Reality of Bonds' TV show: It might be very perceptive

March 03, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

LOS ANGELES — LOS ANGELES-- --I've already marked my calendar. The new Barry Bonds reality series, Bonds on Bonds, will debut with an hourlong special on ESPN2 on April 4, and I don't know if I can wait that long.

It's on a Tuesday night, so I don't have to worry about missing Desperate Housewives, and it's about a guy whose personality is so complex and volatile that he has carved out a unique place in the American sports consciousness.

I realize there are going to be a lot of cynics out there, convinced that this is just a case of the media-weary Bonds wanting to outflank the Bonds-weary media during his attempt to become Major League Baseball's all-time home run king. They're probably right ... and who cares?

Bonds is an intriguing figure - equal parts intelligence, petulance, charm and arrogance. He's also the most feared hitter of this or maybe any generation.

(Oops, now I've done it. Mike Gibbons, the executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum and Sports Legends at Camden Yards, will have a nasty e-mail waiting for me when I get back from the West Coast. I'm not saying Barry is a greater player than the Babe, but Bonds' intentional and "unintentional" walk numbers make a pretty compelling argument that he is in a class by himself when it comes to raising an opposing pitcher's fear factor.)

Oops again, I just dragged another reality show reference into the debate over just how to classify the new series.

Bonds and the producers of the show insist that the project will be a legitimate, multi-episode documentary, not just the baseball equivalent of MTV's The Real World, though I don't see what would be so wrong with that. It'll definitely be a cut above Jose Canseco's recent role on VH1's The Surreal Life, unless Bronson Pinchot shows up on the San Francisco Giants' roster as a utility infielder.

Anyway, how much credibility is really possible on a series that dispenses with any semblance of objectivity the moment the name of the show pops up on your television screen?

Bonds reportedly won't be paid for the series and, according to producer Mike Tollin, he won't have control over the final product, but if you're buying that, you probably think Oliver Stone's JFK was a History Channel exclusive.

Bonds certainly didn't sound like a guy without script approval when he told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that the appeal of the show was that it will be "me on me" rather than a version of himself that has passed through the filter of the sports news media. That certainly leaves room to doubt whether there will be much in the new series that casts Bonds in an unflattering light, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Though Tollin told the Times that the show would maintain documentary independence, he also admitted that the early shows would employ 40 hours of video footage taken by Bonds' personal videographer before the show entered full-fledged production.

From a journalistic standpoint, that would be a lot like me allowing Joe Foss to write a story about Peter Angelos and then putting my name on it.

The blurry ethical issues are troublesome enough that ESPN's ombudsman, former Washington Post sports editor George Solomon, criticized the cable network for getting involved in the Bonds project, as well as a similar one involving controversial basketball coach Bob Knight that already is on the air.

It doesn't bother me all that much, because I think Bonds' true personality will come through no matter who has the final edit. The guy is a lot of things - many of them unpleasant - but there is one thing he's not. He is not a phony.

If the show somehow casts him as a kinder, gentler guy than we've been led to believe he is, maybe it actually will balance the overall perception of him for baseball fans and historians, since so many media accounts focus heavily on his contrary nature or his alleged involvement in the BALCO steroids scandal.

I followed Bonds around the country for part of his record 73-homer season, and there is no question that he can be difficult, dismissive, prickly and self-absorbed, but he also can be very insightful and entertaining. He never made it easy, but he was a lot more interesting than Mark McGwire, who tried so hard not to enjoy his 1998 home run race with Sammy Sosa that he developed a borderline martyr complex.

Maybe Bonds on Bonds will allow us to see Barry as he sees himself, which may not be great broadcast journalism, but might be a perspective you can't get anywhere else.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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