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|| News Item: Posted 2006-04-28

Bonds Watch: A REAL Reality Show
By Brad Mangin

"He's sitting on 714. Here's the pitch by Downing ... swinging ... there's a drive into left-center field. That ball is gonna be ... outta here! It's gone! It's 715! There's a new home run champion of all time! And it's Henry Aaron!" - Milo Hamilton, Atlanta Braves radio announcer

Photo by Eric Risberg / Associated Press

Photo by Eric Risberg / Associated Press

Barry Bonds during spring training in Scottsdale in 1993, left, and during spring training in Scottsdale in 2004, right.
I remember this moment like it was yesterday. The scary thing is it happened on April 8, 1974 when I was nine years old. I remember watching the Dodgers play the Braves that night on NBC's Monday Night Baseball as Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek called the game. The next day I excitedly clipped out the reports in the Oakland Tribune and pasted the story and pictures into my scrapbook. It was the most exciting thing I had ever seen on television.

I began getting caught up in the drama of Hank Aaron chasing Babe Ruth's magical mark of 714 career home runs during the summer of 1973 and rode my bike to 7-11 every day to purchase a twenty-five cent Slurpee in a plastic baseball cup, hoping to get the Holy Grail version with Hammering Hank's color picture on it. On a fateful day that summer I beat my sister Paula to the punch and secured a cola Slurpee with Aaron's picture on it, which I proceeded to spill all over the counter in my excitement. I was the happiest kid in Fremont, California.

To a child who loved the game of baseball like I did Aaron's race to 715 was an amazing moment. Little did I know that 32 years later I would be photographing another player's pursuit of Babe Ruth's milestone of 714. Another Bay Area kid was also nine years old the night Aaron passed Ruth. I bet he was watching KRON channel 4 from his house in San Carlos, California. The kid's name was Barry Bonds. That kid is now chasing Babe Ruth.

I have been photographing Barry Bonds extensively since he signed with the San Francisco Giants as a free agent in 1993. Since I never saw Willie Mays play in person I always tell people that the Barry Bonds I saw on a regular basis during the 1990's was the best player I have ever seen. He was a monster at the plate that also stole bases and had a Gold Glove as he patrolled left field at wind-swept Candlestick Park.

As Barry's career home run totals mounted and his body got bigger many of us had thoughts that he was seeking the same kind of "help" that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa looked to in 1998 as they demolished the single season home run record of 61 home runs set my Roger Maris in 1961. By the time Bonds shattered Mark McGwire's short-lived record of 70 homers by hitting 73 of his own during the 2001 season he was no longer the skinny lead-off hitter who broke in the Pirates in 1986.

Photo by Jose Luis Villegas / Sacramento Bee

Photo by Jose Luis Villegas / Sacramento Bee

Barry Bonds steps on home and is greeted by his son Nikolai and Andres Galarraga after hitting home run number 70 on October 1, 2001 in Houston.
The Giants left fielder who continued to shatter records in the following years was eventually found out and vilified and public as his relationships with shady characters involved in steroids linked him directly to Victor Conte, the owner of BALCO and the man responsible for helping track athletes, football players and baseball players run faster, work out harder, recover faster and hit the ball farther.

Barry Bonds is not the only ballplayer to take illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Can you say Bret Boone or Brady Anderson? He just happened to be linked to the one guy (Conte) whose garbage dumpster the Feds were looking through every Monday night in Burlingame, California hoping to find evidence. That evidence is what helped nail Bonds to the wall, exposing his wrongdoings to the public thanks to the diligent reporting skills of two San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporters, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada. The recently published book by the duo Game of Shadows educated myself and countless other sports fans what was really happening over the last decade as star athletes achieved great success on the playing field with the aid of a needle, some pills and some cream.

As Barry Bonds draws closer to tying and then passing The Babe's mark of 714 (Bonds currently is sitting at 711) I thought it would be interesting to see how other photographers feel about documenting such a historical event that will forever be marred in controversy as Bonds continues to be investigated by the Federal Government.

I decided to ask several friends of mine who will be photographing Bonds over the next few weeks what were their feelings about photographing such a historical and newsworthy moment that will be cheered wildly in San Francisco yet booed and hated all over the rest of the country. Following is what they had to say.

San Francisco-based Associated Press staffer Eric Risberg has been covering Major League Baseball for about 25 years and has seen it all over his career. This is what Risberg had to say about covering Bonds in the coming weeks:

"Like other controversial public figures (think Nixon or Clinton), Barry Bonds intrigues, both in front of the camera and away from it.

