George Castle’s book Baseball and the Media: How Fans Lose in Today’s Coverage of the Game has been largely ignored in Chicago, even though–or perhaps because–it offers a sometimes damning indictment of the local sports media. Yet in ignoring the attack on themselves, the media have also missed a poignant passage in which embattled San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds explains himself as much as he has anywhere.
In a chapter titled “Not Baseball’s Golden Children,” about surly stars, Castle–an author, sportswriter for the Times of Northwest Indiana, and syndicated radio host of the seasonal baseball series Diamond Gems–writes about his methods for getting the notoriously recalcitrant Bonds to open up to an out-of-town journalist. Castle earned Bonds’s trust by swapping him memorabilia concerning his father, Bobby Bonds, resulting in a 2002 interview in which Bonds talked of the joy he felt in being accepted by the fans after his 73-homer season, following years of being considered a distant star.
“All I ever wanted to do was enjoy the game like I was in Little League and your parents came out to the game,” Bonds said. “Whether you did bad or good, everyone always cheered for you. It’s taken me nine years in San Francisco where I was embraced by baseball, embraced by the fans. I finally had my dream come true. I finally got to enjoy the game of playing baseball. Everyone around me enjoyed it, too. It was the best feeling in the world. It took seventy-three homers to be embraced by that, but better late than never.”
This casts Bonds in a new light–a tragic one. Bonds was already probably the best all-around player of his generation–but also widely considered an unapproachable star, by fans and the media–in 1998, when he saw Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa soak up the adulation with their home-run race breaking Roger Maris‘s season record of 61 homers. It was then, according to Game of Shadows, that Bonds followed them into what he perceived as their use of performance-enhacing drugs.Why?
Perhaps not just out of pride, as Game of Shadows suggests, but in order to receive the public acclaim long denied him in his early career in Pittsburgh and even later in his hometown of San Francisco. And the result? Bonds is more a pariah than ever as the poster boy for the abuse of steroids and human growth hormone. Bonds got what he wanted, but the methods he used led to him lose everything–a classic tale of tragedy.