Barry Bonds: An enigma wrapped in an ego

Every time I see Barry Bonds on TV I’m amazed – not by what he’s done during his Major League baseball career, but by the remarkable personality and gigantic ego that are on display.

Bonds is one of the oddest – and saddest – professional sports celebrities of our era. He’s a man who has reached the top of his profession and attained great fame and wealth in the process. But he doesn’t seem to be enjoying his successes.

During the 2007 baseball season, he surpassed Hank Aaron’s record of 755 career home runs and ended the season with 762, making him the most prolific slugger in the game’s history. His accomplishment should have been the crowning achievement of his life and a cause for baseball fans to celebrate his career.

Instead, that record that Bonds devoted himself to achieving with such single-minded focus might be wiped off the books. On November 15, Bonds was charged with five counts of lying to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. The charges resulted from Bonds’s December 2003 testimony to a federal attorney investigating allegations of steroid use by some Major League players.

Bonds denied using steroids. But if the feds prove that he did, that could void his home run record. More about that in a moment.

The perjury charges weren’t exactly greeted with shock and indignation by the press and fans. When fashion designer Marc Ecko, who paid more than $700,000 for the ball Bonds hit to set the record, asked fans to vote online to determine what to do with the ball, they voted to mark it with a big asterisk and give it to the Hall of Fame.

Ecko said he’d comply with the vote. That infuriated Bonds, who complained about the asterisk during a recent interview on MSNBC.

Bonds’s public behavior hasn’t helped his image. He has shown unrestrained contempt for anyone who questions his behavior or the legitimacy of the home run records he’s established. (He also set the single season record for home runs in 2001 when he hit 73.)

Bonds has made it clear that he sincerely believes that he is the most important person in the universe and no one has the right to interfere with his personal quest for glory and riches.

Now, I know that Barry Bonds is not unique among human beings who think they're pretty important people. Self-effacement doesn’t come easily for anyone. But I don’t think there are many people out there who take their self-aggrandizement as seriously as Bonds does.

Other accomplished athletes managed to project a likeable public persona despite the fact that they obviously were quite impressed with their own abilities. During his prime, boxer Muhammad Ali didn’t pass up any opportunities to tell the world how great he was. But Ali also made the world laugh and turned his boasting into poetry. And there were never any rumors that he’d done anything illegal to enhance his accomplishments in the ring.

Bonds, by comparison, is sullen and angry at the world when he’s in public. There’s no law that says he has to be pleasant and agreeable, but for Bonds, his surliness seems to be a matter of personal pride.

Bonds also apparently has only contempt for the federal justice system. As I mentioned earlier, he recently was charged with lying under oath and obstruction of justice by a federal attorney investigating the alleged illegal use of steroids among some Major League Baseball players.

Here’s the astonishing part: Bonds was told before his statements that he would be immune from prosecution – that is, even if he admitted taking steroids, he wouldn’t be charged with anything. All he had to do was tell the truth.

But apparently Bonds couldn’t bear to admit that his records are tainted.

So now the public may get a glimpse of this man’s inner workings when he and his giant ego have to respond to whatever evidence federal prosecutors have that he cheated.

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