“Bonds on Bonds” Revisited

The only thing worse than days without baseball during the regular season are days without baseball during the playoffs. As usual, the best remedy for baseball-less boredom is actually just more baseball; often in the form of Baseball-Reference Play Indexing and ridiculous Barry Bonds stats. As if I haven’t written about Bonds enough, I decided to turn (mostly) away from the statistical side of Barry Bonds and look back into the person he was in his playing days. One of the more interesting looks into Bonds’ life was the short-lived ESPN reality series, “Bonds on Bonds”, which aired during the latter half of the 2006 season, Bonds’ penultimate season in San Francisco. This series is certainly hard to track down, but some unclear portion of it is indeed on YouTube (embedded above) for your viewing pleasure/displeasure. While I definitely recommend watching the whole thing, here are some of the highlights:

1) At 17:30 – Bonds on his defense:

“There was always a cardinal rule: if I ain’t gettin’ no hits, you ain’t gettin’ no hits.”

I very much doubt Bonds was the first one to employ this mantra, but he carried it out better than most, especially over the first half of his career. For example:

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2) At 19:21 – Bonds on his time at Arizona State University:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js“I always tell everybody my major was MLB. That’s what I mastered at. I think the rest of it was just a waste of time…but I did major in criminal justice and um…I never went that far.”

There is a very, VERY small part of me that wishes Bonds pursued his major further and became some sort of state trooper or prison warden.

3) At 24:17 – Bonds on the value of his home run balls at that stage of his career:

“A home run has become a lottery ticket. You have the opportunity to better somebody’s life by hitting a home run. To me, that’s satisfying. ‘Thank you Barry Bonds, goodbye!’ You are welcome *laughs*.”

Bonds was at the point in his career where every home run he hit was worth serious money. Sure, the bundled-up fans sitting in their canoes in McCovey Cove looked crazy but they were simply waiting for a legitimately lucrative baseball to come falling from the sky into the freezing waters beneath them. I can’t totally blame them. It’s also pretty awesome how much Bonds enjoyed hitting those magical lottery tickets.

4) At 37:00 – Jimmy Rollins on Barry Bonds:

“I remember how I felt when I was younger just seeing the name ‘Bonds’ across his back. And I was like, ‘Bonds’…that’s one hell of a name.”

Same.

5) At 38:47 – Bonds on chasing records:

“I didn’t have to hit the home runs. I didn’t have to do a lot of things I do. I didn’t have to. I had that choice. But I chose that I wanted to be like Willie [Mays], and I wanted to be like Hank Aaron, and I wanted to be like Babe Ruth.”

Sure, Bonds had more natural baseball talent than 98% of the players that came before, during, and after his time. But it’s easy to point to countless immensely talented players that never really produced the way we hoped they could. From premier prospects that flamed out before even reaching the big leagues to decent major leaguers that never quite turned into the superstars that we expected, there are so many examples of raw talent failing to reach its full potential. Bonds understood the talent he possessed and did everything in his power to assure it was not wasted. As former manager Jim Leyland said, despite already being the best, Bonds worked harder than anyone to get the most out of his natural abilities. He was fully committed to becoming the best player he could be, which turned out to one of, if not the greatest player of all time.

6) At 41:05 – Bonds on what he needs to do to catch Hank Aaron:

“755 is reachable when Barry Bonds gets back into his character. 755 can be reached if Barry Bonds gets back to his character.”

At the time of the taping, Bonds was in the middle of a slump that led to questions about his ability to reach Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. For whatever reason, Bonds had gotten “out of character”, leading to a decrease in performance.

At his press conference this March when he was in Spring Training as a special instructor with the Giants, Bonds talked about “the character” he needed back when he played:

“I’m a different character now. I was a different character playing. Now, I’ve had time to slow down and do other things. I needed that guy to play. I needed him. It was who I was at the time. It’s not who I am in my day-to-day life.” 

What we’ve seen from Bonds over the years since he’s retired has only reaffirmed the idea that there was a distinct difference in the kind of person he was on and off the field. His self-awareness of this reality is often overlooked when people discuss how supposedly terrible of a person he was when he played.  Whether his on-field performance was enough of a justification for that “character” is a separate debate, but it’s very clear that he did need that character to perform to the best of his abilities.

7) At 44:20 – Bonds on his relationship with Willie Mays:

“Outside my dad coaching me, Willie has always been the one that I needed the most to accept me, because Willie was the best. My dad was a great baseball player but Willie was the best. And to have the best baseball player say, you know, ‘I got your back no matter what’…that’s a great feeling. When I hit 660 and 661, Willie made me feel that I wasn’t done yet. He’s like ‘you haven’t done nothing just cause you hit 660 home runs’. In my head, I’m thinking ‘what else do I gotta do to make this guy happy?”

One of the least appreciated things about Barry Bonds is the fact that he managed to be better than his father, Bobby. I only recently realized how insanely good of a baseball player Bobby Bonds was. For example:

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Of course, Bonds went on to have a way better career than his father. He didn’t even think twice about it, but only because Willie Mays was his godfather. Bobby Bonds was a hell of a standard to live up to. Willie Mays was a completely impossible standard to live up to. Yet somehow, he far surpassed them both.

8) At 47:58 – Bonds on Babe Ruth:

“Every ballplayer loves Babe Ruth. I mean, Babe Ruth started all of this mess! He was in a league of his own. I mean, he started the game. We, as ballplayers, admire that. Those that have come after him, that have put up bigger numbers, they’ve given us sights to chase. I’ve changed the game in a different era on the same level as Babe Ruth. I’ve changed the way managers think about pitching to players.”

I’m just glad Bonds of all people recognized the kinds of numbers he was putting up relative to the rest of the league. 12 of the 20 all-time best single season by OPS+ belong to Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth.

9) At 52:36 – Bonds on hitting home runs:

“Any time that you can make 42,000 people jump outta their seat…nothing is better than that. Nothing. That is about as good a drama as you could ever provide for people.”

He’s not wrong.

10) At 54:55 – Bonds on how he’s been treated throughout the steroid speculation:

“I’ve been in controversial situations ever since I was a kid. I’m pretty sure my kids block out a lot of stuff too because personally, my kids go through this too. I have never talked to them really about it but, I could imagine what my son and my daughter have to block out…what people think of their father. We’re going through all of this over baseball. See, a game. That’s sad. That’s sad.”

Sad indeed.

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