BRADENTON, Fla. -- This training camp, where the Pittsburgh Pirates are preparing to defend their National League East title, has been a ticking time bomb. Barry Bonds, for one, seemed more concerned about being an arbitration loser than a division winner.
It is up to Jim Leyland, the manager who did such an outstanding job of putting the pieces together last year, to keep them from falling apart this year.
Clearly, something had to be done to get these players focused again.
"I know one thing as a manager, and I don't give a damn what anybody tells me," Leyland said before yesterday's workout. "When you know there's some type of a problem and you keep walking away from it, hoping that it goes away, you're done. I'd rather address it head-on."
Tick ... tick ... tick ... tick.
The explosion came minutes later -- suddenly, and most unexpectedly. Leyland, after all, is a player's manager, hardly the type to blow up at one of his athletes in full view, and within earshot, of reporters, teammates and spectators.
As you might have guessed, Bonds was the player responsible for the scene. Last year's National League MVP, at war with the front office and the media, was one unhappy camper.
Three photographers, standing 10 or 15 feet from the Pirates outfielder, were preparing to take his picture. Bonds decided that only one of them, a friend, would do it. He profanely ordered the other two to "get out."
Bill Virdon, a one-time Pirates manager who is here as an outfield instructor, quietly told Bonds what he thought of the player's actions.
"I don't give a [obscenity] what you think," Bonds told him.
That's where Leyland entered. Pacing back and forth, the manager exploded, with Bonds and Leyland trading obscenities.
"What are you getting in this for?" Bonds said.
"Because I'm the manager," Leyland replied, his face reddening, his voice rising. "I've babied you for three years, and I'm sick of it. I'm [tired] of you guys that don't want to be here. If you don't want to be here, then get out of here."
Bonds seemed stunned by the fury of his manager's outburst. Leyland, seemingly fighting to control his temper, finally turned, walked away and went over to Barry's closest friend on the team, Bobby Bonilla.
It ended there. Or maybe it just began. At any rate, the dust settled, tempers subsided, the workout went on. Leyland had done what he had to do; somebody had to put Bonds in his place, MVP or no MVP. Somebody had to remind him he was still under contract to the Pirates, obligated to abide by their rules and do what's best for the team.
"I think in any ballclub the first ingredient is discipline and the second ingredient is talent," said general manager Larry Doughty, choosing his words with considerable care. "It's important to have the players behave in such a way that you accomplish the job you're trying to do, and if a player is not behaving in such a way . . . then I think you have to take corrective measures."
It was Leyland's duty as field manager to refocus his MVP outfielder. Obviously, that was no first offense Bonds committed yesterday; rather, it was the latest in a long series of disruptive actions, the final straw.
"I'm the manager of the ballclub," Leyland said later. "I will run the team. People that are not happy can play somewhere else. I'm not mad at Barry. Barry is the best player in the National League. I don't want to lose Barry Bonds . . . [But] if you manage one player instead of the other 55 [in camp], you'll be managing a 7-Eleven store somewhere."
After retreating to the clubhouse for a short period, Bonds rejoined his teammates and took part in the workout. He has refused to talk to reporters this spring because he claims an interview aired on ESPN took several statements out of context.
However, he gave ESPN a live interview yesterday after the incident and said he respected Leyland.
"He's the manager," Bonds told ESPN. "What he was doing was protecting his coach. He didn't know why I was upset. It didn't have anything to do with my on-field performance."
"In a lot of ways, this may have been the best thing that could have happened," said Leyland, who came up to the big leagues the hard way -- after long, low-paying years in the minors -- and thus may not understand being dissatisfied making $2.3 million. "There's been a lot of tension in this camp. Now it's over."