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Bitter bomber

Sports | What do baseball fans-and even the man's teammates and reporters-have against Barry Bonds?

Issue: "Kerry praying for votes," Oct. 9, 2004

While the fans at San Francisco's SBC Park cheered lustily on Sept. 17 as Barry Bonds belted a high breaking ball into the opposite field bleachers, from the field Barry Bonds's 700th home run appeared much like his 699th. No mob of teammates awaited the San Francisco slugger at home plate when he joined one of sports' most exclusive clubs. Only teammate J.T. Snow, who watched the historic blast from the on-deck circle, greeted Mr. Bonds at the plate.

What do baseball fans-and even the man's teammates and reporters-have against Barry Bonds? The Giants slugger is a family man, carrying on press conferences with one of his young children by his side. He's active with charities, donating to literacy and scholarship programs and even giving $100,000 to a 9/11 victims' fund. Steroid questions notwithstanding, he's never been accused of abusing alcohol or drugs. He's never tossed a folding chair into the stands.

But that doesn't keep fans, teammates, and the media from harboring some animus. Joining Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron as the only men with more than 700 home runs should be the ticket into most fans' hearts. But not if they think he's a cheat. Mr. Bonds testified to a grand jury about his involvement with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Greg Anderson, Mr. Bonds's personal trainer and longtime friend, was one of four who have been indicted as being a part of a steroid distribution ring. A Gallup poll conducted at the start of the season revealed 64 percent of baseball fans believed Mr. Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. Only 19 percent said they believed the San Francisco outfielder had nothing to do with the BALCO steroid scandal. Teammates, too, have been critical of Mr. Bonds. Former Giants second baseman Jeff Kent famously ripped his San Francisco teammate in an interview with Sports Illustrated during a pennant race, calling him a lousy teammate who cared only for himself. The Giants slugger would, of course, have plenty of opportunities to rehabilitate his image. That takes talking to the media, something he famously avoids.

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The six-time National League Most Valuable Player has always delivered on the field. It's Mr. Bonds's political skills that need refinement. Imagine either George W. Bush or John F. Kerry conducting interviews with their backs to reporters as Mr. Bonds did last May when he buried his nose in his locker. "You can't get in my head," the New York Post recorded a surly Mr. Bonds as saying during a rare interview. "All you guys want to do is bring up all the dirt you can possibly bring. Ninety-nine percent of it ain't true. It's all nasty. The media has changed the game, people's perceptions of the game." But who changed people's perception of Barry Bonds?

Legal football

Was that a football game or CNBC's Power Lunch? NFL Sunday broadcasts on Fox look a lot more like weekday stock market reports than a sporting event. Several lines of fantasy football stats and league scores crawl at the bottom of the screen. At the top, boxes flash with scores several times every minute.

Recently the NFL often has tried to be something that it's not. ABC's Monday Night Football wasn't just the football event of the week, it was comedy hour with Dennis Miller. After the network canned Mr. Miller, it brought in John Madden, who brings an unintentional brand of humor. Fantasy football games created an audience dying to know who caught the Colts fourth touchdown catch and whether it put him over 100 yards for the game, or just under (it could make a fan's day).

It's no surprise the game on the field is different too. Officials aren't the only ones throwing flags. Coaches too have red beanbags to throw on the field to appeal a judgment to a higher court. Yes, football imitates the legal system, too. After considering the evidence, the striped one explains in paragraph form (sometimes a full opinion) whether he was right the first time. The L in NFL might as well stand for litigation.

Around the Horn

  • Something's afoot in the SEC. South Carolina football walk-on Tim Frisby has a well-earned nickname: Pops. At 39, the former Army Ranger is the oldest college football player anyone can remember. Mr. Frisby saw four plays' worth of action at the end of the Gamecocks win over Troy State. He wasn't nervous, he said. He's a veteran of the Gulf War and Kosovo. Meanwhile, Mississippi State's unlikely loss to Maine in September may lead to a geography lesson. "I didn't even know they had a college in Maine," said Bulldogs fullback Darnell Jones. "Really. Nobody talks about the state of Maine."
  • It's something like the brushback pitch, the hard foul when a player drives the lane, or the love tap a defensive tackle gives a quarterback after he throws the ball. NASCAR's Robbie Gordon says he isn't proud of what he did when he gently nudged Greg Biffle's car into a spinout at New Hampshire International Speedway. He also says he's disappointed the wreck he caused also scuttled Tony Stewart and Jeremy Mayfield's cars. Both drivers were in contention for the Nextel Cup before the crash.
  • Veteran NFL coach Dennis Green sees big things in his Arizona Cardinals future. Nevermind that the Cardinals started the season with three losses and have struggled to find a running game. His team just needs to figure out one thing: Mr. Green's offense. "That's a shame because system-wise and style-wise this is probably the best offense in the National Football League right now. It is hard to believe we created it and don't know how to run it."


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