Yesterday’s weary words from a disconsolate Barry Bonds have increased speculation that we’ll not see the Sultan of Surly resume his assault on the record books. Add the New York Times’ Selena Roberts to the growing list of those who will not miss the Giants slugger.
Are there asterisks for retirements? With his mercurial mood ring morphing to black yesterday, Barry Bonds launched into an unprompted catharsis that seemed a lot like a miserable goodbye to the game.
“You wanted me to jump off the bridge, I finally have jumped,” Bonds told reporters in Scottsdale, Ariz. “You wanted to bring me down, you’ve finally brought me and my family down. Finally done it. From everybody, all of you. So now go pick a different person. I’m done.”
I’m done, as in forever? A discussion about his finicky right knee – with Bonds indicating he might miss this season – slipped into a dire self-analysis about his will to continue at all.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday that Kimberly Bell, testifying before a grand jury investigating Balco, said that Bonds told her several years ago that he was using steroids. If her story proves true, Bonds may have perjured himself before a grand jury. Bell told The New York Times that Bonds gave her $80,000 in bundled cash from autographing baseballs, with crafty instructions on how to parse and deposit it. If Bonds failed to report that income, a taxman will have some questions for him.
Bonds’s wife probably has a few queries of her own. Maybe his children do, too. What does he say to them? With his 15-year-old son, Nikolai, by his side yesterday, he simply blamed the news media for his predicament of despair.
“My son and I are just going to enjoy life,” he said. “My family’s tired. I’m tired. You guys wanted to hurt me bad enough, you finally got there.”
This is typical of Bonds’s aversion to accountability. Usually, it is his lawyers who do the finger-pointing for him. “It’s always been the U.S. versus Bonds,” Michael Rains, his lawyer, told The San Francisco Chronicle. “And they’re always just gunning for the big guy.”
But big-boy Bonds is the architect of his own trapdoor. He made choices about what substances to put in his body, about what to say to the Balco grand jury, about whom to trust as his mistress.
Now his choices may have caught up to him. Bonds’s blame game yesterday sounded like the ramblings from a paranoid man who realizes he could possibly lose it all: his chase for Hank Aaron’s record, the faith of his family and the joy of freedom. The reality may or may not be so dramatic, but this is how Bonds’s saga has unfolded, with him swaying from combative to irrational to despondent.
In late February, he had the audacity to say “What is cheating?” in his famously convoluted “Sanford and Son” news conference. In early March, he told a handful of reporters: “All this stuff about supplements, protein shakes, whatever. Man, it’s not like this is the Olympics,” before he went on to add: “We need to forget about the past and let us play the game. We’re entertainers. Let us entertain.”
Now he can hardly entertain a comeback from injury. Now he can hardly think about playing baseball again. And he shouldn’t.
Bonds may as well let yesterday be his retirement speech and his farewell to the farce of his own design. Just a hunch, but Bonds will never reach Aaron’s home run record because his body will not hold up anymore, because his power isn’t what it was, because his confidence is shot.
Bonds is refusing to hold any interviews when The Chronicle’s Giants beat reporter Henry Schulman is present, even though Schulman has not been involved in the BALCO investigative stories the paper has produced. Thus, Schulman is the unwilling face of Bonds’ latest “The media is after me” component, one which he reiterated in Tuesday’s interview. “You finally got me,” he said to the gathered notebooks allowed to watch him lecture them. “You wanted me to jump off the bridge, and now I finally have. …”
Bonds’ latest media appearance must be understood in a different way as well. He has long been acutely aware of the media’s uses and dangers, and the ways in which to make them snap to his needs. Thus, on Tuesday, Bonds showed what he wanted them to show, to paint him as a sympathetic figure being crushed by government and media alike. His son, Nikolai, was there, and Bonds referred often to finding solace with his family away from an outside world that has to a significant level rejected him. He is, in fact, caught on ESPN tape requesting to the cameraman to make sure his son is shown during the interview.