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Inside Baseball | Bill Shaikin / SUNDAY REPORT

Bonds' agent is perfect for him

April 08, 2007|Bill Shaikin

Barry Bonds might speak up this week.

Bonds doesn't much care for public speaking, as you might have heard. But he's a few swings from history, so the Giants hope he'll sit for a mass interview whenever they roll into a new town. They hit the road for the first time this week, off to San Diego and then Pittsburgh, so we'll see.

When Bonds does not talk -- and even when he does -- he has Jeff Borris to speak for him. And, sure enough, his agent has something to say, about how many votes Bonds ought to get for the Hall of Fame.

"Barry better be unanimous, 100%, first ballot," Borris said. "If the Hall of Fame is what it stands for, how can the greatest player ever to play the game not be a unanimous selection?"

Greatest player ever to play the game? Could be, but it's subject to debate.

Unanimous selection? He would be the first. Eleven voters said no to Babe Ruth.

But Borris paints with broad, bold strokes. The agent and his celebrated client make a fine team: Neither one cares what you think of him. Steroids, asterisks, BALCO, blah, blah, blah ...

Here's Borris, to ESPN this year: "Baseball fans around the world owe Barry Bonds a debt of gratitude for being lucky enough to watch him."

And here's Borris, to the Associated Press last year: "They should feel fortunate that they'll have the opportunity to see him break probably the most hallowed record in sports."

Pardon us, but it all sounds tone deaf.

Bonds might be the most divisive player of our generation, in his own clubhouse as well as among fans, a villain who relishes the role, defiant in the face of detailed allegations of steroid use.

No one else could inspire national news organizations -- ABC, CBS, AP and USA Today among them -- to commission polls asking Americans for their feelings about a baseball player. In the Davie-Brown index of celebrity appeal, Bonds ranks 328th among 350 sports figures.

Trevor Hoffman, the Padres' distinguished closer, grins as he listens to a few excerpts of Borris on Bonds. Borris also represents Hoffman.

"I don't think he's going out on a limb by saying the things he's saying about the things Barry has done as a player," Hoffman said.

"He will speak up for his guys. He's definitely not a schlep. He's very calculated in his thought process. He's not going to go into any type of negotiation or commentary about a client unprepared. While it might seem like he's laying it on a little thick, I truly believe he goes to war for all his clients."

Even Bonds thought Borris was laying it on a little thick on one occasion. Borris told USA Today that 1,000 home runs were "within Barry's reach," to which Bonds shot back: "You believe a non-athlete? One thousand home runs? That's not realistic for anybody."

Borris played baseball, but at the level most of us did. He played at West Hills Little League, alongside another kid who grew up to be an agent at Beverly Hills Sports Council, Rick Thurman.

"You never know when the guy shagging fly balls next to you could be your lifelong friend and business partner," Borris said.

Borris worked his way through Cal State Northridge with a part-time job at the Cheesecake Factory, then graduated from Southwestern Law School in 1989 and parlayed an internship at the Sports Council into a full-time job.

He's 45 now, one of the partners in an office decorated in part with magazine covers featuring clients of the agency. You can find two asterisks within the display, on Sports Illustrated covers reading, "The Long Strange Trip to 715*" and "So Many Questions*."

Bonds once dumped Borris as his agent, signed up with Scott Boras, then boomeranged back to Borris, apparently without regrets or concerns on either side.

"Barry called me up and asked if I wanted his old client back," Borris said. "I said sure. That was about as long as the discussion took."

With 21 more home runs, Bonds will break Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755. Commissioner Bud Selig has adamantly refused to say whether he will attend the milestone event, but Borris says he believes Selig will be there.

"I believe that, when push comes to shove, Hank will be there as well," Borris said.

In his ambivalence, Selig reflects baseball's fan base. If the polls did not show so many fans rooting against Bonds, Selig would be there for sure.

"I've heard that fans either love him or hate him, but even the fans that hate him don't get out of their seats when he's at bat," Borris said. "They don't go out and buy a hot dog and a beer when Barry's hitting. If they're watching the Giants on TV when Barry comes up, they don't switch the station.

"So I think those fans might be a little hypocritical. Love him or hate him, you're still going to watch him play."

Chicks still dig the long ball, and so does most everyone else. On the evening when Bonds sets the all-time record for long balls, there should be joy throughout the land.

Yet the applause will be muted, at least among fans who perceive Bonds as a cheater. To those who would boo, or to those who would mark the occasion by tossing another syringe on the field, Borris has something to say.

"Barry has been unfairly portrayed as being the poster boy for the steroid era," Borris said. "The game has cheated Barry. Barry has not cheated the game."

That raises the question of why Borris believes Bonds has been unfairly portrayed. Borris considers the question and pauses, and then the man who says so much for Barry Bonds says nothing.

"That's really all I have to say," Borris said.

*

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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