Discussing the other (phonetically) type of Pujols…by John Brattain
May 16, 2008
Well, I got skunked on The Pujols Awards this week—nary a nomination for an Albert, Luis, “Manny being Manny” or “The Samson.”
Oh well, I guess I can use this week to cover something else.
I’ve been blasted a lot of late for my alleged defense of Barry Bonds. What has to be borne in mind is that I’m not “pro-Bonds.” I’m anti-collusion.
The thing is—I have a tendency to go the opposite way of popular opinion and thought. I see the Bonds issue from a different point of view. To begin with, I think we all agree that Bonds is not the most warm and cuddly character out there. He spent a good chunk of his life behaving like a man who felt he was immune from retaliation. Bonds could treat folks around him according to his mood of the day, knowing his amazing athletic gifts, both bestowed and developed, allowed him to get away with it.
He was Barry Bonds—he sold tickets and he won baseball games. From the time we attended our first high school pep rally, we have been conditioned to accepting that those with outstanding athletic ability are allowed a different set of rules than the rest of us—when was the last time the gym was packed to honor only the school’s top academics?
Barry Bonds was born into privilege as the son and godson of a pair of baseball greats and created his own privilege by—regardless of steroids—being the best player of his generation.
Only Bonds’ talent is unique. Among the athletic elite, his attitude, sense of entitlement and arrogance are as common as Blue Jays hitting into double plays. One need travel no farther than a high school locker room to find a Bonds-like personality. Chances are good there are at least a couple among the school’s sports teams.
Barry being Barry probably began, as if often does, during the teenage years.
Since Bonds’ personality type has been with us probably as long as there have been sports heroes, why is there so much animus towards him?
Somebody once said to never bet your bladder against a brewery or argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel (or bandwidth by the server). Often, the phallucally inclined personality is explained to the public by the media. Almost all of us would state that we do not believe everything we read in the paper (or on the web) but we would be shocked how much we do accept unconditionally without giving it any critical thought.
For instance, have you considered that media types can be phallucranial sorts themselves? A lot of these guys can be as arrogant as Bonds and treat folks just as poorly. Bill Conlin went off on Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley and Baseball Digest Daily thusly: “
Know what, pal? Bash this. . .Tell your bloggers, my career against theirs. . .You’re a Mets fan and you had your little bubble of arrogance and smugness burst. Your team choked big time, an epic gagaroo. At least the 1964 Phillies had an excuse—they were probably no more than the Cardinals, Reds, Braves, Dodgers and Giants that year. One question: When a Mets team chokes in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a gagging sound? Next time bring more to the table than wishful fan numbers that bear no semblance to reality. I wonder how it feels to be the Phillies bitch.” (Baer is a Phillies fan)
Think about Buzz Bissinger vs. Will Leitch or Bob Costas calling bloggers “a pathetic get-a-life loser” and “idiot.” Is this any less obnoxious than Bonds dissing a writer?
These guys have egos, too, and aren’t afraid to use them in clubhouses. We’ve read T.J. Simers' shtick with the L.A. Times, we saw Rick Reilly make himself part of a story by setting up an unauthorized drug test for Sammy Sosa. They’re not shy about proving to players that they know a little bit more about the game than they. Many treat younger reporters and writers abominably. In short, the nice guys-to-arrogant jerks ratio in the press box is about the same as in the clubhouse.
This begs two questions:
(1) Do the media share any culpability in the Barry/press hate-fest?
(2) Can we count on these guys to give us an objective accounting of what these players are actually like? Don’t forget that these are the same folks who for years lionized Joe DiMaggio, Pete Rose and Steve Garvey.
However, what we have learned about Barry Bonds has come from these very sources. It doesn’t matter who starts a player-reporter confrontation. but we do know who will be painted as the bad guy. It’s why you never argue with folks who buy ink by the barrel. How often is the negative behavior we read about a reaction to what a writer/reporter has said or done? We only read the words, but are not privy to the tone or the context of those words.
I’m not saying that this absolves Barry Bonds—far from it. What I am saying is that Bonds is far from the worst clubhouse presence in the game today. Still, for the majority of us, our only access to Bonds' thoughts and actions is what we read and hear about the media.
