Originally created 10/06/01

Bonds was born, bred in baseball



SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds was a part of baseball royalty long before his surprising bid to become the game's new home run king.

His father is Bobby Bonds, a multitalented major leaguer who raised his son in his teams' clubhouses and on the diamond. His godfather is Willie Mays, considered by many to be the best ever to play the game.

Growing up in the shadows of giants prepared Bonds to become a player for the ages - quite possibly the best of his generation, according to many of his contemporaries. Always much more than a pure power hitter, Bonds has been a more complete, consistent player than many atop baseball's career homers list.

Yet his unlikely chase of Mark McGwire's still-warm record of 70 homers has given Bonds a level of fame and attention he had never experienced - or particularly desired.

The 37-year-old San Francisco slugger usually shuns the spotlight with something close to disdain. When pressed, he prefers to focus on the accomplishment he still craves: a World Series ring.

Bonds has reinvented himself and defied expectations throughout his career, although never so dramatically as in his current home run binge.

He went from a skinny kid batting leadoff in Pittsburgh to a muscle-bound veteran slugger who has shocked even himself this season with an astonishing power tear.

In 16 big-league seasons, Bonds has been a model of consistency and versatility. He's a prototypical five-tool player, playing stellar defense in left field and running the bases as well as he did years earlier. He is 16 stolen bases shy of becoming baseball's first player with 500 homers and 500 steals.

Bonds has been the NL MVP three times; he finished second last season to teammate Jeff Kent. He's a leading contender for the award again this year.

But even Bonds admits he had no idea his career would take such a turn this summer. His 49 homers last season - just the fourth time he had hit more than 40 - were his career high, and he says he has put no premium on hitting home runs this season.

"I didn't expect anything like this in my career, so this is all strange to me," Bonds said in early September.

It's also clearly uncomfortable. Through the years, Bonds has developed a regal personal style that rubs some teammates, media and opponents the wrong way. Some call him aloof. Others see him as simply unconcerned by the petty day-to-day chores of making nice with reporters and fellow players.

He hasn't joined his teammates for the Giants' team picture the past two seasons. He often stretches and works out on his own. He commands three lockers in a corner of San Francisco's clubhouse, where reporters are often politely rebuffed when they peek around his leather recliner to ask him a postgame question.

His coolness may have hurt his ability to land the lucrative national attention that McGwire turned into fun and profit in 1998. Bonds' agent, Scott Boras, said earlier this year that his client was considering endorsement opportunities with several companies, but they haven't materialized.

And Bonds likely couldn't care less. Apathy is a common feeling for him - he claims he isn't particularly interested in retrieving the home run balls he hits, and his entire demeanor shows his disinterest for others' opinions.

In an added twist, Bonds is having the most remarkable season of his career in the final year of his contract with the Giants.

Boras has said he won't negotiate with the Giants until after the season, when other teams are allowed to make offers. San Francisco owner Peter Magowan, who's still paying the mortgage on 2-year-old Pacific Bell Park, said the Giants won't enter a bidding war for their signature player for the past nine seasons.

During his brief conversations with reporters, Bonds constantly repeats his declaration that the home run record means nothing to him compared with the chance to win a championship. The Giants are battling several NL teams in a complicated playoff race that is going down to the wire.

Bonds has never played in a World Series - and some have blamed his poor postseason numbers: a .196 batting average with just one home run in 97 at-bats.

Mindful of the game's history, Bonds also understands the public's fascination with his longball quest. As a member of the game's royalty, he also understands the concept of homage.

"People are excited about history," he said. "Everyone wants to be a part of history, and you can't fault them for it."