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World Series

Bonds Remains Critics' Choice

Despite major talent, a "major attitude" and aloofness make him hard to embrace.

October 27, 2002|Mike Hiserman | Times Staff Writer

The best hitter in baseball will find out today whether he'll be getting that ring he's been wanting. It's his best chance yet to silence any remaining critics. You know, the ones who would ignore the 613 career regular season home runs and the four -- soon to be five -- Most Valuable Player awards and instead seem to focus on those 17 years he's spent chasing an elusive World Series title.

It's the same old story, the same old question: What has he won? Bonds has led teams to the playoffs six times, and just this year enjoyed winning a series for the first time.

If Hollywood were writing this script -- well, perhaps not a Disney studio -- it might have Bonds smack a game-winning home run today in Game 7. But if many baseball fans have their way, he might be the goat.

For the first eight days of this Series, Bonds has starred with his athletic skills on baseball's biggest stage, showing even the game's most casual fans what all the fuss has been about. He's hit prodigious home runs -- four in all, including matching 485-foot shots through weighted night air in Games 2 and 6 that left even Angel players slack-jawed in their dugout -- and reached base at a dizzying pace. All while also fully living up to another well-earned reputation -- for being unemotional, dour and cocky.

Imagine, he wasn't in a good mood after Saturday night's 6-5 loss to the Anaheim Angels. So, while Tim Worrell, who was shelled in one-third of an inning of relief, patiently answered questions a few feet away, Bonds chased reporters from around his and Kenny Lofton's locker, quickly dressed, and headed for the door without offering a word. Therefore, we might never know what happened to cause Garret Anderson's eighth inning single to twice squirt from his bare hand, allowing Anderson to hustle into second base after the error. Or whether, with a better jump, he might have caught the laser Troy Glaus then hit over his head, scoring Anderson with the go-head run.

Both were key plays, especially because Anderson, who has had a tight hamstring, might not have scored from first on Glaus' hit. Of course, there was also the mammoth home run to talk about, the one he hit off Angel phenom Francisco Rodriguez leading off the sixth inning.

Bonds, as has his reputation throughout his career, rolled with the coaster Saturday night. The good with the bad. That's the paradox that is Bonds. He is a wonderful talent and nearly universally accepted as the best ballplayer of his era. Yet, he is, in an age of instant celebrity, an anti-celebrity.

Reporters have written that he is "arrogant," "rude," and a "poster boy for the modern, spoiled athlete." Didn't you see him stroll, so self-centeredly, directly to his place on the baseline during pregame introductions before the first Series game in San Francisco? Didn't the rest of the Giant players slap hands and exchange words of encouragement with each of their teammates and coaches?

Bonds, it seems, goes his own way a lot. He doesn't eat with the team -- he has his own nutritionist and diet -- and doesn't stretch with the team -- he has his own routine for that, too. His place in the Giants' clubhouse at Pacific Bell Park is more than twice the size of his teammates', none of whom has a leather recliner at their cubicle.

And so a Bonds' victory today, for many, would lack sentiment. Watching him embrace his son, Nikolai, and plant a kiss on him after his home run on Saturday somehow wasn't quite the same as seeing John Elway cradle football's Super Bowl trophy or Ray Bourque hoist hockey's Stanley Cup in moments of glory enjoyed at the ends of their storied careers. In terms of pure ability, Bonds is to baseball what Michael Jordan was to basketball and Wayne Gretzky to hockey. He's just not nearly as beloved.

Jordan and Gretzky were global ambassadors for their sports, reveling in their extraordinary talents. Bonds isn't much of an ambassador at all. He has few endorsements and enjoys limited popularity outside the environs of the Bay Area. Part of that can be traced to Bonds' relationship with the media. It is strained, at best. Athletes haven't always cozied up to reporters -- Jordan, for example, has been known to cop a major attitude -- but few can kill an interview session with such an icy stare.

Maybe that's why the players in Bonds' company on baseball's career home run list all have nicknames -- Henry Aaron was "Hammerin' Hank," Babe Ruth the "Sultan of Swat," and Willie Mays the "Say Hey Kid," but sportswriters have penned no such poetic or musical tributes for Bonds. Sorry, the occasional and snide "Mr. Personality" doesn't count.

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