Barry Bonds had a reputation as standoffish, grumpy, surly and selfish during his playing career. No one ever doubted his greatness as a baseball player but many — the media, his teammates, his managers and coaches and no small number of fans — deemed him to be an unpleasant piece of work. And not without reason.
Since he retired and since the legal cloud of his perjury and obstruction of justice conviction lifted, Bonds has seemed like a different person in interviews and on social media. He’s usually smiling, usually doing fun, positive things and he’s often seen with his family or at least talking about them. Is Barry Bonds just a guy who grew up and loosened up or is all of this one big con? And if it’s a con, who the heck would he be trying to con at this point anyway?
Bonds, now the Marlins hitting coach, sat down with Terrence Moore of Sports on Earth recently. Moore has known Bonds for many years and might’ve gotten Bonds to open up even if he was still that surly old guy. But he’s a lot more open now and it’s pretty astounding how forthcoming and self-deprecating Bonds is in this interview.
The short version — but you should totally read the long version because Bonds expounds in great detail — is that when he broke into the bigs he was a young dumb kid with a lot of promise who didn’t handle the pressure well and, as a defense, he withdrew and lashed out in more or less equal measure. As he got older he had just gotten used to that posture even though part of him knew he should try harder to be a nicer guy. At some point it just became so much of his habit and routine that not being a jackass to everyone actually made it harder for him to play and prepare so he just leaned into it for the rest of his career. Bonds calls himself “a dumbass” and “stupid” and regrets his behavior and his attitude now. That much sounds genuine.
But it’s not that simple, of course, and he neither can be or should be easily forgiven by people he mistreated. The pattern of negative behavior reinforcing and begetting negative behavior Bonds describes is one all of us have observed or can relate to on some level, but it’s also the case that we are responsible for our actions. If those actions are the product of circumstances in which we simply couldn’t be ourselves for good reason, well, tough. We are what we pretend to be so we must be careful who we pretend to be. It’s also the case that, beyond his surliness, Bonds was accused of some pretty bad acts at various times of his life too, and those can’t be brushed away with “hey, my life was weird in the early 90s” rebop.
All of that said, Bonds does sound like someone who has grown up a lot over the years. One hopes that the people he actually hurt or mistreated have long ago gotten apologies for that beyond that which appears in a Sports on Earth story. One hopes that who we’re hearing in this story and who he appears to be in other interviews and on social media is the genuine article and that he’s a positive force for people who are close to him.
For the rest of us, though — people who Bonds doesn’t really owe anything, even if a lot of us like to pretend he and other athletes do — this is a pretty fascinating profile.