Bonds could take a cue from Giambi

Originally Published: September 12, 2005
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

Barry Bonds might actually have a role model, not that he'd ask for one, and not that Bonds would ever allow anyone else's reality production to interfere with "That Barry Show" (remember, he's a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild), which has been playing to energized houses on the West Coast for years.

Barry Bonds
AP Photo/Eric RisbergBonds should get a rousing reception from the fans at SBC Park on Monday night.
But as Bonds returns Monday night at SBC Park in San Francisco to, well, not so much, really (the Giants remain out of the lousy NL West race), he could take a cue from the guy on the East Coast, the one who is finally getting applauded after months of scathing reviews.

Jason Giambi, in the end, did the thing right.

Oh, not the whole cheating deal; Giambi botched that one like a short-hop grounder. He caught it full in the inflated chest. After Giambi's self-incriminating grand jury testimony in the BALCO case leaked to the public, he found himself at the center of one of the weirdest news conferences ever, at which he repeatedly apologized without ever saying what he was sorry for.

That all came before and during Giambi's staggering fall from prominence as a player, a decline so steep (today some would call it Sosa-like) that it had the media around the Yankees speculating how the franchise could disconnect itself from the massive contract it gave Giambi as a free agent. But that was then.

Giambi has since crawled back out of his self-created Hades, and he has done it one swing at a time. From a point last season and early this season at which it appeared he would never contribute a meaningful moment again, the player has brought himself back fully to the point of baseball relevance -- and he did it in such a style that might allow fans to embrace it, too.

When Giambi homered in the first inning off Tim Wakefield to provide the only run in New York's 1-0 victory over Boston Sunday, he merely extended what has become an inspired months-long move back up the charts. From the brink of unemployable, Giambi now stands at .284, with 29 home runs and 74 RBI, and, says teammate Derek Jeter, "It's probably as good as he has been since he's been here."

He has had key hits, too -- game-winners, things like that. But what may be the most noteworthy of all is that Giambi dealt with the pressure of making it all work again in New York, not Kansas City or Denver or Oakland or some smaller market. He forged his comeback among the tabloids and the talk shows. He accepted the boos, essentially kept his head down -- his only me-first moment may have been when he refused a minor-league assignment, and even then he did so fairly respectfully -- and made his way back.

This is going to sound ridiculous, but Giambi almost appeared humble. He didn't say a lot. He answered most every question he could. He simply and slowly got better. And he has a chance to be loved for that.

Bonds' deal is different on several levels, of course, not the least of which is that his circumstances don't relate to those of anyone else on the planet. After three knee surgeries and more BALCO-related scandal implication than you could shake a bottle of flaxseed oil at, Bonds is the only guy whose return to playing time means the resumptive pursuit of history.

Only Bonds can take down Babe Ruth and, eventually, Henry Aaron on the all-time home run list. Only Bonds will attempt that in the full blush of his own persona, a thing that has probably turned off as many fans as it has attracted. He certainly is the only slugger to have had an in-season fight with a teammate -- while on the injured list -- over a perceived slight to a member of the slugger's entourage.

While Giambi more or less quietly emerged from his cruddy recent past, Bonds took the opposite route. He distanced himself from his team to the point of fully relocating to his Los Angeles home and essentially undergoing his rehab with his own peeps, a thing sure to garner more attention than it deserved. He used his Web site to issue his own proclamations about how he was doing. His estimates often were at odds with what the Giants' staff was hearing -- and ones which Bonds himself occasionally wound up doubling back upon.

He practiced classic Barry behavior, self-indulgent and self-referential to the max (at one point he mentioned that he still was working out with boyhood friend Greg Anderson, even though Anderson was at the center of the BALCO scandal), then couldn't understand why he was being misunderstood by the media and the public.

His own manager, Felipe Alou, at one point cheerfully conceded he didn't actually know how to get in touch with Bonds, and his Giants teammates didn't much wonder. Barry is Barry. He'll show when he shows.

Now Bonds returns, and on so many baseball levels it ought to be a thing to celebrate. Here's an older player, perhaps the best hitter of his time, trying to fight his way back from those three surgeries and become relevant again. The Giants don't have a division or wild-card race to pursue like the Yankees, but they can matter; and Bonds' first appearance Monday night at SBC will be against a first-place Padres team that Bonds has routinely terrorized over the years.

It could be the start of a very nice few weeks, if only Bonds can find a way to conduct himself with the apparent lack of ego and -- man, do I even say it? -- professionalism that the once-disgraced Giambi put on display in New York. Bonds has often noted that he is a player bound to be respected more than loved. There's a great secret out there on the other side of "That Barry Show": It is possible, though not easy, to do both.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at mkreidler@sacbee.com.