Hey, it's just Barry being Barry, but that's hardly being a racist

June 12, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

I DON'T THINK Barry Bonds is a racist.

I think he's an idiot. I think he's very likely a steroid cheat. I think he has a martyr complex. And I'm sure he dislikes a whole lot of white people, but he's not a racist - and that opinion has nothing to do with the ridiculous new-age illogic that you can't be a racist unless you're a member of the dominant ethnic group in your society.

To be a racist, you have to arbitrarily dislike or disadvantage members of different cultural or ethnic groups because of their race or culture. There is little evidence over the course of Bonds' career that he has ever been guilty of that ... with the possible exception of the nasty comment attributed to him recently by former major league player Ron Kittle.

Kittle alleges in a new book that Bonds refused to autograph some charity items for him in 1993 and quoted Bonds as saying, "I don't sign for white people." It is a seemingly damning statement that would appear - if true - to expose Bonds as, well, a divider instead of a uniter.

Bonds has denied making such a highly charged comment and called Kittle out, challenging him to show up at SBC Park to hash the thing out man to man, and here's where I find myself in the rather strange predicament of believing both of them.

I've been in the presence of Bonds over the years and heard him say a number of outrageous things. I don't doubt that he blew off Kittle with a sarcastic remark like that 12 years ago, because that's the kind of thing he has been doing throughout his controversial career.

It doesn't mean he hates white people, because Bonds doesn't mean a lot of what he says. Just look at his conflicting comments over the course of the BALCO steroid investigation.

Remember the famous dugout interview from the spring of 2004 when he insisted that there was no way that he might have taken steroids unknowingly? Remember the leaked grand jury testimony in which he admitted using "the cream" and "the clear" without knowing they contained steroids?

Sometimes, I think we give Bonds a little too much credit for being an intelligent, cerebral guy, because that's how he comes off on those rare days when he decides to reveal himself to the media. I've been there for a few of those, too, and Barry can be a very charming and interesting character, but it should be apparent by now that he doesn't think a lot of things through and really doesn't care whether he offends anyone.

The most recent example might be his impromptu news conference this spring when he announced that he would start the season on the disabled list - and perhaps retire - because of the knee injury that has required three surgical procedures. Somehow, he managed to turn the injury into some kind of media conspiracy to get him out of the game.

"You guys wanted to hurt me bad enough, you finally got there," he was widely quoted as saying. "You wanted me to jump off the bridge. I finally have jumped."

I might have felt sorry for him if I could have figured out what the heck he was talking about.

Bonds often says the first thing that pops into his mind, with little regard for how it will play in the media or impact his image. Remember his famous 2003 Babe Ruth diatribe at the All-Star Game, in which he disrespectfully dismissed the man who probably is the most important player in the history of the sport?

"The only number I care about is Babe Ruth's. Because as a left-handed hitter, I wiped him out," Bonds said. "That's it. In the baseball world, Babe Ruth is everything, right? I got his slugging percentage and I'll take his home runs and that's it. Don't talk about him no more."

This is the same guy who, upon making his first interleague appearance at Yankee Stadium a year earlier, talked reverently about Ruth.

"I just want to touch something that is Babe Ruth's," he said. "I'll touch his monument or something."

He also touched a live wire when he brought the issue of race into the comparisons with Ruth, but considering the strict racial segregation in place during baseball's so-called Golden Age, that is certainly his privilege.

The point I'm trying to make is that Bonds generally says whatever will further his agenda at any particular time, so it's hard to place much weight on - or imbue with any malicious intent - the rude comment he is accused of making to Kittle, if he actually made the comment at all.

That said, there is no need to write and inform me that a similar comment made by a white player about African-Americans would definitely be viewed as racism, which is undoubtedly true. It would not be the first time that words carried different weight because they were uttered by different people.

That's just the way it is.

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