The Home Run King attended a Hall of Fame banquet this summer, but his name did not appear in the program or on any plaque. Seven weeks before Cooperstown's annual celebration would carry on without Barry Bonds, another ceremony honored his girlfriend, Mari Holden, a 2000 world champion and Olympic silver medalist in cycling. Bonds himself amounted to arm candy at the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and he looked the part: trim and sleek, free of the bloat that defined his later years in baseball.
The transformation had become evident during his 2011 trial on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, when observers ascribed it to the absence of performance-enhancing drugs. But Bonds had also become obsessed with cycling, which can whittle middle-aged bodies into the contours of youth. He had turned to the sport at the urging of his battered knees, entering a world where he ranks as ordinary, except for his past and his Olympian girlfriend.
When they met, she could crush him on an incline, and apparently he loved that. "He's very animated about it, and very funny," said Mike Sinyard, the founder and CEO of Specialized Bicycle Components, who has befriended Bonds. "He couldn't believe it: 'How is this little, beautiful woman passing me going up this hill?'"
So in June, Bonds drafted off his girlfriend Holden, 42, to the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame event, sitting in an audience of about 300 with Holden's parents, looking so different that it took a while for some people to recognize the celebrity at the front table.
For those who did, he obliged autograph and photo requests before and after the banquet. A fan who approached during the main event got a polite brush-off. Later, Bonds reportedly promised, after the speeches.
"He was very gracious to everyone, but it was Mari's night, and he stepped back," said Maureen Dobbins, the chairperson for the county Hall of Fame. Dobbins said she had held a low opinion of Bonds before the event, mostly because of his links to performance-enhancing drugs. "I'll be honest, when I heard he was going to be there, I thought, I don't want to be near him, but seeing how he was, his demeanor, he was a perfect gentleman."
Will Bonds ever win over a wider swath of people, or will he always be a king in limbo? By now, he should be the fading face of American doping. The Lance Armstrong myth broke bad a year ago, revealing a pattern of intimidation far beyond any accusations ever thrown at Bonds. Then came the Biogenesis investigation, which eclipsed Bonds' BALCO scandal, exposing Ryan Braun as not only a juicer but also a scurrilous smear campaigner, and oiling up A-Rod for a cage match with MLB's suits.
All over baseball, Bonds' PED contemporaries have found forgiveness, often the kind that comes with employment opportunities. Matt Williams, cited in the Mitchell Report six years ago, just became the manager of the Washington Nationals. Jason Giambi interviewed for the Rockies' job last year. Mark McGwire, the first man to leave the fingerprints of synthetic hormones on a home-run record, became the hitting coach in St. Louis, then in L.A.
Bonds has made it clear that he, too, wants back into baseball as an instructor or adviser, just as he had made it clear that he did not want to retire in 2007, when the Giants let him go. No team has responded, then or now. "What do I do now?" the 49-year-old said plaintively in an MLB.com interview early this year. "I picked a career that only lasted half my life."
When a federal jury found Bonds guilty of obstruction of justice two and a half years ago, but failed to reach a verdict on three meatier perjury counts, conventional wisdom declared the prosecution a bust. The same wisdom had said before the trial that the government could never get a guilty verdict against Bonds in San Francisco, so the interpretation was more self-serving than accurate.
For Bonds and his Murderers' Row of lawyers, however, even that one felony conviction was an absolute defeat. It immediately cut Bonds off from hunting, his pre-cycling passion, and it may forever prevent him from owning a gun. It enables a freeze-out from baseball that has not applied to others who committed the same basic offense against the game. He's a convicted felon; they're not. It nourishes the people who despised Bonds long before he followed McGwire's lead.
He is still so widely reviled by fans beyond San Francisco that Jim Leyland's retirement last month generated an online revival of a 22-year-old video from Pirates spring training showing the exasperated manager hurling a string of F-bombs at his left fielder.
As the son of Bobby Bonds and heir to his exceptional athletic gifts, Barry grew up with unusual privileges and expectations, plus uncommon wariness. As alcoholism rendered Bobby erratic, he was discarded by team after team, never afforded the protections that accrued to a similarly afflicted white star such as Mickey Mantle. When his time came, the younger Bonds said things aloud that ballplayers of prior generations (or with more prudence) hadn't dared, referring to Pittsburgh teammate Andy Van Slyke as "The Great White Hope" and declaring that he saw baseball as a business, not a game.