Since media members don't like Bonds and he refuses to give the deference many media types feel they deserve, they paint him in the worst possible light. Disrespect an athlete and he won’t talk to you. Disrespect a reporter and he’ll write bad things about you. In both cases it is presented to the public as proof of the "spoiled, pampered athlete" by a party who isn't impartial in reporting what happened and has an ego of his own.
The thing is, once an opinion is formed, incidents begin to be molded automatically into that opinion. Ergo, Bonds is a jerk. He may do something due to being tired, not feeling well, having personal problems or simply suffering from the various frustrations all people face. When that happens, context is lost and it simply becomes another notation in the “Barry is being a jerk again” ledger. Two-plus decades can add a lot of notations to the "jerk" side.
Many of these incidents become embellished in their re-telling and since it's the evil Bonds, the embellishments become the accepted canon.
Bonds was in the big leagues more than two decades. Very early in his career he found himself in the same position as his father, Bobby, having difficulty in making himself understood. Due to skin color, his personality wasn’t labelled “fiery” or “intense” but rather “butthole.”
Many years passed with the media reminding us that Barry was being Barry again, each time the vitriol toward him increasing. Bonds is very much a product of his time. This is an era of attitude and “in your face” approach to things, especially sports. It is an era of sophisticated performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds is typical of his time; he has done nothing that athletes past, present and haven’t done before, and will do again.
He’s a self-centered, PED-using jerk with an attitude. We've never seen that before in professional sports?
It’s okay to be a self-centered jerk as long as nobody expects you to be a hero. The public wants its athletic gods to publicly embrace their mortality and be the common man. Barry refused to come down from Mount Olympus and he wasn’t shy about saying that he liked it there, away from the rabble.
That is the real problem—not steroids, not 762, not the Barcolounger, etc. Few care about the many nondescript players who have used, since there’s no pedestal from which to knock them. Bonds was at the top and refused to come down for any reason. He stayed up there and hit home run 756. However, now that he is out of baseball and no longer on a pedestal, the media and the public that allows them to color their opinion of Bonds wish to avoid allowing him another pedestal.
As long as Barry Lamar Bonds is out of baseball, we are in the position of power. Right now, the public and press are enjoying the opportunity to look down on Bonds, making him the supplicant for the game’s attention rather than the other way around. Instead of his telling us we aren't worthy of his time, we get to inform him that he's not worthy of our game. What makes it so delicious to many is they get to tell him that his personality, not his ability, is the reason teams do not wish to employ him—that "Barry being Barry" now means "Barry being unemployed."
It’s payback time. If he is incapable of playing, the sting of revenge is gone—he would be out of the game at any rate. To deny him a place in the game while his talents remain is to inflict a painful wound on the man. To deny him a place in the game allows us to say that he couldn’t play even were he allowed while denying him the chance to prove us wrong—in effect turning the knife.
If he’s allowed back in, then there exists the threat that he may once again attain the pedestal and look down on us. We have the power and are unwilling to relinquish it. If he cannot physically play, we have no power, we only have the power as long as the ability to play exists within him and he is denied the avenue to do so. As long as he is never permitted to don a big league uniform again we will never truly know when he would’ve been finished. Better still, Bonds will never know, either, and thus our power over him lasts indefinitely.
Yeah, Barry Bonds is a jerk, However I don’t trust the media to tell me that he is this walking cancerous tumor that will slowly destroy a team’s will to win. It’s only what the media wish for us to believe and in some small measure it’s what we wish to believe since we’ve been told that Bonds is the “Worst. Teammate. Ever.” for so long that we accept it unconditionally without ever meditating on how (and where) we drew this conclusion.
The teams wish to believe it, too, since it makes it easier to enforce Bud Selig’s probable unofficial edict to blacklist Bonds. It allows the clubs to believe that the reasons they don’t want Bonds are such that they’re still doing everything in their power to win.
This much is certain: We may think we’re right in our opinions about Bonds, but Bonds has ample reason to think his opinion of us was bang on, too.
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.