Family of Giants

THE PITCH IS LOW, AND BARRY BONDS of the San Francisco Giants rips it down the third base line. “You dropped your hands,” snaps Bobby, his father, from behind the batting cage. Barry spins and stares blankly at Bobby. Then he digs in and clubs the next one high over the right field wall of Candlestick Park. He wheels to face his father. “I didn’t drop my hands on that one, did I?” he says with a wink, before spinning back for the next pitch.

“No, he didn’t,” says Bobby, shaking his head and laughing. “No, he sure didn’t.”

Just a typical day at the office for Barry and Bobby Bonds. At 47, Bobby—the only major league player ever to record 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in five seasons—is the San Francisco batting coach. Barry, 29, is the team’s star left fielder and possibly the best player in baseball. In the last three seasons, he has won two Most Valuable Player awards and is currently, with 40 homers and a .340 baiting average, striving for a third. In the first year of a six-year, $43.75 million contract, Barry—whose hitting kept the Giants in first place most of the year—is the game’s best-paid performer. He is also—at least according to the players he has snubbed and the reporters he has frozen out—a league leader in surliness.

Except With his hailing coach, who treats Barry as, well, Barry, his son. “Even now,” says Bobby, “when Barry does something I don’t like, I tell him. I’m not the type to look the other way. I don’t care how much money he makes, he’s still my son.”

Bobby was 18 when Barry was born; a year later he signed with the Giants. By age; 4, Barry had turned Candlestick Park into his playground. On game days, his mother, Pat, would drive Barry and his brother Ricky, now 28, to the stadium, where the played catch with Barry’s godfather, Willie Mays. “We used to shag flies,” says Barry, “and steal gum out of the clubhouse. Dad would get one of the batting-practice pitchers to throw to us before the other players got there.”

Right off the bat, Bobby knew that Barry was gifted. “But,” says Bobby, “”I didn’t focus on how good he was until ninth grade.” Bobby would attend Barry’s games in the San Carlos, Calif., Little League and, later, at Serra High School. But he would seldom sit in the stands for fear of stealing the crowd’s attention. “I’d park behind some trees,” says Bobby. “A lot of limes Barry would say, ‘My dad didn’t come to the game,’ because he never saw me.”

Often Bobby wasn’t there. He was on the road with the Giants—and later played for other clubs. Barry didn’t even realize his father was a star. “I was a momma’s boy,” says Barry. “I didn’t get anything from Dad, except my body and baseball knowledge. The only time I spent with him was at the ballpark.”

Actually, they did some saltwater fishing together, but the outings inspired only dread in Barry. “The minute we got out there,” says Barry, “I’d start getting sick. It got to the point that Dad would try and make me stay out there. It was a Dad thing, I guess. We never caught anything, and my dad would sit there and eat Oreo cookies. It was gross.”

In 1985, after attending Arizona State on a baseball scholarship, Barry signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played well his first four seasons; during the next three he was otherworldly, averaging 111 runs batted in, 30 homers and 44 stolen bases. He also set new records, many say, for arrogance. He called fellow Pirate star Andy Van Slyke—who is as beloved in Pittsburgh as Bonds is controversial—the “Great White Hope.” One spring, Barry, embittered by a contract dispute, was so surly that Pirates manager Jim Leyland, normally a Bonds supporter, blurted out, “I’ve kissed your butt for three years! If you don’t want to be here, then get your butt off the field!” A free agent, he signed with the Giants after the ’92 season.

The Bondses blame the media for Barry’s image as a moody egomaniac. Both Pat, Barry’s mother, and Sun, 29, his Swedish wife of five years—with whom he has two kids, Nikolai, 3, and Shikari, 2—insist that Barn is misunderstood. Says Barry himself, sitting in the Giants dugout at Candlestick: “I’m a very private person. My life story isn’t for everybody.” Barry thinks athletes have it worse than other celebrities because they can be “touched” by the public. “I don’t see people jumping through the screen to get Jack Nicholson’s autograph,” he says.

Even as Barry shares these musings, a handful of young fans cluster at the railing, calling his name and holding out baseballs and photos in the hope that he will deign to sign them. Barry stares at them blankly.

Then, suddenly, he hears another voice. “Barry,” barks Bobby, thrusting a bat at him. “Go put this in my locker.”

Barry Bonds, the growing legend and media whipping boy, shifts persona to dutiful son. He spits out a few sunflower seeds, grabs the bat and sprints into the clubhouse.

JOHNNY DODD in San Francisco

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