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Larry Stone on covering Barry Bonds

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by wisportswriter, Jul 24, 2007.

  1. I read a lot of the McClatchy stuff that comes over the wire.
    This is as interesting a column I've read in quite some time. Great insight, well-written. Love it.

    Barry & me: Covering Bonds can be amazing and frustrating
    By Larry Stone
    The Seattle Times
    It didn’t take long to discover that covering Barry Bonds was going to be a weird and wild ride.
    That realization hit in Louisville, Ky., at the 1992 winter meetings, when the Giants’ new ownership group scheduled a glitzy news conference to announce Bonds’ signing.
    Those of us in a hotel ballroom that evening watched in stunned amazement as a harried Major League Baseball official burst into the room and whispered into the ear of Bonds’ agent, Dennis Gilbert.
    All of a sudden, the whole group got up and hastily left the ballroom through the kitchen door—Gilbert and his staff of snappily dressed associates: Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds and a flustered looking Barry—all of whom were seated on the podium, waiting for the triumphant announcement.
    The deal had hit a sudden snag because Peter Magowan’s prospective ownership group had not yet been formally approved by MLB. The departing owner, Bob Lurie, was fearful of getting stuck with Bonds’s six-year, $43 million contract if Magowan’s group was rejected.
    The problem was smoothed over, and Bonds was introduced three days later in Louisville. The Giants’ beat writers hunkered down for a long strange trip, to use the famous words of the Grateful Dead, who sang the National Anthem before Bonds’s first game as a Giant at Candlestick Park in 1993.
    All the memories of those early days come flooding back as Bonds approaches the all-time home-run record. As reporters amass at the Giants’ new home to chronicle the dirty deed at swanky AT&T Park, my mind wanders to Bonds’s fledgling Giants days at dilapidated old Candlestick.
    I was working then for the San Francisco Examiner, one of seven newspapers that regularly traveled with the Giants. We quickly got our first dose of the petulant Bonds that had been well-chronicled in his previous life in Pittsburgh.
    On the day Bonds reported to spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., he rudely blew off the army of reporters waiting for a few words from the Giants’ new lead man. His arrival was only the biggest story of the decade in San Francisco baseball, but he was sending the clear message that this was going to be done on his terms.
    It was a pattern that would become familiar during what turned out to be a remarkably eventful year for the Giants, who won 103 games under first-year manager Dusty Baker and still didn’t make the playoffs. That’s because the Braves won 104 games. The wild card wouldn’t be introduced until 1994.
    Bonds could be shockingly boorish, and not just to the media. That went for teammates, as well, many of whom came to disdain Bonds. Bonds traveled with his own band of sycophants, including a limo driver in spring training that the writers dubbed “Shuddup Dennis,” because that’s what Barry said to him, sharply, in front of media and the team.
    And yet covering Bonds was not all bite and venom. He definitely had his charming side, which he would flash at unexpected moments. Every once in a while, Barry would summon a beat writer and chat amiably, even showing interest in events in their own life. I had told him once that my daughter, Jessica, shared his birthday (July 24, which, by coincidence, happens to be today happy 21st, Jess). Barry remembered to tell me to wish her a happy birthday when she turned 8 in 1994.
    But just when you thought you might have earned his confidence, he’d shoot you down the next day with a withering glance or a sharp put-down. Or, most often, he’d completely ignore you.
    I’m often asked to compare the experience of covering Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. I covered Griffey in 1997 after I left the Bay Area for The Seattle Times. As far as I can tell, I’m the only reporter who had stints of any length covering the two ranking superstars of the 1990s.
    Griffey could give reporters the runaround like few others. He loved messing around with us, making us work for a few precious moments of his time.
    Yet with Griffey, I never got the sense it was mean-spirited. He was just having some fun at our expense. Bonds sometimes seemed intent on belittling us, on reminding us that we were insignificant peons in his world.
    He made the mistake that year of giving the runaround to a Sports Illustrated reporter, who responded with a scathing cover piece headlined, “I’m Barry Bonds, and You’re Not.” A wounded Bonds vowed, “I ain’t never talking to Sports Illustration again.”
    Looking back at photos and video of Bonds from those days, I’m struck most by his appearance. Compared to his bulky self of the past five years, when he made his dramatic late-career run toward Hank Aaron’s home-run record, Bonds seems downright anorexic.
    This was, remember, before any steroids accusations were associated with Bonds. He was clearly the best player in baseball and doing it, I would maintain with a high degree of confidence, au natural.
    And what a player he was. No matter what you thought of him personally, watching Bonds on a daily basis in that 1993 season (as well as ‘94 until the strike, and ‘95) was a revelation.
    Bonds took a team that had belonged to Will Clark and made it his own. He was sensational, as were the Giants, who missed the playoffs on the final day when the Dodgers beat them, 12-1.
    Bonds would win the third of his seven National League Most Valuable Player awards that year, hitting .336 with 43 homers and 123 runs batted in.
    On opening day 1994, Willie Mays was fittingly asked to present Bonds the MVP trophy at soldout Candlestick Park. Bonds was also to receive that day a much less lavish plaque from the Bay Area chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which had voted him its own Player of the Year award.
    The Giants decided to combine the two presentations, asking the local BBWAA chapter chairman to accompany Mays onto the field. That would be . . . me. The introduction came over the loudspeaker, “Please welcome Larry Stone of the San Francisco Examiner, and Hall of Famer Willie Mays!”
    I strolled onto the field, alongside Mays, enjoying the first and only standing ovation of my career. Barry limply shook my hand, then embraced Willie, his eyes welling with tears. I had no problem with that. I would have blown me off for the great Willie Mays, too.
    After the game, Bonds sought me out in the clubhouse and told me warmly, “Thanks, man. I appreciate the award.”
    I appreciated covering Barry Bonds, blowoffs and all. But I’m quite happy to let someone else have a turn.
  2. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    Anybody ever heard of or witnessed somebody calling out Bonds to his face aside from Leyland back in the Pittsburgh days. I'd love to watch a press conference and hear someone ask "Why are you such a dick?"
  3. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    Good piece, with the balance that is usually lacking in any Bonds coverage. Stone is one of the best.
  4. Moland Spring

    Moland Spring Member

    That was great. A perfect example of why -- despite what everyone says -- we can "make the story about us", if it advances the story. I mean, it's not about us, but he writes the whole thing about being a reporter, and you don't really realize it until the end. Tremendous.
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