In the grand jury testimony that turned him into a felon, Bonds described himself as a celebrity child, which had nothing to do with the question posed but explained almost perfectly his failures to communicate, even as he failed, criminally, to communicate. To whatever degree Bonds obstructed justice, he got in his own way far more egregiously.
"He has a big heart; it's just hard to get in there," said Dusty Baker, who grew up near Bobby Bonds, then managed Barry for 10 years in San Francisco. "And he knew he could be difficult. I remember talking to Barry when he was still playing, about retirement. He said that when he retired, he had a lot of apologizing to do. I told him, 'They may not want to hear it then.'"
Bonds has always been able to dial up the charm when he wants, and it may come more easily to him now that he's done playing. The last time Peter Magowan, the Giants' former managing general partner, saw Bonds, he was struck by how much lighter Bonds looked, emotionally as well as physically. "The weight's off his shoulders, things that were wearing him down, whether it was baseball or family issues," he said. "He just looks happier now."
Bonds made a significant concession recently. After his first appeal was rejected on Sept. 13, he requested that the stay on his sentence be lifted, so that he could start serving it, even as his lawyers keep working to overturn the verdict itself. Granted, it's soft time: 30 days of home confinement for a man who can use as his stockade a 17,000-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion with a gym and a theater. But accepting premature punishment meant laying down a measure of pride, so that he could start moving forward.
In his life away from baseball, Bonds has already pulled off an upset, winning over an ardent, public critic of PEDs: his girlfriend. In 2005, three months after McGwire went to Washington and declined to talk about his past, Holden appeared at a hearing about performance-enhancement among women and girls. Designated as an athlete ambassador for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, she told Congress:
I am here because I want to make sure that the clean athletes of today and tomorrow have a voice. Our children need to have a level playing field, and the use of drugs for sport or looks should be deterred at all levels. As a clean athlete, I want you to test me so that the world knows that when I win, I win fair and square. I believe all clean athletes feel the same when given the chance to speak freely about these issues. Frankly, it is the same simple rule we all followed as children on the playground and which our children hopefully still follow today. Cheaters never win, and winners never cheat.
* * *
At 8 a.m., on an already-scorching October Saturday, 7,500 cyclists left from a community center in California wine country to ride one of three courses (Piccolo, Medio, Gran) in the Levi's GranFondo. The event is a mass-start ride that welcomes pros, weekend riders and parents with their kids, plus the only man ever to hit 762 major league home runs. A year ago, Bonds completed the 61-mile Medio course and took 32nd place in his age group, while still recovering from back surgery. The year before that, he rode the 111-mile El Tour de Tucson and finished in 5 hours, 47 minutes and 8 seconds, for 681st place out of 3,092 entries. His race number there was 25, just as with the Giants.
Bonds turns up at other, more competitive cycling events as a spectator, sometimes in an official pace car, a perk of dating someone who works with an array of sponsors and race organizers.
He entered the 2013 GranFondo but withdrew three weeks before the start, the day his appeal was denied. "Barry had to stay home," said Sinyard, whose company sponsored the event. "Thirty days." He laughed when he said it. In baseball circles, people of rank talk about Bonds' home confinement in stiff or hushed voices, if at all. In cycling, a long history of PED reckoning has left little room for reproach and censure about any athlete, especially here in the VIP tent of Levi's GranFondo.
The founder of the ride, Levi Leipheimer, is one of the six Armstrong lieutenants who accepted a six-month ban from cycling after cooperating with USADA's investigation. He and Bonds have become friends, through the women in their lives -- his wife Odessa Gunn and Holden once rode on a team together -- and the baseball star's devotion to the bike. "He told me it saved him," Leipheimer said. "He said it gave him something that challenged him." Leipheimer has stayed at Bonds' Southern California mansion and discussed PEDs with his new friend. "He does talk about it, not in specifics," Leipheimer said. "He talks about the owners and the commissioner's office and their relationship to it."
