Though clouded in ambiguity befitting the Human Cloud by the Bay, the message sent by Barry Bonds on Sunday was actually pretty clear.
Once you hacked your way through the nonsense about possibly wanting to spend his days on the sidelines at his son’s football practices and once you closed the door that he half-heartedly left open to ending his playing days as a DH, you heard this:
“I’d like to come back if you’ll have me.”
Those weren’t the actual words, of course. As all seven of us who watched “Bonds on Bonds” can strongly attest, Barry just doesn’t do humility or grace particularly well. He chooses his words not with a thoughtful pair of mental tweezers but with one of those toy vending-machine cranes you see at arcades and fairs, alternately grabbing air and the occasional unwieldy chunk of stuff.
So no, those were not his exact words. But that’s pretty much what he meant, and the message was directed not at Giants fans but at Giants brass.
Barry already has Giants fans in his corner. He knows that, too, so he has no need to pander to that crowd. Sure, a few sleeper cells of Bonds Haters exist out there, and understandably so. But by and large the man gets a pass in these parts, which might be the biggest factor in his desire to stay, and therein lies the motivation to send the aforementioned message to management.
Bonds most definitely does not know if he has Giants brass in his corner. His baggage is outweighing his production at present, and nobody of decision-making consequence — i.e., the owner and the general manager — has said anything significant about the slugger’s future beyond 2006. When the question comes up, it’s met with non-answers that are every bit as ambiguous as anything Bonds generally offers.
Sooner or later, the question will have to be answered, and the Giants can answer it now with another question, to Bonds himself: “Will you do it on the cheap?” If he agrees, he should be welcomed back with open arms.
It’s not about money for Bonds right now. It’s about ego, and it’s about comfort.
The ego part of the equation is two-fold, the first fold being that Bonds wants Hank Aaron’s all-time homers record. And he doesn’t care what we think of those home runs. He just wants to see his name at the top of the list. He wants to know that nobody did it better.
The second fold is what has to be a desire to make Major League Baseball squirm as he tracks and passes Hammerin’ Hank. It had to burn him that the same people who last year gave the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award to admitted steroid user Jason Giambi chose not to acknowledge an accused — well, technically — steroid user when he passed Babe Ruth with homer 715. What better way to make them pay than to force them to make another uncomfortable call?
The comfort part of the equation is that this is the only safe harbor in the roiling sea of life for Bonds. He can’t go anywhere else in baseball and get the love he gets here. Angels fans would never embrace him. Neither would New Yorkers, Bostonians or even Kansas Citians. This is Bonds’ home, and nobody wants to leave a comfortable home.
Nor should anyone like Bonds have to leave. Love him or hate him, you have to admit that he’s given Bay Area baseball fans a lot of excitement over the years. He’s a big part of why there’s a fantastic ballyard at China Basin. And if he’s willing to work for relative peanuts, he deserves the right to decide exactly when he’s done.
He says he’s got something left, and a man of Bonds’ pride wouldn’t hang around if he wasn’t absolutely positive that he isn’t really a .240 hitter.
So make Bonds an offer right now, Brian Sabean. Ask Billy Beane about the creative, affordable, incentive-heavy deal the A’s concocted for Frank Thomas last winter, and max it at $3 million. If Barry bites, you know he’s sincere about wanting to stay. If he doesn’t, you know he’s not.
Either way, you go public with whatever resolution you’ve come to, and everyone can officially move on to the next issues on the agenda.
Barry Bonds wants to play for the Giants next year, and as long as he puts his money where his murk is, the Giants should let him.
Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com.