Q&A; With Barry Bonds


Excerpts from an interview with Barry Bonds:

Question: Are you moody?

Answer: I get moody at times. You get moody to up your level of play sometimes. Sometimes you’ve got to come in there mad without really being mad. Sometimes you’ve got to come in overly excited. Sometimes when you feel like you’ve lost the edge, you’ve got to talk about yourself, you try to get yourself going, whatever works. But it’s not something personal. So for people to take it personal, I don’t think that’s fair.

Q: How did you feel about the recent Sports Illustrated cover story, which portrayed you as arrogant and rude after you kept putting off the writer for six days?

A: Sports Illustrated did the same thing the last time. I didn’t want to do it this time because I knew what happened last time. So now I don’t have to worry about ever doing Sports Illustrated anymore. That’s one story I will never ever do again, so I don’t worry about it.

Q: Some people have criticized you for not signing many autographs before a game, saying you’re not setting a good example for kids. How do feel about that?

A: Watch what the player does to prepare himself for a game, what his work habits are. Signing 20,000 autographs or whatever is not preparing yourself. It’s not leading those kids the right way. If Barry Bonds does not sign your autograph 20 minutes before a game and you say he’s got an attitude problem, then you’re not allowing me to lead you the right way. I’m not going to allow you to change my direction. If you want to be a good athlete, these are the things you’re going to have to do.


Q: Who were your heroes when you were a child, people you admired but didn’t really know like your father or godfather, Willie Mays?

A: Mickey Mantle was one of my big heroes. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is my all-time basketball hero, before Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. I never had the opportunity to meet Kareem. That hook shot he had was just like automatic. And I loved Tony Dorsett because even through all the bad times that he had during the ending of his football career he was always happy for just the time that he played. And he never had any regrets and he never pointed any fingers.

I also liked a lot of the players from history, like from the old Negro leagues that I knew the stories about, and Jackie Robinson. All the older players, the black ballplayers and the struggles that they had to go through in the early part of their careers, not being able to take the buses with the other white ballplayers, taking trains, being able to overcome those things without any animosity, without any regrets, without any hatred, with just a lot of love for the sport, for what was just given to them. I admire that in people. Then I admire the white ballplayers that say, hey, we’re all in this together, there’s no discrimination. People ask me, “Barry, what do you think about discrimination of the minorities in baseball?” Well, it’s kind of hard for me to say anything when they made me the highest-paid player.

Q: What do you think of baseball in the days when Mays was playing or earlier?

A: They didn’t have the big gloves that we have now and the batting gloves, the TV money, media stuff. It was just strictly strap them on and go. The love that they had for the game, I live off of those things, their desire for the game. Willie always said, “You play the game to your capability, everything falls into place. But if you’re worried about money, then you’re worried about the wrong thing. Because if you perform it, then the money takes care of itself.”

Q: Do you consider yourself a baseball traditionalist with your all-business attitude at the ballpark?

A: I guess you could say that. I don’t get happy until it’s over. When we won three games against Houston, they asked if that’s a statement. That’s not a statement. If you win the first round of boxing is the fight over? No it’s not over. You’ve got to go the whole 15 rounds. I’m the type of person who says, “Let’s not get too excited. We’ve got a job to do, it’s work time.” And when work time’s over, I’m just mentally drained, that’s what it is. I’m so tired from just trying to stay focused for three hours.

Q: What are you thinking about when you’re in the outfield, looking up at the crowd during a pitching change or some other break in the action?

A: When I look around I just feel thanks for being where I am. It’s almost like a disbelief that it’s even happening sometimes. I can’t believe this is all working out this way. That kind of clears my mind from concentrating on defense, hitting, running, because it all becomes overwhelming. And then I come back to the game with a fresh mind.

Q: You’ve said you want to be an actor, but do you think you would be able to express a wide range of emotions on the screen?

A: I know I can. I just want the opportunity to bring out more laughter and more joy to other people, as well as myself. I feel the joy being able to do that right now. I can be whoever I want on that field, which is fun. I can be a clown if I want to, I can be serious, I can be whatever I want. And the good thing is no one can ever take that away from me.

Q: What is the most important tip you would give kids?

A: If you just try to be the best person you can be, you’ll become whatever you want. I always left my doors open. I played football, basketball, majored in criminal justice. I did a lot of things to keep the doors open.

Q: What was the most important advice you got from your parents?

A: Be able to look at the man in the mirror when it’s all over and be happy. That’s it. If you can do that then you’ve done everything you can.

Q: Did it bother you that your father was gone so much when you were growing up?

A: We were accustomed to it. My mom took care of us. I love what my dad did, I’m proud of his accomplishments, and I’m happy that he’s my coach now. My mom was just reassuring about what my dad was doing, why my dad was gone. She just held the whole house down.

Q: Does it bother you to leave your children behind so much?

A: The good thing is I didn’t have my kids so young like my dad did with me. When I was in college, my dad was playing ball. I’ll be out of baseball when my kids are really sensitive to what’s going on. It’s hard. But the good thing is they’re 3 and 2 right now and they don’t have the sense of what’s going on to the extent that it would bother them. Hopefully, when I’m done my son will be about 13, so that’s it, I’m out.

