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We need Barry.
We're sitting in the bleachers of SBC Park, and instead of No. 25, we're looking at Mark Sweeney. Sweeney has graciously tossed a few balls into the stands. It's a nice gesture, but still.
Tuesday night's game was rained out, so here we are, on a pleasant but hollow Thursday night, watching the Giants leave enough people on base to populate a small island. About an hour before the first pitch, we learned that a federal grand jury is investigating whether Barry Bonds committed perjury when he testified in 2003 that he never used steroids. Nonetheless, we're all here to see Barry. The guy behind me, who is teaching his 8-year-old the finer points of trash-talking the three teenagers in front of me, who are gawking at the young woman whose bright purple thong is peeking from her jeans the pleasantly drunk 30-something guy across the aisle who is trying, in vain, to get a "Let's go Giants!" chant going. We need Barry Bonds.
And so do you.
Baseball needs Barry. Its legends are dying. First the Red Sox lay to rest an 86-year-old tale of sorrow, curses and misfortune. Then, just a year later, the White Sox killed an even longer period of futility most of us didn't even know existed. As the Cubs, the last representatives of the star-crossed franchise, await their turn at bat, I have a feeling few people outside of Chicago really care. America's had its fill of the heartwarming tale of the loveable loser.
Baseball needs a dark, villainous presence to loom over its archaic, pristine facade. And not just any old desperado. Pete Rose? His time is done. Besides, he isn't villainous, just personally reckless. Just like his playing style. These days, Rose is a one-man comedy troupe, appearing on everything from "The Best Damn Sports Show" to "Real Time with Bill Maher." Rose pokes fun at himself and pokes fun at the steroid witch hunt. And he's funny too. That hurts his villain cred if you ask me. A villain doesn't make you laugh. He scares you.
Without villains, we have no heroes. Without Barry Bonds, we have no Kirby Puckett.
Puckett the player was marvelous. The catch in the sixth game of the '91 Series was fine art. And Puckett the man was round, meaning without sharp edges. In life he was rotund and jovial, easily lovable. In death, even more so.
Bonds, on the other hand, is a contentious mass of sharp edges. And he has never made an attempt to be lovable to anyone. If I were a die-hard Giants fan or an impassioned autograph seeker, I would find this very unfortunate. If I were a beat writer trying to please an unrealistic editor, I would find this very unfortunate. But I'm none of those things. And, as such, I'm content to watch him hit home runs. I'll let you hate him.
Go ahead. It's OK.
We all hate someone. But more often than not, it's not the person. We hate what that person represents. Take Phil Mickelson, for instance. I've never met the man. But he reminds me of a particularly annoying ideal: the clueless, Waspy, Sigma Chi type.
You see him at parties, wearing Dockers and a rumpled, pastel-colored button-down. He might be wearing saddle shoes and a Rolex. When you spot him, he's already drunk, slurring the words spilling from his stupid mouth. You make an excuse to walk by him just so you can bump him with your shoulder and spill his drink. This makes him mad and he confronts you. You want him to confront you. You're aching for him to confront you. So you take two steps forward, close enough to smell the cheap vodka on his breath. He takes a swing and misses. Then you snap his pasty face with a quick, sharp, beautiful jab, and you watch the blood trickle from his nose. He's done, so you don't hit him anymore. But you're not satisfied. So before you walk away, you deposit him in a dumpster, his face in garbage and his ridiculous shoes poking from the bin
I've never met Phil Mickelson. But he reminds me of that guy.
Barry Bonds doesn't remind me of anyone. I doubt he reminds you of anyone. I think those who hate Barry Bonds hate him just for being Barry. And hatred on its own merit, and not reminiscent of anything or anyone that's some real power, if you ask me.
It's Bonds' power that's the issue. That's what makes him scary. In baseball, man-to-man combat is buttressed by the equipment. In hoops, one man makes a move on another man, crosses him over so decisively that he strains a muscle. In football, one man can hit another man so hard his consciousness leaves him before his body hits terra firma. There's none of that in baseball. There are exciting moments to be sure. But those moments occur only with the use of a bat or a glove, and they're only possible because of the bat or glove. Baseball is about manipulating the equipment, not other humans. There's no imposing of one's will. Barry Bonds, through his physicality, accomplishment and unapologetic nature, imposes his will. I need that in a baseball player.
Raymond Ferris doesn't need Barry. At least, I don't think he does. Ferris was Bonds' personal trainer for 12 years. Ferris is mentioned in the book, "Game of Shadows." But Ferris thinks the authors are chasing shadows. Ferris is said to have free reign of the Giants' facility. He calls this a lie.
Ferris has encouraged me to look at things from a physiological point of view. "Barry is 6-foot-3," says Ferris. "He's a big dude. And I kept all that weight off of him." Ferris has reminded me that while I'm in better cardiovascular shape than I've ever been, I'm 20 pounds heavier now than when I used to play. "Your body has matured," says Ferris. "Why can't his?" He's right.
None of this removes my belief that Bonds has taken something. But I don't care. You don't hit 708 home runs without profound natural talent and perseverance.
A federal grand jury perjury wire taps for a baseball player? I guess even the government needs Barry Bonds.
But we need him most. Right now, he's the best thing about baseball.
Alan Grant is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is a former NFL defensive back who played college football at Stanford.