The first reaction upon hearing Barry Bonds’ confessional is suspicion.
Why would Bonds admit he was a jerk during his baseball career? Why now, at age 51, in his first season as hitting coach for the Miami Marlins, would Bonds express regret for being surly and standoffish to everyone, teammates included?
The obvious reason is that Bonds is taking another step in the rehabilitation of his image to sway the voters who are keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.
Bonds surpassed Hank Aaron to become the home run king by hitting 762 by the time his playing days ended in 2007. He was seven-time National League MVP. No one would dispute that he was one of the greatest in the history of the game.
And then he decided to cheat. His body expanded in unnatural proportions. He was connected to the BALCO doping scandal. Just as Pinocchio’s nose grew as he lied, Bonds’ head grew as he denied he was taking performance-enhancing drugs. He actually had to be fitted for a larger hat.
The belief that Bonds took steroids is so widespread that it’s the first thing people think of when they hear his name. Bonds has said he never knowingly took banned substances. He has stuck by the flaxseed oil excuse. Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice when prosecutors argued he lied on the stand, but he won an appeal of the case.
No longer exiled from baseball thanks to his job with the Marlins — where he has earned genuine praise from players — Bonds seems to be trying to make amends.
He’s taken a look in the mirror and candidly acknowledged that his bad attitude cost him dearly.
“Me. It’s on me. I’m to blame for the way I was [portrayed] because I was a dumbass. I was straight stupid, and I’ll be the first to admit it,” Bonds told SportsOnEarth.com in an interview posted Wednesday. “I mean, I was flat-out dumb. I’m not going to try to justify the way I acted toward people.”
Bonds said he became defensive and took things too personally when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was expected to “carry that whole team. I was too young to handle that.”
So he grew a prickly exoskeleton and got trapped inside. The meaner he was, the meaner he had to be.
“It wasn’t an image that I invented on purpose,” he said. “It actually escalated into that, and then I maintained it. It was never something that I really ever wanted. No one wants to be treated like that, because I was considered to be a terrible person. You’d have to be insane to want to be treated like that.”
“Hell, I kick myself now. I could have had a trillion more endorsements, but that wasn’t my driving force. The problem was, when I tried to give in a little bit, it never got better. I knew I was in the midst of that image, and I determined at that point that I was never going to get out of it.
“So I just said, ‘I’ve created this fire around me, and I’m stuck in it, so I might as well live with the flames.’”
It took too long for Bonds to stop offending every bat boy, reporter, waitress and taxi driver in San Francisco and come to this self-realization. He’s a smart guy, yet he stubbornly reinforced his reputation as an arrogant, insensitive boor.
Bonds said he once attempted to make peace with his Giants teammates and be nice for a while, but fell into a terrible hitting slump, and claims “they wanted the old Barry back…they wanted the ogre back.”
Bonds is changing his ways. Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson told Fox Sports Live that Bonds turned his back and ignored him when Pederson went up to him when the Marlins were playing at Dodgers Stadium and asked, “Hey, you’re my favorite player, can we take a picture?”
“He big-leagued me,” Pederson said, but all was forgiven when Bonds heard the report and called Pederson to apologize, saying it was a misunderstanding.
Since joining the Marlins, Bonds has become more approachable and cooperative. Perhaps he’s offering these personal revelations because he’s more relaxed and out of the spotlight in Miami and in his role as a coach, wiser now that he’s no longer the bulked-up pariah chasing Aaron’s record.
The players like and respect him. During spring training, he stepped into the batter’s box during a hitting drill and proceeded to hit four homers, compared to Giancarlo Stanton’s three. He’s been instrumental in the development of Marcell Ozuna, the team’s current leading hitter at .327.
Bonds will never be easy-going. That’s not his personality. He thinks he is misunderstood because he’s kind of a loner.
“Even now, I take a shower, dress quick and go home,” he said. “I’d rather play sports and be active than to really hang out with people. I don’t know how else to explain what I just said, but that’s who I really am.”
It’s difficult to understand why Bonds was such a jerk — even more of a jerk than Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods on the list of athlete jerks. But give him credit for having the courage to admit his flaws and try to change. It’s probably too much to hope that he’ll come clean about the drugs, but maybe that’s the next step for the new Barry Bonds.