Leipheimer has been transitioning out of his own limbo. In the 2013 GranFondo program, he wrote a welcome note that referred to his last year as humbling. The 2012 version of the event went off 11 days before USADA released the results of its investigation, including Leipheimer's confession. He lost his contract with the Omega Pharma-Quickstep team and announced his retirement as the suspension ended. At that point, he didn't know whether the GranFondo would still be thriving in 2013, or how he would be received, even in his hometown of Santa Rosa.
"People forgave me," he said, "and I'm very grateful for that."
The race's festival grounds, minus one shiny-domed slugger, were packed on that early October Saturday, and Leipheimer received the open-armed treatment that Bonds can always expect at AT&T Park. One couple who had met at a previous GranFondo decided to marry at this one and asked the founder to officiate. When Bonds shows up at these events, he tends to be fairly visible, because he is who he is and because, as a few riders noted at the GranFondo, the crowds tend to be rather monochromatically pale. "He plays it well, he just rolls with it," Sinyard, the Specialized CEO, said. "He's very friendly to everybody. He makes people feel good about themselves."
To people who knew him as a ballplayer, Bonds' love for an endurance sport does not surprise. Jim Warren, one of his personal trainers in the days before his body ballooned, has worked with countless professional athletes and calls Bonds "the hardest-working guy I've ever trained, by far. I've never had anybody work harder than Barry."
Through his publicist, Bonds declined an interview request for this story. But in the spring, when he attended the California half-Ironman as a spectator, Bonds turned chatty with a broadcaster. His knees preclude any thoughts of an Ironman, Bonds told the broadcaster, because he can't run more than three miles at a time. He has taken swimming classes at UCLA, though, making limited progress. "I'm not good at it," he said in his familiar, reedy voice. He smiled and laughed often, primarily at himself, throughout the interview. In the background sat a tent for Specialized, Sinyard's company. A year ago, when a Specialized Concept store in Santa Rosa sold Bonds an $18,000 McLaren Venge S-Works bike, custom-painted in Giants orange and black, Leipheimer tweeted a picture of the man and his new bike. While Bonds' own sport stiff-arms him, another relishes his endorsement.
The outdoors world was poised to make a similar embrace six years ago, after teammate Ryan Klesko introduced Bonds to skeet shooting. Hooked instantly, Bonds signed up for a hunting class with a couple of friends. Before long, he was stalking game through the hills of California's Trinity Alps with his instructor, Jeffrey Banke, hunting pigs in another part of the state, taking expeditions to South Africa, Mexico and Canada, reporting back to Banke that he had finished second in an archery competition. As Sinyard said of the cycling fascination, "When he does something, he's all-in. He likes to dive deep."
A firearms manufacturer did a promotional video with the slugger, then had to shelve it: Bonds' obstruction conviction barred him, possibly forever, from using any item considered a dangerous weapon. "As I understand it, they impounded all of his equipment, the firearms and the archery equipment," said Banke, an instructor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "If the appeal goes his way, he'll get it back. And technically, even if it doesn't go right for him, he can probably hunt with a bow again, but not with a firearm." As long as the conviction stands, his ability to hunt will be limited. In fact, it's only due to a recent court order in Bonds' favor that the home run king is permitted to own a baseball bat.
Banke said he and Bonds stay in touch now as friends, with the hope that the celebrity protégé will regain his freedom to hunt at some point. Banke believes that Bonds would make an ideal booster for hunting in California, where license applications have been declining. "I felt a long time ago that Barry, because of his natural abilities and of course his past fame, could be somebody who could get a lot more African-Americans, and a lot more hunters, period, involved," Banke said. "It would be an extremely good thing for hunting in California to have somebody like him as a showpiece, doing television shows and things like that, but of course, that's not going to happen anytime soon."
* * *
In Kirk Rueter's hometown of Hoyleton, Ill., people constantly ask the retired pitcher what it was like to play with Barry Bonds. He answers with a surprising anecdote.
When Rueter and wife Karla went into baby-making mode in 1999, their stalled fertility became a running joke in the Giants' clubhouse. On a road trip that summer when families were invited to come along, Bonds approached the couple on the team plane and booted Kirk out of his seat. "He said, 'Go back and play cards or whatever you do. I'll talk to Karla.' The whole trip, he sat there with her, and they were just talking, and he was telling her how to get pregnant and what I had to do," Rueter said by phone. "She got off the plane, and she was laughing. She said, 'I think Barry's going to take credit if we get pregnant, after all the things he was telling me.'"
