So I watched the premiere of Barry Bonds' vanity reality show, "Bonds on Bonds," on ESPN2 Tuesday and I feel like I understand a lot more about Bonds and the whole steroids controversy now.
It turns out he's just a really nice guy who jokes easily with his teammates, finds himself amused by such silliness as a cameraman standing in his driveway -- "The paparazzi! That's for like Paris Hilton and stuff like that. I ain't that good-looking!" -- warmly greets fans at traffic lights and is really sweet to Dusty Baker's kid.
Barry's admittedly tough on media guys, but what do you expect? I mean, get this: There's all these steroid allegations media guys keep making, in books, on TV, in newspaper and magazine stories, over and over, pretty much for no reason at all.
Media guys apparently do it to amuse themselves. "They needed a villain, you know, so I became the villain all the time," he says.
Being the villain really doesn't matter to Barry. He just concentrates on baseball anyway. And his family. Don't forget the family.
It's a deeply strange show. It probably provides some kind of clue into Bonds' mindset if you've got the Psych 1 chops and nothing better to do than look for clues to Bonds' mindset in his vanity show. It's an interesting and -- really, I can't stress this enough -- deeply strange mix of self-glorification, self-pity, brutal frankness, borderline delusional denial and good old-fashioned spin.
Oh, and I should mention the narcissism. Kind of goes without saying, this being a vanity TV series and all. And when I say denial, I don't mean denial of the steroid allegations, which Bonds doesn't address directly. I mean denial as in not just a river in Egypt, honey.
Bonds, who controls the content of the 10-episode series, is as much a virtuoso at the celebrity narcissist two-step as he is at swatting a baseball.
Allow me to lay out the dance steps:
1. I don't care what anybody thinks of me. I'm a big jerk, that's right, sure. Whatever. Think what you want.
2. Look, here's a picture of me cuddling on the couch with my daughter.
3. Fire away, haters, your measly opinions mean nothing to me.
4. Now we have video of me choking up as I describe how hard it is to be me. Don't you feel sorry for me? Isn't it great how I stand up to the intense pressure, never burden anyone with my pain? Can you see my pain, and how I don't burden anyone with it?
5. Have I mentioned how little I care what you think of me?
Let's give Bonds some credit. He or the people advising him on this show are smart enough to understand that viewers won't go for a complete white-washing, a portrayal of Bonds as the well-loved superstar athlete chasing two of baseball's most hallowed numbers, the career home run totals of Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron.
The premiere show opened with footage of Bonds being booed and heckled in San Diego on Opening Day Monday, when a fan threw a needle-less syringe at him as he trotted off the field. Fans in various ballparks are quoted, some supporting Bonds but some saying he should be banned from baseball.
The opening segment also featured various media figures who know him well, including Giants announcer Jon Miller and San Francisco Chronicle reporter Henry Schulman, talking about what a jerk he is.
"A lot of times it's just difficult because you just have some really simple questions you want to ask him," Schulman says. "'How are you feeling? How's the knee holding up? When do you think you're going to play?' And he gets very defensive sometimes on questions like that."
"Barry was rude to various people over the years, and these people may have understandably had it in for Barry and looked for ways of getting back at him," Miller says, "which would be sad but at the same time maybe something that he brought on himself."
Intercut scenes showed Bonds not denying or rebutting those statements, but spinning them. "Without their negativity," he says of the media, "I probably wouldn't have been as good as I am."
There's some Psych 1 stuff right there. Bonds probably thinks the sequence comes off to viewers the way it plays in his head: Reporters are mysteriously, unreasonably negative creeps who inspire him to his brilliant play.
I can tell you from having worked with Schulman that he's as friendly, polite, reasonable and professional as a person can be. But do I need to? Isn't it obvious from watching Bonds' own show that the inexplicably bad behavior in that relationship isn't coming from Schulman?
"I remember him telling me one time that when he gets out of the game he has a lot of people to apologize to," Baker, his manager for 10 years with the Giants, says at one point. "And I just said, 'B, when that happens, it could be too late.'"
It's impressive in a way that Bonds would approve of a show that leaves him, in the end, looking like a giant prick, even with the maudlin shots of him sitting on the grass at his dad's grave -- after yammering on about Bobby Bonds' alcoholism and absentee fathering -- and tearing up Andrew Dice Clay on "Arsenio"-style as he talks about his suffering.
It would be more impressive if I could believe that Bonds realizes the show makes him look like a giant prick. I'm not sure he does.
With his cockiness masquerading at times as self-deprecating humor and his gentle, almost feminine speaking style, Bonds comes across as a fairly likable guy here if you don't think too deeply about the context.
When his daughter says something cute in the midst of a fish-tank disaster that's flooded the living room, Bonds says, "It's a good thing you're 6, because I could kill you right now." It's meant to be cute, a little father-daughter needling.
But in the context of a self-produced documentary that portrays its star as having what appears to be a tenuous grasp on reality and almost no sense of right and wrong, it isn't cute.
As anyone who enjoys thinking about the baseball stats Bonds has piled up like almost no one before him knows, context is everything.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Maryland wins the Tournament [PERMALINK]
Hey, they finally played an exciting game at the Final Four.
Propelled into overtime by 5-7 Kristi Toliver's three-pointer over 6-7 Duke center Alison Bales with 6.1 seconds left, Maryland beat Duke 78-75 in the women's NCAA Championship Game in Boston Tuesday night.
Duke had led by as many as 13 in the second half before Maryland rallied behind Toliver and center Marissa Coleman, both freshmen. Coleman, who played poorly in the first half and got a 30-second, on-court, nationally televised chewing out from coach Brenda Frese, neutralized Bales in the second half and scored eight of her 10 points.
To be fair, Maryland's semifinal win over North Carolina wasn't a dog, but the Terrapins ground the Tar Heels down in the second half of that one, winning by 11. Duke got to the final by blowing out LSU. Of the six games in the two Final Fours, Maryland's win over Duke was the only one with a margin of victory in single figures.
Toliver's dash up court, her patient, probing drive around two screens and her ice-water shot over the leaping Bales to tie the game were the stuff of NCAA Tournament highlight reels. If you missed it, tune in next year. All of Maryland's significant players will be back.
Previous column: Florida wins NCAA men's title
- - - - - - - - - - - -