. I’m more in the middle. I can still be crazy, but I’m a lot calmer. I’ve toned down a little bit.”
Bonds isn’t going to take the Mark McGwire route and ask for forgiveness on the PED front, and he’s not going to apologize for intimidating people. But he sounded like he would’ve treated the media differently if he could go back and do everything over.
“Only regret’s that I wish we had a better relationship. That’s it,” said Bonds, who was asked about playing the “villain” role as a player.
“I had teammates that said, ‘Barry, you’re too nice. You have to be mean. You don’t play when you’re nice. You don’t play good when you’re nice.’ It was back and forth with that. It worked,” said Bonds with a laugh. “Whatever it was, it worked.”
Even though Bobby accomplished quite a bit as a player and worked with the Giants as long as he did with Barry around, it’s tough to get a read on his personality. The media wasn’t quite the same back when Bobby played and coached, so it’s hard to determine whether Bobby needed to play “mean” during his career.
It’s easy to see where a guy like Mays can challenge Bonds — Mays is a lovable character in many ways, but he’s supremely confident and can be brutally honest. Mays spends a lot of time in the Giants clubhouse during Spring Training, but Bonds said the two haven’t talked about what it’s like to saunter into Scottsdale and impart the wisdom gained from a Hall of Fame-worthy career that lasted longer than 20 years.
“We just talk about normal godson to godfather stuff. ‘How you doing, love you, miss you,’” Bonds said.
Bonds talked about possibly working more with the Giants in the future, but for now he’s only here for seven days. After the press conference he hung out behind the batting cage, observing Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and other Giants as they took BP. He seemed at ease, leaning against the cage and chatting with players and coaches, taking glimpses back at the growing crowd from time to time.
That’s one thing I’ll always remember about Bonds as a player. If you had seats down the left field line at Candlestick or AT&T and spent your time between pitches staring at Bonds, you were almost guaranteed to make eye contact with the star left fielder. He was always observant, whether that meant watching pitchers, opposing infielders and outfielders, or the fans who adored him in San Francisco and loathed him everywhere else.
After Posey’s first round of swings this morning, he and Bonds spoke for several minutes. Bonds did most of the talking while gesturing to different spots on the field. Maybe Bonds was providing tips on how to predict certain pitches based on the way defenders are positioned, but based on his comments today it doesn’t sound like he’s ready to start challenging Posey or anyone else on the team just yet.
Bonds said this seven-day stint is too short a period of time to push the players, and that all he’s trying to do now is get to know the guys and see where things progress. Plus, Bonds has to prove to Bochy and the other decision-makers that he’s worthy of more invitations to work with the team. But considering his personality and bloodlines, Bonds will spend this week figuring out which players aren’t sensitive, and start challenging those guys sooner than he’s letting on.