Another man might have been appalled at a colleague advising his wife on the specifics of conceiving, but Rueter, now the father of two girls, tells the tale generously, laughing throughout. "Barry was always great to me," he said.
Another former teammate, asked to discuss Bonds, kept his answer shorter: "Do I have to?" As a player, Bonds showed different faces to different people. He'd tell one group of fans to get lost, then accommodate another. He would refuse a simple favor, then turn up at a baseball event run by a friend of a friend and do whatever was asked and more.
To return to baseball now, Bonds doesn't need the personal connections and reservoir of goodwill that usually determine employment, even in pro sports. He has ruled out a full-time coaching job, which would place him in a claustrophobic fraternity for nearly nine months a year. But for him to have a role of any significance, he has to let more people see him the way that Rueter did.
Distance from the trial should help. It routinely descended into a sewer, eliciting an ex-lover's testimony about shrunken testicles and menacing rages. Kimberly Bell said Bonds had threatened to cut off her head then toss her into a ditch, and to tear out her breast implants because he had paid for them. Stan Conte, the former Giants' trainer, testified about a conversation with Bonds in which Conte explained that he disapproved of PEDs in part because he wanted a level playing field for his son, Nick, then a minor leaguer. According to Conte's testimony, Bonds suggested that Nick visit a doctor, say that he couldn't get an erection and receive a cream to correct the deficiency.
Kathy Hoskins, a family friend from childhood and for a while the slugger's personal shopper, broke into tears as she delivered damaging testimony against a man who once took her to a Sadie Hawkins school dance. She said she had seen Bonds injected in the navel by strength trainer Greg Anderson. He had told the BALCO grand jury that no one but his personal doctor had ever injected him, and Hoskins' testimony brought the jury within one vote, 11-1, of a perjury conviction. Her brother Steve, Bonds' former business manager, testified that he would distribute cash to the then-married superstar's mistresses.
Anderson suffered the most collateral damage, losing more than a year of his life to incarceration for his refusal to testify against Bonds. So far, no evidence indicates that Anderson gained anything from his resistance, except the reverence of fellow inmates for not snitching on the superstar. He again works as a trainer in the Bay Area, at a health club in Foster City.
The whole mess could have been avoided if Bonds had answered questions straightforwardly in front of the BALCO grand jury -- as most of the other witnesses did, including Giambi, his fellow 2000 MVP. All of the BALCO witnesses received promises that they would not be prosecuted for anything mentioned in testimony against the drug distributors, as long as they provided truthful information. Only a handful squandered their immunity. Bonds made his own misfortune.
But as memories of the case fade, an eventuality that benefits almost everyone in the game, the baseball relationships that Bonds built, or torched, will matter more. Bobby Bonilla and John Cangelosi, teammates from his Pittsburgh years, both say they became instant friends with Bonds. Bonilla still calls him "B.B.," and he chose Bonds as godfather to his son, Brandon. For Cangelosi, the superstar vaulted over his infamous frugality to buy a motorcycle as a wedding gift.
Bonds also sprang for a Mercedes after losing a 2001 bet with teammate Shawon Dunston, who had predicted that Bonds would break McGwire's single-season record of 70 homers that year. After he finished with 73, Dunston joked about collecting on the wager, never expecting Bonds to follow through. "But he kept his end," he said. "He called me 10 days later. 'Come meet me in Redwood City to get your car.'"
It is a keepsake more than a vehicle to Dunston. "It has 58,000 miles on it," he said. "It's my baby. I'll never trade it in."
Warren, the personal trainer from Bonds' early days in San Francisco, remembers a flip side of that generosity. He said he and Steve Hoskins were helping clean out Bonds' garage one day in the early '90s, when Hoskins came across boxes filled with balls from several All-Star Games, each ball signed by every player sent to that year's game. Hoskins, he said, asked Bonds if they could each take one ball. "He says 'F--- no, you guys don't get those.' It was crazy. He could turn on a dime," Warren said. "Now it's 100 degrees, and we're unpacking this guy's s--- in his garage, and he's probably got in this box 2,000 autographed balls, and these are his boys, his best friend and his trainer. And 'F--- no.'"
Still baffled all these years later, Warren let out a laugh. "He was always mad about something," he said. "I could never figure out what it was."
