04 March 2008

We don't get it.

There's a telling moment in the grand jury testimony of Barry Lamar Bonds. The testimony, given in December of 2003, has recently been "unsealed" and can be downloaded in its entirety. In fact, an interesting sports law blog (yes, they have such things) called "Shyster Ball" does some laywerly analysis of what the Big Fella had to say in response to the prosecutors' questions. Before you ask--yes, I read not only the whole testimony but the analysis as well. I am not an attorney. If Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy didn't cover it on LAW & ORDER, then I'm in the dark. I read the stuff to see what Barry had to say. Now, Mr. Bonds is an unusual character, even in the world of sports. Notoriously prickly and hostile to the media, a Bonds press event was nonetheless more revealing and interesting than most because he was apt to say almost anything. Much of the time he said very pointed and truthful things, which went over the heads of the reporters and the fans because they weren't the kind of things he was supposed to say. Case in point: in the 1996 off-season, Matt Williams was traded. Fans loved Matt, and they wanted the new GMs head (Brian Sabean). Reporters loved the story, and fanned the flames all year. Turns out 1997 was a very good year--the Giants surprised everyone with an NL West title, and Sabean's new boys (like Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow) played a huge role. In the champagne-soaked locker room, reporters gathered around Bonds to ask his thoughts on winning the title. He, of course, was supposed to say "it's great, man, we all love each other and we stuck together and worked hard and blah, blah, blah." Jock talk. Reporters love it. Fans love it. Instead, Bonds said "I think you guys owe Brian Sabean an apology for all that stuff you wrote saying we were gonna be a lousy team and he was doing a lousy job." They were bewildered. They ran away from Barry as soon as he was done to find a more amenable fellow. I loved the moment. It was the first time I really appreciated the off-field Bonds. Candor? From an athlete? Pinch me! Which brings me back to reality, and the point. In the questioning of Bonds, the role of Mr. Greg Anderson was pivotal to the prosecution. Grilling Barry about his relationship to Anderson, they ask Bonds if the Giants were involved in their training regimen. Barry answers "no way." Surprised--apparently--the attorneys press the point, and Bonds explains that "we" (he and Anderson) don't "trust" baseball or the ballclub. Asked to explain, Bonds describes how he was "born in this game." He goes on to say:

Believe me. It's a business. Last time I played baseball was in college. I work for a living now.

I have no idea whether the testimony Bonds gave will get him convicted of perjury. From this amateur's point of view, I can't imagine how. There's nothing there. But, as I said, I'm not a lawyer. I am, however, a sports fan. And there is something powerful about Bonds' statement that I think all of us--fans, media types, casual observers--should think about. Sports is a business. It is "work" for those practitioners of it. They are PROFESSIONALS. That makes it different, for them, in a fundamental way. Fans, and in particular media types, try to frame sports in the same terms as Little League, or high school, or other amateur endeavors. This is a crock. Putting on a show for the local community theatre is not the same as being a movie star. Fudging on your tax returns is not the accounting ledgerdemain mastered by Enron. There is a difference, not only in scale and scope, but substance as well. John D. MacDonald was credited with a snappy comeback that is germane here. When fans or casual aquaintances found out who he was, they would inevitably say "I've always wanted to be a writer" (I'd have been guilty of that!). Mr. MacDonald would reply "Funny, I've always wanted to be a brain surgeon." Fantasy and reality. For thousands, even millions, playing a sport professionally is a fantasy. Being human, we project our values on to that fantasy. We refuse to believe it is NOT what is is, but that it is something else. If we could step away from our fantasies and see what the reality is, we probably would forget all about Barry Bonds, perjury, PEDs, etc., and let these men get on with their jobs. I love watching talented, hard-working chaps perform their panoply of skills. I have no illusions about them. Some of them are wonderful folks, I'm sure. But I'm not going to tell them how to do their jobs. I expect they know. And I refuse to project my fantasies and failed-jock angst on to them, any more than I'll tell the brain surgeon how he should go about cutting in to my skull.

(BTW, for baseball talk, check out my SFG blog: http://raisingmattcain.blogspot.com/)


nancyo said...

Wow -- powerful stuff, M.C. and to the point. Thanks. I miss Barry. He still is, for me, a powerful presence -- and a glorious bat man, nonpareil.

Zo said...

One thing I always noticed about Bonds. For a guy who had too much attitude to talk to the press (or one read in the press) he seemed awfully chatty when he was on base with the opposing team. That tells me that he is not all sullen-ness and arrogance. He was probaby talking about the game, how the pitchers were doing, whatever. Some players yakked back, some didn't, but he always appeared to be involved in a friendly conversation. Even a not particularly outgoing person can discuss their profession with peers. Sportswriters have never liked Bonds, because of how he treated them. This has never been more obvious than in the past year or so, as the PED story blossomed. I hope that payback tastes sweet, because there sure is a lot of it. Perhaps someone in the public eye just needs to suffer fools gladly. Or as Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, "Learn your cliches, cliches are your friend."

M.C. O'Connor said...

I noticed that Bonds always gabbed with the umpires, too. They respected him. He seems to have earned it by treating them well. He would show shock or irritation at a call, but it never lasted. And he never argued or remonstrated, nor did he ever badmouth them in the press.

B said...

In prep for the Giants/Dodgers game this coming Monday I thought I'd check in on your blogs. Never disappointed MC.

It will be the first time in years that I won't have to hear them booing Bonds. Those were love hate moments; Hateful for the lack of respect for such a great player. Love in that in typifies all of the stereotypes of LA that made me move away from this place twice. Stupid, arrogant, missing the obvious, easily led and distracted by the 'press."

One of the things I love most about baseball is the thoughtfulness of the fans. Costas is dead wrong and disappointingly sounds threatened; thought he'd be beyond that.

Til Monday...