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We likely will never understand Bonds

WashPost: Rare glimpse inside slugger's head reveals little
Barry Bonds says he doesn't have to prove anything to anyone, regarding rumors of steroid use.Jeff Chiu / AP

Once or twice a season, for reasons known only to his subconscious, Barry Bonds decides to stop glaring or muttering. And he talks. Then, once started, he talks and talks some more. The performance is like a public purging, a haughty confrontation, a brief, almost desperate attempt at connection with the baseball world around him. Then he withdraws again. Each time he does it, the mystery deepens. You don't get to the bottom of Bonds. You just find out how fascinatingly and frighteningly deep his waters really run.

This week at Shea Stadium, Bonds had time, and reporters, on his hands. So, he did an impromptu 45-minute news conference in which he addressed, or deflected, every topic of the day that surrounds him.

Is he distracted and bothered by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroid case that swirls around his personal trainer and his nutritionist? "Do I look like it? It doesn't faze me at all," retorted Bonds, hitting .463 and slugging 1.111 with 10 homers in 54 at-bats -- silly statistics appropriate to slow-pitch softball, not the big leagues.

Does he fear that urine samples he gave last season, on the assumption that they would be kept confidential, will now be retested? And if such a test showed that he took steroids, is he concerned that he may have perjured himself before a grand jury last fall? "You couldn't get me if you tried," said Bonds, who has plenty of reason to believe the Justice Department would love to nail him.

Can he hit .400 this year? "Nobody's going to hit .400, not even me," he said, before rethinking his own greatness. "You never know. But it's going to be difficult. It would take a lot."

So did hitting 73 home runs in 476 at-bats. Which was basically impossible. But that didn't stop him.

Then, Bonds rolled out his own bombshells. He is going to retire after the '05 season, even if he hasn't broken Hank Aaron's record of 755 home runs, which is only 87 away. Well, he amended, he is probably, almost certainly going to retire after '05. Unless, of course, he becomes a designated hitter in California.

How perfect: a Bonds retirement announcement with an enormous asterisk.

Finally, Bonds elaborated a perfect defense against all those who tar him with "speculations." Yet, to do so, he used both his late father and his brother as human shields. For years Bobby Bonds's alcoholism during his career was an open secret. "Some players are hungry. Bonds is thirsty," was the snide-but-true justification by every team that traded him, often after he had an excellent season -- on the field. Yet, even after Bonds died last season, few in the media mentioned it out of respect. No one waved it like a flag.

Until Barry, so ambivalent, so adoring, so wounded by his father, did it on Tuesday night.

"I wish my dad didn't drink in his day, but I can't change that. He's still my father. Just because my dad drank and was an alcoholic, does that mean I was [drinking] with him? My brother does drugs, he's recovering, but he's still my brother and I love him to death. But am I going with my brother, doing drugs?" Bonds said to deflect his guilt-by-association problems with the indicted Victor Conte and Greg Anderson.

Later, talking about reasons for retiring, he said: "I didn't know my dad until I was in college and pro baseball. I don't want my kids to go through that either." So, in one night in a New York locker room before a game he didn't play, Bonds threw more light on his father's disease -- and his own Absent Dad pain -- than all the reporters who ever covered either Bonds.

Finally, Bonds had exhausted everything on the docket, so to speak, plus his own free-association issues. When Barry talks, he might as well just lie down on a couch. He's got more baggage than Prada. But where does he leave us when his words are done? As usual, scratching our heads. From his answers, and the available evidence, you can draw any portrait of him that you choose.

Bonds may, indeed, be the most innocent and aggrieved of all the great players who ever have had their deeds tarnished unfairly. He is such an extreme and inscrutable personality that it's possible he refused to cheat even when those close to him were the creators and distributors of the most cutting-edge elicit drugs.

On the other hand, Bonds's alleged steroid use may ultimately be documented to a degree, which would infuriate the sport and throw all his accomplishments into deserved disrepute. What Pete Rose did for gambling run amok, Bonds may do for THG. Will he be remembered as the man, already a three-time MVP before he was 30, who decided to cheat so that he could become even greater than great?

Parables and moral tales will, eventually, be drawn from Bonds's tale. But they'll all be wrong if the lessons are intended to apply to the rest of us. We look to stars like Aaron and Cal Ripken for instruction because they have remained essentially normal, accessible people. Bonds, however, is a moon from another sort of solar system -- one he inhabits along with Ty Cobb the sociopath, Babe Ruth the glutton, Ted Williams the wounded child, Rose the rule-breaker, Joe DiMaggio the image-obsessed recluse.

Go on, explain them, know them. Good luck. While you're at it, work on Van Gogh's ear. They don't want to be understood. They're not fodder for our epigrams.

"Half the stuff I say I don't believe," Bonds said on Tuesday, defiantly crossing his own trail.

What about the Justice Department and those urine samples, Barry? "What do I care what they do? What do I care what you think?" said Bonds. "I don't have to prove to you or anyone else in this world. . . . When you come up with the truth, then you write your [expletive]. Until then, shut up."

Long ago, the blues legend Robert Johnson wrote, "Hellhounds on My Trail." Genius has its demons, its severed ears, and often spurns conversation in favor of an internal monologue on which we merely eavesdrop. All the arts are full of them -- damaged, bent, glorious, begging to be judged by their work, not their life. In sports, it goes against our grain to root for the sublimely gifted anomaly, the One of a Kind eccentric, the star we'll never understand, the person that could be anything, or hide anything.

But we've got one of 'em among us now, that's for sure. Every other night he seems to hit a ball into McCovey Cove, making a shambles of probability, credibility and age. How does he do it? Is it real or fake? Barry Bonds can't or won't tell us, any more than one of Dali's surrealist clocks was created to tell time.