In any scouting report on Bonds' temperament, two points hold sway: Count on him to treat your kids well, and always stand up to him. "Barry loved kids, because they didn't want anything from him," former Giants first baseman J.T. Snow said. His son, Shane, once climbed all over Bonds' deluxe leather recliner while eating chocolate, sending Bonds into a bluster until he learned who had made the mess. "Barry just looked at him," Snow said, "and said, 'That's all right,' and slapped him on the back."
Snow never felt intimidated by Bonds because he also had a pro athlete for a father, former Rams receiver Jack Snow, and because they shared an agent when he arrived in San Francisco. He felt he could say things to Bonds that other players might not dare, but he noticed that almost anyone who challenged the slugger gained his respect. "He was such a big figure, so he liked guys that had an opinion," Snow said. "If you were going to say something, say it. I think he liked that, rather than him saying something and people just rolling over for it, not responding. If you could have a comeback for him, he'd treat you different."
Sometimes, verbal jousting wasn't enough. A few teammates skirmished physically with him, or came close to it. Pitcher Danny Darwin once confronted him in a dugout over his leisurely pursuit of a ball in left field, and the two had to be separated. Mark Carreon took him on after a loutish comment about his wife made its way through the team grapevine. (In Love Me, Hate Me, Jeff Pearlman's biography of Bonds, Carreon described their peacemaking meeting in the manager's office. Bonds, he said, apologized and called Carreon one of his best friends on the team. "I didn't even like Barry, and he thought we were good friends," Carreon said. "Man, is he bizarre.")
Andy Van Slyke confirmed that he and Bonds had tangled in the Pirates' clubhouse once, for reasons he didn't want to revisit. (It was not the "Great White Hope" remark.) "Here's the interesting thing: After we had that fight, we got along better than before," Van Slyke said. "When I stood up to him, our relationship changed. If you backed down to Barry, if you kowtowed to him, he didn't respect you."
Marvin Benard once dared to encroach on Bonds' bank of lockers at the back of the Giants' clubhouse. The seven-time MVP had claimed the whole wall for himself, his recliner, his TV and his cast of helpers. But when Benard couldn't pull out of a slump, he took his stuff and moved into a stall in the Bonds' compound, hoping proximity to greatness would change his luck. "Everybody was freaking out: Barry's going to go off on you," Benard said. "He had to protect his image, so when he came out and saw me, he started screaming, trying to kick the chair … Then when we were between ourselves, he says, 'Hey man, it's cool. I just had to do that.'" Benard stayed in the locker the rest of the season. "He never did tell me to get out.''
In an attempt to re-craft his image in retirement, Bonds has said he willfully struck an antihero pose. "I created that guy out there for entertainment only," Bonds said last year. "Whether you hated me or liked me, you were there." His strength trainer half confirmed that premise back in 2003, implying that a Bonds with mass-appeal could not deliver as heartily on the field. "[He's] been way too nice," Anderson said, on a secret recording that became evidence in the trial. "Be an a--hole again. Every time he's an a--hole, it f---ing works. He f---ing plays good, because he's just being himself."
Bonds distinguished himself from Lance Armstrong, the leading villain in the sports world, by not menacing colleagues or their families when they had to give evidence against him. After Leipheimer appeared in front of the grand jury investigating their team, his wife received a text message from Armstrong that read: "Run don't walk."
In contrast, Bonds didn't even appear to a bear a grudge toward the baseball people who testified against him. Benard was his only ex-teammate to testify for the prosecution, and he remembers looking repeatedly at Bonds from the chair, hoping to make eye contact. "Then in between, when the lawyers were changing places, he looked at me, we made contact, and we just started laughing," Benard said. "I just shrugged my shoulders, like, What are you doing, dude?"
The first time Stan Conte, the former Giants trainer, saw Bonds after the trial, the two were waiting for a delayed flight out of the Burbank airport. Bonds couldn't have been friendlier. He yelled "hello," came to see Conte and stayed to talk for at least an hour, filling in the former trainer on his life, his love of cycling, his relationship with Holden, his desire to return to baseball and his belief that he still had a lot to offer the game. "We talked about the trial, and he said had no bad feelings toward me for testifying, and that he understood what my position was," Conte said. "I sure got the impression that he wanted to move on and that he thought people were not letting him move on."
