Arizona State University baseball coach Jim Brock routinely would embarrass, humiliate and torment his players -- until he met Barry Bonds.
By Jeff Pearlman
'Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, Balco, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports' by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams
Realizing the slender slugger possessed an otherworldly talent that could bring an NCAA championship, Brock backed off Bonds.
The slugger has that effect on people.
In this well-written, insightful biography, Jeff Pearlman sought to determine who Bonds is, why he acts the way he does and why people treat him the way they do.
He interviewed more than 500 people (including 58 former Pirate teammates, coaches and former official photographer Peter Diana who now photographs sports for the Post-Gazette).
The result is a credible explanation for Bonds' raging megalomania.
Pearlman begins with Bonds' atypical childhood, asking: How many kids are the son of a baseball star, living an upper-class existence, who can do things on a ballfield that not many adults can do, but who is one of the few blacks in school?
Says Pearlman, to understand Barry, you must understand his father, Bobby.
A multitalented superstar, Bobby Bonds was undone by his alcoholism, which killed his career and affected his oldest son. Yes, his father was there to watch him play Little League, but was often drunk and yelled at the umpires.
Bobby Bonds' struggles with drinking, racism and even fame taught him lessons he passed onto his son:
"Bobby Bonds had urged his son to be not just guarded, but aloof and antagonistic," writes Pearlman.
"The result was a child who craved fame but feared it; who sought friends but turned away those with the potential to grow too close; who needed warmth and affection but refused to show even the slightest bit of vulnerability.
"Raised in the exclusive white San Francisco suburb of San Carlos, Bonds never knew what it was to blend in with the crowd.
"He was the black athletic phenomenon with ungodly talent, the kid destined to be a star. He was royalty and was expected to act the part. This does not merely weigh on a youngster. It crushes him."
From this beginning, the "story" of Barry Bonds' life unfolds in almost novel-like fashion to its present state:
A man who is hated despite his accomplishments, whose great gifts created a sense of entitlement and invincibility, which then led to mistakes like using steroids and believing he could get away with it.
Even in the minors, Bonds was Bonds.
He reported to the Prince William Pirates in the Carolina League, walked into manager Ed Ott's office and said, "I'm Barry Bonds, the number one draft pick."
"I'm Ed Ott, and I'm your manager," replied the former Buc catcher, "and get your bleeping bleep out that door and don't come in unless you knock!"
His father sent Bonds extra gloves and wrist bands, more than he could use, but if a teammate wanted one, he had to pay for it, unappealing behavior from a 20-year-old who signed a $150,000 bonus.
His unpopularity with his big-league Pirate teammates is well documented, but one wonders if Bonds wasn't somewhat justified in his resentment. He claimed center fielder Andy Van Slyke was treated better by both the club and fans because he was white.
When you interview hundreds of people, some will say something nice about Bonds, right? Many do, teammates, friends, even fans.
Pearlman presents the steroid allegations (citing "Game of Shadows" and other sources), and sums up his book by wondering if Bonds will be elected to the Hall of Fame despite the allegations.
Even if he does, Barry Bonds will never be loved, which in the end, matters most.
Jon Caroulis is a freelance writer from Philadelphia.