It’s “Bonds on Bonds”, an ESPN reality series with baseball’s favorite slugger and villain, San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds, front and center! And as an unapologetic barryphile, I already can’t get enough of this train wreck/epiphany. You see Barry Bonds off the field in all of his brusque, approachable, contrived, endearing, and – at least on the show – downright likable persona.
One thing that Bonds will achieve with this show is that it will make people hate him even more or love him for the first time. It’ll take only one person to cross the line and get in Barry’s corner to justify the intentions of the show’s braintrust and the first episode is no-doubt mission accomplished.
Whether it’s all an act is debatable, but the guy is showing that he’s no idiot and the character he may or may not be portraying is concrete proof that his PR machine is earning its paycheck. If there’s any question about his acting, check out a 1994 episode of “Beverly Hills 90210” where he made his acting debut (and I use the verb, “acting”, oh so liberally). Either the guy’s been auditing classes at Julliard for the last 12 years, or the Bonds we’re seeing on the show is at least very different than what we read from obvious Bonds haters like SI’s Tom Verducci or Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel.
The toughest part about watching this show is not what hordes of media are lining up to rail against, namely the self-promotion and the over-the-top portrayal of Bonds as an ordinary guy. That was all downright charming, if not slickly produced and packaged.
What punched me in the gut was the segment in the second half hour detailing how Bonds has never won a championship. And like watching someone running in slow motion to kick you in the crotch and not having the capacity to stop it, the show covered the Giants’ late inning collapse in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series.
Now that’s agony. That pit in my stomach and the inability to stand returned. On the other hand, though, Dusty Baker’s commentary reminded me that I once loved the guy.
Regardless, “Bonds on Bonds” is bound to captivate, enrage and –to Bonds’ credit – charm viewers.
The show’s producers have not dodged the steroids issue and Commissioner Selig’s investigation of Bonds. By using viewpoints both supporting and condemning Bonds from the likes of Peter Gammons, Jon Miller, Mike Schmidt and everyday fans, the show doesn’t paint with as broad of a brush as one might think.
We see him act as a great team-mate and then almost instantly setting himself apart as the prima donna fans suspect he is. He seems to be a loving dad and husband and then tell his daughter, “You’re lucky you’re six; otherwise, I’d kill you.” He’s kidding, yes, but he sure sounds weird from the outside looking in.
Clearly the man has his demons. He’s at his most honest when talking about his dad he loved, hated, loathed, resented, worshipped and adored. While discussing how Bobby Bonds used cruelty and cynicism as teaching tools, Barry confesses, “I never played against another team… I played against my father.” A telling statement when it comes to how regular folks like us wonder how he deals with the distractions currently stinging his career. Making it even more poignant is an obviously post-op Bonds giving his father a “State of Barry” address at Bobby’s headstone and then limping away.
A contrived filmmaker’s trick? Maybe.
But it works.
Of course, what will make headlines today was his breakdown at the end of the show. He claims that he doesn’t care about what anyone tries to take away from his career but laments at the fact that the number of people who depend on him will be affected by any losses he incurs. Whether or not he’s right is up for debate, but he honestly believes what he says.
And that’s what the viewer has to take away from this show: The man unwaveringly believes in himself, #1 and Barry, which makes him either a raging sociopath or an enigmatic if not flawed man.
This is a man who proudly states, “I didn’t give a s--- then and I don’t give a s--- now.” You can’t help but believe him and this show ensures that you can’t wait to watch next week to see if he proves you otherwise.
Keith Larson writes for SFDugout.com because he's lived and died with the Giants since 1972. He welcomes all words of praise and insult at firstname.lastname@example.org, but mentioning anything having to do with Game 6 is to be done with extreme caution.
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