As they sat there, Conte noticed a fairly shocking transformation in Bonds' lifestyle. In a crowded terminal, the slugger seemed almost anonymous. "To me, Bonds had always been one of the most recognizable faces in the United States," he said. "I'd been around him so many years, and I was used to people coming up to him all the time. And now, only a few people came up. But when they did, he was unbelievably charming."
* * *
Bonds keeps telling people that he wants to move home to the Bay Area, where he delivered newspapers as an adolescent and goosebumps as a ballplayer. He moved to L.A. in 2002, four years after marrying his second wife, Liz, now his second ex. He once had hopes of becoming an actor, but the plan never got past a few mid-'90s TV appearances, the last one in "Nash Bridges," which was set in San Francisco.
Early this year, Bonds put his Beverly Hills mansion on the market -- available to anyone who can pull together $25 million and wants Magic Johnson and Sylvester Stallone as neighbors -- and an Aspen house listed in his name is also up for sale, at $4.9 million. "He's a pretty smart businessman, and he's made a lot of money on his real estate ventures," said his ex-boss Magowan. "I wouldn't think he'd be in financial trouble, because he saved his money from the Giants. He wasn't the type to spend his money on frivolous things like a lot of people do."
If MLB won't have him as an instructor, Bonds has said he will open a Bay Area baseball school for kids, perhaps one like Cangelosi Baseball, the training center founded by his former Pittsburgh teammate and Bo Jackson. Cangelosi has suggested that Bonds come out to the site in Lockport, Ill., to work with the kids there. "We just kind of talked about it briefly," he said. "If he's interested in doing something like this, I'd love to explore that option, and as an ex-teammate, it would be fun having him around."
Mike Krukow, the Giants' broadcaster, knows Bonds pretty well and believes that he belongs with young pros, perhaps even established ones, teaching them about hitting. "He sees a lot of things that other players don't see, and it always blew his mind that nobody else saw what he saw," Krukow said. When Bonds still played, the broadcaster would ask him to sit down for a long, recorded conversation about hitting. "And he'd say, 'Nope, if I'm going to do that, I'm going to sell it,'" Krukow said. "When you have a reputation like his, you feel that what you have to share, people should pay for … He's going to have to get over that."
Teammates knew that Bonds could read situations better than anyone in the game. From the dugout and on deck, he would call a pitch before its release. He picked up on tells like a poker champ. "His baseball intelligence was off the charts," Van Slyke said.
"A lot of people said Roberto Alomar was the smartest, but no, it was Barry," Dunston said. "He wasn't the friendliest player, but he was the smartest, and that's why he was the best." Sometimes, Dunston said, teammates could tune in when Bonds, ever the rambler, started spilling out information in the dugout. "We just didn't let him know," Dunston said, "because if it helped, Barry would want to take credit for it."
His father apparently had similar skills and happily shared them. When Bobby Bonds joined Krukow with the Cubs, he spelled out his new teammate's quirks as a pitcher. "He says, 'I know when you're throwing a curveball, and I know when you're throwing to first base,'" Krukow said. "Curveball, you look in to get your sign, and for whatever reason, you blink.' And when I was going to throw to first, I'd always dip my chin."
Barry kept the information to himself, Baker said, "because he thought if one of our guys got traded, it'd give them a competitive edge when they pitched against us. But I think he's ready to share now."
Snow remembers Bonds studying a reliever as he warmed up, spotting a vulnerability the way a cat homes in on a wounded bird. "He couldn't throw his slider, it was all over the place, and Barry looks at me and says, 'You think he's going to throw me that slider, when he can't get it over the plate when no one's up there?" Snow said. "And he was right. The guy couldn't throw him a slider, because he didn't have confidence in it. Barry said, 'I'm not even going to look for that pitch.'" Did that help Snow? He shook his head. "I still had to look for it, because I wasn't the hitter Barry was."
In 2002, when the Giants went to the only World Series of Bonds' career, the sage came out of hiding. Instead of his teammates picking up stray comments he'd make, they had a genuine mentor. "He wanted that ring. He started taking us aside and telling us things, especially during batting practice," Dunston said. "He didn't usually stretch with us, and then he started stretching with us. We were like 'Man, why didn't you do this before?' But better late than never."
