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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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The heckling of Bonds
By JOHN ROMANO
Published May 4, 2006
MILWAUKEE — Here, in the leftfield bleachers, the mood is jovial. Some fans have signs, most have cups of beer, a few have discernible brain activity.
They have come to not watch a baseball game. To not notice the number of hits, the number of outs and certainly not the number of mistakes in grammar on their homemade signs, T-shirts and cardboard syringes. They have come, instead, to be able to say they took part in America’s latest, and most peculiar, sporting craze.
The heckling of Barry Bonds.
It is an activity without much in the way of guidelines or decorum. Or, for that matter, cleverness. It doesn’t matter whether the game is in Milwaukee, San Diego, Arizona or Atlanta. The chants are pretty standard.
You did ster-oids.
Chea-ter. Barry beats his wife.
(During this last one, two men in Section 235 have a serious discussion on whether the chant should be changed from wife to mistress.)
This is the backdrop as one of the greatest players in history chases one of sport’s most famous records. With 712 home runs, Bonds is two away from Babe Ruth in second place and 43 away from Hank Aaron’s standard of 755.
Yet, in the pursuit of this grand achievement, America has played hard to get. Outside of San Francisco, few fans seem inclined to embrace Bonds or his statistics. Some seem saddened, many are simply disgusted.
The steroid scandal that, for several years, enveloped an entire sport has now been dropped upon the suspiciously muscular shoulders of Bonds.
He is the one linked to the BALCO scandal. The one whose physique changed dramatically in his late 30s. The one whose mistress talked, and whose trainer was nabbed. But, mostly, he’s the one supposedly endangering the game’s purity by threatening to claim its most hallowed record.
“He’s ruining the integrity of the game,” said Jeff Jens, a high school senior from Elkhart Lake, Wis., who dressed up as a juice box Wednesday night in protest of Bonds being a “juicer.”
“I guarantee you, Babe Ruth never used steroids. He just went home and drank a lot of beer.
“And it’s a shame because Bonds was a great player. He didn’t need to do steroids. It was all about greed.”
Here, in Bud Selig’s customary seats behind the third-base dugout, all is quiet.
The commissioner of baseball is nowhere to be found. This is a man who loves baseball. Whose job it is to protect and promote the game. A man who could watch The Natural every night on television.
Only two players have ever reached 713 home runs. The first was 71 years ago. The last was almost 33 years ago. Any day now, Bonds could be the third.
And yet Selig did not make the five-minute drive from his downtown office to see Bonds and the Giants play a two-game series in Milwaukee. Selig said he was busy on Wednesday, and had a speaking engagement in Boston on Thursday.
“Why would I be disappointed? Why would I be insulted?” Bonds said, when asked about Selig’s absence. “I have not seen Major League Baseball celebrate many records.
Have you? Why would I be upset by that? That’s not fair to Bud.“This (question) is a slap in my face. That’s all it is with you guys. That’s just slapping me down. But that’s okay. I still respect you. I forgive you. I pray for you all every night. I hope something like this never happens to you.”
Here, not far from the bronze statue of Hank Aaron in front of Miller Park, they are handing out yellow T-shirts. Walk Bonds Every Time, the front reads. Protect the Integrity of the Game, it says on the back.
The shirts were the idea of Bob Chiarito, a Cubs fan from Chicago who has driven to Milwaukee with three friends to protest Bonds’ growing prominence in baseball’s record books. Chiarito, 31, created a Web site (walkbondseverytime.com) to push his anti-Bonds message.
“Do I hate Barry Bonds? No. I don’t care if he’s the nicest guy in the world, or the jerk he appears to be in stories,” Chiarito said. “I’ve been a lifelong baseball fan and I just think it’s a shame guys are cheating and breaking these important records.
“If a cheater is recognized as the record-holder, then the record doesn’t mean anything.
”Chiarito, who estimates he’s spent $900 on this crusade, brought 50 T-shirts to give away to fans sitting around him in Section 112. The idea was to have everyone wearing the same shirt in protest.As demonstrations go, this one fizzled quickly. Security blocked Chiarito from bringing an armload of shirts into the stadium.
Instead, he handed them out randomly in the parking lot.
Here, at the offices of Foley & Lardner, they are busy looking for clues. The law firm where MLB president Bob DuPuy was once a partner has taken on a leading role in George Mitchell’s investigation into steroid use in baseball.
MLB officials insist the investigation is not a PR ploy. And it is not, they say, aimed specifically at Bonds.
Still, it is difficult to separate the two. The investigation was launched shortly after the publication of the book Game of Shadows, by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who present persuasive evidence that Bonds began using steroids before the 1999 season.
The Giants stayed this week in an upscale hotel on East Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee.
Three blocks away, on the same street, is Foley & Lardner’s home office.
Here, outside the visiting clubhouse, a black SUV pulls up. Most of the players will arrive later on the team bus. Some showed up earlier when cabs dropped them off outside the stadium.
Not Bonds. His driver goes through the parking lot, inside the stadium and within 10 feet of the clubhouse door. Bonds steps out, followed by the camera crew and television producer who are never more than a shout away.
They are part of ESPN’s weekly program Bonds on Bonds. It is billed as a reality show, but reality can be an evasive topic where Bonds is concerned.A day earlier, reporters from around the nation had milled around the Giants clubhouse, waiting for an indication Bonds was willing to talk.
When he sat in a chair in front of his locker and a semi-circle of reporters crowded around him, he immediately began to protest. But, had anyone been watching closely, Bonds had carefully attached a microphone inside the collar of his shirt before sitting down. His ESPN crew was also filming.It was as if he was orchestrating his own media grilling.
That night, Bonds was hit in the head by a foul ball during batting practice and his TV people were there to provide coverage as he lay prone on the field. Eventually, trainers helped him into the clubhouse. Later, he would go 0-for-4 in a 2-0 Giants victory.
And, all the while, the fans in leftfield jeered. Fortunately, with a police officer standing in the middle of the section, nothing was thrown on the field, as had been the case in some cities in April.
“That was tame. That was nothing,” said former Devil Ray Randy Winn, who plays alongside Bonds in centerfield.
“You listen to them in L.A., it’s not just the people in leftfield, it’s 90 percent of the stadium. And they start from the moment they get in the stadium. It’s the same thing every night. Cheater! Barry s----! Steroids! C’mon, don’t you have something original?
“I hardly even hear it anymore. It’s like background noise.”
Somewhere, in Philadelphia, they are waiting.
Noted for being among the most passionate, and occasionally unruly, fans in the nation, they are next up in the Bonds tour of torment.He is two home runs away from Ruth.And nowhere near beloved.