I can’t stop my own life. But I just want to be a dad, man, when it’s time. Right now I have things I’ve got to do. I wish I could take them with me. But in this business you can’t do that. I just think of it this way: What has been given to us in our life for both my children and myself is worth just the short time of being away for a lifetime of royalty.

Q: What do you do when you’re home? Do you like to sleep late?

A: I can’t sleep late, man. I’ve got a 3 year old. 7:30 in the morning every morning that boy’s right in my bed sleeping or hitting me or saying, “Let’s go down and watch cartoons.” Those days of sleeping late are gone. We play baseball against the garage, same things I did when I was a kid.

Then sometimes we play sleepover, because he has a bunk bed with slides. So we play sleepover. I sleep over in his room, underneath his bunk bed. We play those games.

Q: How do you kill time on the road?

A: I watch Spectravision (movies) in the hotel room. I’m not a book person. I’m more of a movie buff. All kinds of movies, anything that makes sense. Or I go shopping. I used to go shopping and buy things for my kids, but now I don’t even know what size they wear because they grow up so fast.

Q: Do you think about the game much after it’s over?

A: I did that in the early part of my career. Now it’s over when it’s over, win or lose. And I’m happy either way. I had to learn how to do that. I was driving everybody else crazy. I stopped doing that during the first two years of my marriage because I was driving my wife crazy. That wasn’t right.

Q: Is life easier or more relaxed for you now that you’re back in the Bay area where you grew up?

A: It made it a challenge to win at home. It didn’t make it easier. I like to beat the odds, man. Easiness, no, that’s nothing. If there ain’t no challenge, I don’t want to play. I’d rather have you beat me all the time and get the best out of me than for me to easily win. That’s the way it is. I love to play the guys who are better. I like to play golf with the better players. They’re only going to make me better. Then when I beat you, I know I beat you. You can’t make any excuses.

Q: How did you learn to play left field so well?

A: Bill Virdon is the reason for my success on defense. My dad and Willie had the advice. But Bill Virdon made me perform it, as far as being the left fielder that I am today, like no other coach has ever done. He just made me work harder than I’ve ever worked in my life. He made me master something that I had that I didn’t know I had. I met him in my first year of pro ball, ’86, in A ball with the Pittsburgh organization. He was my mentor.

Q: What about your hitting?

A: That’s a little bit from everybody. You try to master it. That’s just my own determination and dedication.

Q: Why do you choke up an inch or two on the bat, unlike most power hitters?

A: Any power hitter can choke up. It’s just something I’ve done since I was a kid. My dad always brought us home bats and they were always too heavy. So we always had to choke up. It gives better balance for the kids because their bones aren’t developed strong enough to be able to handle such a large object. To me choking up just makes me go to the ball. I don’t have a big object in my hands so I feel like I can just swing. I use a 34-inch, 32-ounce bat, big enough to reach any ball and light enough to swing quickly. It’s the first size I got and the only one I’ve used.

Q: Why don’t you stretch with the rest of the team before the game?

A: Why stretch two hours before the game when you’ve got to stretch again? I go through my own stretching regimen prior to the game, my own workout program that I do. After the game I stretch in my bed and go to sleep.

Q: Did money change other people’s perception of you?

A: Yeah, they think the Giants wrote me out one big lump sum check, which is not true. (Laughs)

Q: Does baseball, more than other sports, have an image problem as the result of the contentious relationship between owners and players?

A: You have to start with the ownership and the media. It’s not the players. The players just want to play. We want to be left alone to perform. The bargaining agreements and the other stuff are the big issues all the time. It has nothing to do with us. Half of us don’t even know what the hell’s going on anyway. Including myself. I just figure I’ll play and play and play and see what happens.

Q: Having grown up with the game and loving it, does it hurt to see baseball being knocked so much?

A: It takes away some of the joy. What can you do? Baseball has had its problems since day one with the ownership. I don’t know. Why change it? It keeps everybody’s interest.

Q: Would you have had problems in New York with the media, like your former Pittsburgh teammate Bobby Bonilla did?

A: Bobby’s more sensitive with certain things. Bobby’s always been a happy-go-lucky person. He’s always smiled for everybody, he’s always been happy for everybody. Bobby’s never had any bad press. I’ve always had it, since high school, so I could have handled it. But the first time for him had to be devastating, for a person who’s never done anything wrong and who’s always been the person that everybody wanted him to be. Now all of a sudden they don’t like him.

Sure it bothered him. It bothered me. But I’m the type person that’ll tell you where to go once in a while. I’m not shy about that. Bobby is.

Q: What is it about playing in New York that you think bothered him and kept you and other players from going there?

A: It’s the New York atmosphere. I think it scares people. Everybody would love to play there if you weren’t so afraid of your family being shot. You’re more afraid of that than just the playing there. There’s the traffic, the overpopulation. It’s a dirty city. But I’ll play in South Africa if it’s going to help my family out. It don’t make no difference to me. Baseball is baseball.

Q: Was this interview torture?

A: This is easy, this is very easy. I didn’t mind this at all. As a matter of fact it was a lot more pleasant than I thought.

I have a lot of respect for you guys. I could not do it. I could not write three good sentences. You guys have talent. You can make people believe whatever you want. That’s important because I don’t think people want to read the truth all the time.