* * *
A lot of ballplayers retire thinking that they don't need the game anymore. They're relieved to jettison the crazy travel and to spend more time with the family. Then the pangs start. Bonds thought he'd be immune. He once predicted: "When my time in the game is up, you missed the show. You'll never see me again."
Of course, Bonds never chose to retire. "I got fired," he told an audience at a paid event in a San Francisco auditorium, four weeks after Magowan informed him that the franchise needed to hit the reset button. Three weeks after that appearance, on Nov. 15, a grand jury handed up his perjury and obstruction indictment, and Bonds has been in limbo ever since.
He couldn't get a job for the 2008 season, despite his 2007 totals of 28 home runs and an OPS of 1.045, astonishing for a 43-year-old. Did those numbers not warrant the hassle of dealing with a federally indicted, gimpy, middle-aged player who had apology IOUs stacked up in his head? Or was this a conspiracy to impose a de facto ban on the man who'd had the gall to swipe Hank Aaron's home run record? After Bonds' agent offered his star's services for the minimum salary, the Players Association said it had found evidence of collusion and planned to file a grievance, pending the final act of Bonds' legal drama. Today, the union says the grievance remains, like so much else in Bonds' life, on hold. In theory, he could appeal his criminal conviction all the way up to the Supreme Court and then enter arbitration over the collusion claim. Isn't that what every boy envisions when he dreams of stardom in the majors?
"Why did he become the scapegoat of all this?" asked Van Slyke. He compares Bonds' situation to that of well-liked pitcher Andy Pettitte, who, after being named in the Mitchell Report, said he tried HGH twice to heal an injury. "How is he different from Andy Pettitte? Andy Pettitte is no less guilty or more innocent than Barry Bonds."
Some of Bonds' fellow felons have moved on more seamlessly. Former NFL player Dana Stubblefield pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents, received probation and then violated it by diverting his ex-girlfriend's mail as part of a harassment campaign. After a 90-day jail sentence, he found radio and TV gigs in the Bay Area. Marion Jones, the radiant American star of the 2000 Olympics, pleaded guilty to lying about both her drug use and a subsequent check-fraud scheme. She spent six months in prison. When she got out, she fell into the embrace of the forgiving and celebrity-starved WNBA, wrote an autobiography and sent Jon Stewart swooning when she appeared on The Daily Show to promote it.
Mark McGwire famously re-opened doors in 2010 with a requisite confession and apology, but Bonds can't go there without imperiling his appeal. He did put a toe in those waters last year, when his name first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, telling Barry Bloom of MLB.com: "I can sit here and say in a very kind way that I'm sorry about the way things ended." But as long as he fights his conviction, he cannot dive into the deep end.
He has humbled himself mightily in the interest of moving forward, not only by serving the home confinement, but also by approaching the Giants last year about job possibilities. Bonds had never been a supplicant before, not like this. The Giants said that his 10-year personal services contract with them, attached to one of his baseball deals, would go into effect only after his legal odyssey ends. Presumably, when that happens, Bonds would be welcomed back in some capacity. Several of his Giants' peers, such as Dunston and Will Clark, have returned as special instructors, but the team refuses to discuss what specific role Bonds might play in the future.
Bonds still comes to games in San Francisco, visiting the clubhouse, chatting in the broadcasting booth with Krukow and Duane Kuiper. He has also attended team reunions, thrown out a ceremonial first pitch before a 2010 playoff game and continued philanthropic work in the Bay Area. But his number has yet to be retired, and outside the ballpark, where a Bonds statue once seemed a certainty, those of Mays, Marichal, McCovey and Cepeda await his company.
At the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame banquet, one of the four athletes inducted along with Mari Holden was 89-year-old ultramarathoner Fred Nagelschmidt. He aimed the opening of his speech at the many high school athletes in the audience, telling them: Don't do PEDs. "Because Barry was there and because of the controversy around him, people were sneaking peeks at him," Dobbins, the chairperson, said. "He didn't react at all. It's the way he was all night; he was very gracious."
Nagelschmidt said he meant no insult to Bonds. Until the last second, he hadn't even realized the slugger was sitting in the audience. "To tell you the truth," he said, "I almost didn't recognize him."