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Image May Be Most Valuable Thing for Bonds

After winning his record sixth MVP award, slugger will withdraw from union licensing program.

November 19, 2003|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Already the most decorated player in major league history, San Francisco Giant outfielder Barry Bonds wants to repair an unflattering public image that has prevented him from also becoming one of baseball's most revered players.

That's why Bonds has taken the unprecedented step of withdrawing from the Major League Baseball Players Assn.'s group licensing program, he told reporters Tuesday during a conference call held to discuss his record sixth National League most-valuable-player award.

"I think I've been misrepresented throughout my career as a bad guy, a bad person," said Bonds, who became the first player to win an MVP award in three consecutive years. "[There's a perception that] 'Barry doesn't want to do anything.'

"This [move] gives the licensees the opportunity to get to know me and know who I am as a person and show the fans I am not a difficult person to deal with, I am not a difficult person to the fans. This is the ending part of my career. I want the public to see me for who I really am."

Under his new marketing strategy, Bonds will negotiate directly with companies interested in using his name and likeness on everything from baseball cards to video games, though he cannot appear in a Giant uniform or cap.

In 2002, each member of the union received about $30,000 as a share of the licensing revenues.

A report in Tuesday's Sports Business Daily said Bonds intended to link his name with those of Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Hank Aaron in an attempt to capitalize on their popularity while celebrating Bonds' assault on Aaron's all-time home run record. Bonds, who hit 45 home runs last season, has 658 homers, two behind Mays -- his godfather -- and 97 short of Aaron's record of 755.

Bonds said the marketing strategy also would provide funds for scholarship programs and other charitable endeavors in which his father, Bobby, a three-time All-Star who died in August, had been active.

"This will give me an opportunity to do some wonderful things for a city I love," Bonds said.

Bonds, the only player to win an MVP award more than three times, received 28 of 32 first-place votes and 426 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America to defeat St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Albert Pujols by a comfortable margin. Pujols received three first-place votes and 303 points and third-place finisher Gary Sheffield of the Atlanta Braves had one first-place vote and 247 points. The Dodgers' Eric Gagne was sixth in the voting with 143 points.

Bonds called the award "more special than any award I've ever received" after dedicating it to his father, whom he credited with much of his success.

"He's been the eyes in the back of my head. He's been my inspiration," Bonds said. "He's been the person that has gotten me to the place I am today. My secret has always been my father."

Bonds said his father, who served as his hitting coach since childhood, watched every Giant game and would relay any corrective suggestions to his son's wife, sitting in the first couple of rows, via cell phone. Bonds' wife would then signal to her husband to indicate what his father had said.

The best advice his father gave him, Bonds said, was to repeatedly practice aspects of the game he hadn't mastered "because you never know when you might be in that situation." Bonds said he was already training harder than ever this off-season in the hope that he could continue to excel without his father's input.

The 39-year-old became the second-oldest MVP, trailing Pittsburgh's Willie Stargell, who was co-MVP in 1979, by about 4 1/2 months. Nonetheless, Bonds had one of his more productive seasons, hitting .341 with 90 runs batted in. He led the major leagues with a .749 slugging percentage, .529 on-base percentage and 148 walks.

Bonds, who earlier this season told reporters he would consider finishing his career as a designated hitter for the Angels to be near his Bel-Air home, said he didn't anticipate playing into his mid-40s but that he wasn't sticking around merely to break Aaron's record.

"I'm not playing for the record. I'm playing to do the best I can with my body," Bonds said. "I feel 29 right now. But during the season I feel 49. That day-in and day-out grind is very difficult."

Bonds' decision to handle his marketing deals comes at a tricky time. He has been subpoenaed to testify in the investigation of a Bay Area nutritional supplement company that is suspected of distributing a new and illegal steroid tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG. Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, is a target of the probe.

Also, baseball officials recently announced that more than 5% of random tests conducted on players last season turned up positive for steroid use, prompting a stricter testing regimen for next season. Bonds, who hadn't hit more than 49 homers in a season in the first 15 years of his career, hit a record 73 in 2001.

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