Even with threat of asterisk, no denying Bonds is a star

ON BASEBALL

September 21, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY

Barry Bonds laughs. Barry Bonds scowls.

Barry Bonds scolds. Barry Bonds reflects.

And then, of course, Barry Bonds homers.

For the first time in almost a year, the Barry Bonds Road Show - part comedy, part tragedy - was back on center stage yesterday. As always, it was great theater.

The first stop on this abbreviated, three-city, season-ending tour was the nation's capital, and a basement interview room at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

There, for 13 minutes, Bonds was caustic. Engaging. Passionate. Political.

He's Barry the Misunderstood Giant, a man with the heart of gold and the shoulders of inadvertent cream and clear.

Given the anger surrounding baseball and steroids, perhaps Bonds hasn't been missed this season while attempting to recover from three knee operations. The game, as always, is bigger than any player. But the sport certainly is more entertaining when San Francisco's surly/saintly slugger is on the field.

That was evident an hour before last night's game when Bonds took batting practice and more than 100 fans behind the Giants' dugout cheered every swing. The point was hammered home in the top of second inning when he walked out of the dugout to thunderous boos, and popped out on the first pitch.

Nationals fans wanted Bonds to know they hadn't forgotten December's leaked grand jury testimony that he inadvertently took steroids. They were the first - outside of Bonds-friendly San Francisco - to see the slugger play this season and they wanted him to sense their displeasure.

So the majority of the 32,403 booed. One boy three rows behind the Giants' dugout stood up, raised both hands above his head and dropped his thumbs downward repeatedly. A man in the first row behind home plate held up a red paper asterisk to show that Bonds' 705 homers always would be questioned.

The asterisk remained outstretched in the fourth inning as Bonds crossed the plate and pointed to the sky after his 706th career home run, a mammoth shot to right. It was one of only five homers this year to land in RFK's upper deck. It was vintage Bonds.

Just like the afternoon news conference.

Bonds didn't back down when asked about steroids. Instead, he tried to offer perspective by chastising the media for not focusing on Hurricane Katrina's devastation. "I think we have other issues in this country to worry about that are a lot more serious [than steroids]," Bonds said. "We have a crisis here and everyone needs to start contributing to [it], not pointing the finger."

Speaking of finger pointers, Bonds was asked about the Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro and his failed drug test, which occurred about two months after Palmeiro wagged his finger before a congressional committee and denied ever taking steroids.

"Raffy Palmeiro and I are good friends and we will stay, continually, good friends. Period," he said.

Bonds said he hadn't contacted Palmeiro about his 10-day suspension, primarily because he has been focused on his own comeback. This spring, Bonds thought he might miss the whole season, he admitted yesterday. Instead, he returned last Monday, a pretty impressive feat for a 41-year-old.

But that is Bonds, a seven-time Most Valuable Player. No one should be surprised about what he can do athletically. And since there is no concrete proof that he took steroids, what he has accomplished should not carry an asterisk, said Nationals manager and defender of the old school Frank Robinson.

"I said if someone is proven to use steroids or enhancing drugs, as far as I am concerned the numbers should be wiped out," Robinson said. "But nothing has been proven that Barry Bonds has done any of that stuff."

For his part, Bonds said he doesn't care what the public thinks about him. "As nice as I am or try to be," Bonds said, writers keep making up bad things about him.

You see, Bonds is a victim. And an amazing ballplayer. He's hated. And beloved.

Most important, though, he's back.

And he's great theater.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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