Recently, when talking to some friends who don't live in the Bay Area about sports, I was asked what I thought of Barry Bonds. I said then what I've felt for a long time:
1) He is the jerk that people who don't like him think he is. The fact that he doesn't really have friends on the team is not so great, and he's just as arrogant as he comes across...but he doesn't pretend to be anything else. He's not a dumb guy, he gets why people don't like him - and he basically doesn't care what they think. Certainly not enough to change the way he behaves. At the end of the day I value that type of honesty over the guys who pretend to be nice guys to the media but are really jerks just the same. Mark McGwire, Jeff Kent, Ken Griffey - I'm talking to you.
2) Before BALCO, people hated him. And yet, at that point, no one talked about steroids - they just hate the guy. "He's a bad guy," they'd say. Yet, do people loathe Andruw Jones and Patrick Ewing for sleeping with prostitute strippers at The Gold Club? Or Chipper Jones for cheating on his wife? God knows how many other players with drug problems, domestic abuse or paternity suits...Bonds has never had anything remotely close to that.
3) All that being said, he almost assuredly did steroids -- again, with a caveat: so did everyone else, I think. Certainly a great proportion of players in the league was doing it. That seems fairly obvious - the targets are the guys who had huge numbers during the late 1990s and early part of this decade. (This probably excludes Griffey, who was too busy spending time on the DL to do much of anything else.) But everyone else with big numbers at least has aroused suspicion, and given what we've learned about Palmeiro, Caminiti and Canseco, let alone McGwire, Bonds, Giambi and Sheffield. Baseball, at the end of the day, is about the superstar bats...and all of them should be looked at with skepticism from that period. And during the "steriod era" period of time, Barry Bonds won four MVPs.
What's that, you say, Barry has won seven? That's right - and three of them were from 1990-1993, an era where no one thinks he was juicing...still better than everyone else in the National League in three out of four years. (And the one he lost was to Terry Pendleton, who had dramatically worse stats but a better team to play on.)
4) Because of or in spite of any of the above, he's by far the greatest baseball player anyone my age has seen play in their lifetime.
And really, when it gets down to it, #3 is the only thing that matters at the end of the day. He just came off the DL after missing more than 140 games this season. He's 41 years old coming off of three knee surgeries, and he hits 4 homeruns in 4 consecutive games. He's been tested for steroids this year and once again, he's not a stupid guy. I can't possible see him juicing during all of this. And still he ropes the ball like no one else in the game.
He'll break Babe Ruth's record, if not by years end (which would be almost impossible) then during the first few weeks of next season. Could Barry hit around 40-45 home runs next season? It's hard to root against him if he's healthy, but if he did - that would not only cement any naysayers into realizing how great he is, that just might be one of the more amazing things to see.
Thinking about that, the promise of Barry breaking Aaron's record...that alone is why Barry needs to be a Giant next season. Being at an energetic, sold out Pac Bell crowd, the Giants likely riding that to lead the currently pathetic NL West...it genuinely excites me for baseball, something that's been missing the entire season because Bonds is out. That's the kind of player he is, and it's too bad that people who haven't watched him play on a daily basis probably won't ever truly get it.