With nothing left to prove, Bonds should loosen collar

ON BASEBALL

April 07, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It isn't easy being the greatest baseball player on the face of the earth.

Just ask San Francisco's Barry Bonds.

Little more than a week into the season, he is amazing everyone again with the magic stroke that carried him to the single-season home run record last year, and once again, he is making it sound like such a chore.

"I don't want to go through what I went through last year," Bonds told reporters after delivering his second straight two-homer performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday.

"It was really hard to try and stay on that high for six months. It takes a toll on you physically and mentally. Right now, I'm trying to forget about it and let it go. You can't try and bring it back."

We remember. Bonds spent the 2001 season telling anyone who would listen that he had no chance to break Mark McGwire's record, then blew past it with a 73-homer performance that was made more impressive by the reluctance of anyone to pitch to him down the stretch.

Maybe his denials were part of some grand psychological scheme to keep his edge at the plate. Maybe they were just Barry trying to simulate humility.

Whatever the intent, he completed one of the greatest all-around offensive performances in the history of baseball - so great, in fact, that no one thought it could be matched until he opened the 2002 season with four homers in his first two games.

Make that four homers in his first 1 1/2 games. Giants manager Dusty Baker took him out of Wednesday's 12-0 blowout in the fifth inning after two homers and a walk, no doubt to prevent all that success from taking such a heavy physical and mental toll.

Bonds obviously doesn't want the expectations that he created in 2001 to consume him this year. That's understandable. Unfortunately, it's also unavoidable, especially now that he has served notice to opposing pitchers that nothing has changed since last October.

"To stay up like that for so long is difficult," Bonds said. "I don't know how Sammy [Sosa] has done it over three years, hitting over 60 homers. That's very hard, and I don't have the energy he has. I'm a lot older than those guys."

Here's a hint: Sosa can keep doing it because he really, really enjoys it. He doesn't pine about the awesome responsibility of being the center of attention in his clubhouse. He revels in it. That takes a lot of the pressure off, because he doesn't have to expend a lot of energy trying to pretend that it doesn't mean anything to him.

Bonds, perhaps because he grew up around some of the greatest players in the game, seems to view greatness as a burden instead of a blessing.

He needs to lighten up. His legacy is already assured. Everything he does this year is gravy.

The flip side

Detroit Tigers outfielder Dmitri Young would love to feel like a superstar right now, but he still is smarting from the tough series he had against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Young made a costly error in the Tigers' Opening Day loss to the Devil Rays and - quite literally - stepped in front of a late-inning rally that might have prevented the second loss in the three-game Tampa Bay sweep.

The Tigers could have padded a one-run lead in the eighth inning with an apparent run-scoring single by Mitch Meluskey, but the ball hit Young on the base paths to end the inning. The Devil Rays went on to tie the game and win in 12 innings.

"I'm the Devil Rays' MVP so far," Young said.

Credibility gap

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has tried for years to convince the players union that the game is so financially strapped that it needs to take dynamic action to limit payroll growth. The players aren't buying it, and now they can turn to a Forbes magazine study that recently disputed Selig's claim that the industry lost more than $500 million last year.

"You have a magazine that deals with these financial issues 365 days a year and the credibility of Bud Selig, who, to me, lost all credibility when he addressed Congress," said Minnesota Twins player representative Denny Hocking. "If I had to swing my decision one way or the other, I'd have to go with the magazine. I could be entirely wrong, but I also think this is America and I'm entitled to my opinion."

Rolen's truce

Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen probably is playing his last season in Philadelphia, but he is quite conscious of the appearance of friction between himself and the club - and he wants to defuse it long enough for the Phils to build on last year's surprising performance.

"I'm not looking for enemies or allies," Rolen said. "I made my decision in November. Nothing has changed since then. Now is the time for everyone to be together. There's no competition between me and Larry Bowa, or me and ownership. The story now is where this team is going. Can this team get over the hump?

"We were two games from making the playoffs last year. We have good players and good guys. We have a lot of potential here. We're looking to make a better run at the playoffs. I hope I never disrupt that or put a cloud over it."

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