I have some great memories of him. The day in 1992 when he signed his contract at Candlestick Park with his then-wife, Sun, beside him. Seeing him hitting his first home run as a Giant on opening day at the Stick in 1993. Photographing home runs 600, 700, and No. 73 at the end of the season in 2001. Watching him hit his first home run in the World Series in 2002 in his first at-bat. The memory of him and his father sitting in the dugout together. And my favorite moment: watching him tie the 660-home run record of his godfather, Willie Mays, on opening day in 2004. He's one of my three favorite subjects to photograph in baseball beside Will Clark and Rickey Henderson.

And there is the other side -- the side that is often written about. The aloofness, the arrogance, the brushing off of one or two small kids greeting him as he arrived for his spring training workout, barely acknowledging their existence. Waiting extra hours to see if he will sit for a mug shot on picture day. Having him stick his hand in front of my lens and say, "Not now." The early morning stakeouts at Scottsdale Stadium, waiting for him and his entourage to make an appearance.

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / Mercury News

John Mabanglo, left, and Jose Luis Villegas prepare their remotes for Barry Bonds' 600th homerun in San Francisco on Wednesday, August 7, 2002.
When I think of Bonds passing the Babe in home runs, I wonder what it must have been like covering Ruth or Hank Aaron at the end of their careers. Right now we don't know if Bonds will play two more weeks, two more months or two more years. This makes the upcoming milestone all the more significant and historic. My guess is that his career will end sooner rather than later.

Even though the clouds of controversy continue to swirl around Bonds, and many people just hope that he goes away, I plan to record the event like I have covered much of his career -- enthused, objective, excited. I look forward to witnessing the next chapter of his legacy, whatever it may be.

When Bonds finally does take his last at-bat, I'm sure many people will cheer. But others, such as myself, will miss watching him launch those home runs into McCovey Cove. History will decide the rest of the Bonds story and the legacy - good or bad - that he will leave," said Risberg.

Next I turned to Sports Illustrated staff photographer Robert Beck:

"What this guy has had to endure this season on the road is cruel. It is boorish. It is sad. He is in baseball limbo. The MLB level of hell where only those in black and orange root for him. Is it fair? Is it just? Did he bring it upon himself? I really don't know. I do know this....He is a human being who probably made some very unwise decisions during the past few years. Both on and off of the field. Is he any better for it? Doubtful. Is he the only ballplayer to exhibit poor judgment during his career? Hahahahahah ahhhhhhh hahahahah. Jeez, that would make a good book wouldn't it....Bad Decisions By Good Ballplayers. The cover could be a shot of that ball bouncing off of Canseco's steroidal noggin and over the fence.

But....Did these guys cross a line somewhere? What line? The line that Major League Baseball didn't draw? Or the line that was sort of there but was ignored in the name of tickets sold and excitement created? Everyone "knew" these guys were loading but they didn't care at the time. Why bring it up now and crucify them for it? Are we just talking about Bonds here? Solely because he (probably) will break THE record most cherished in baseball? If Barry walked away from the game right now, would we forget the whole situation? Maybe. But right now MLB and the rest of the world are letting Barry twist in the wind. They are not cheering him on but they are not locking him out. (They are fining him for uniform infractions.) They are not saying he did anything illegal but they are not sure about forking over the record to him. They'd like to just fork HIM but how would that look?

I do not approve of steroids or any performance enhancing drug but somebody should have put their foot down a few years ago and drawn up some definitive rules. Now everyone is buried to their nuts in this growing pile of shitski. There is no way out. For anyone. It will take a lot more than an asterisk to solve this one.

Photo by Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

Photo by Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants reaches for the ball as a fan Rickie Navarrete age 15 of Redwood City, CA catches it during the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, California.
In the meantime, I'll watch and shoot Barry as he rambles on toward the record (or not, as is the current case). He is an interesting case study of human emotion as are all of the people who attend the games. When/if he bombs past Ruth I'll call it legit. At this point I'm not sure he will get to Aaron. I'm not sure he wants to. He may just settle for being number two, content with himself and what he has done. That would be fine with me. That would be fine, I bet, with MLB and the rest of the baseball universe," said Beck.

Getty Images staffer Jed Jacobsohn will be covering Bonds at home and on the road over the coming weeks. Here is was Jed has to say:

"I have so many conflicting emotions when it comes to covering Barry Bonds and his upcoming date with Babe Ruth and maybe, at some point Hank Aaron and the all-time home run title. I'm a huge baseball fan, so the record to me is a significant one. I'm a huge Oakland A's fan, thus, not a SF Giants fan, although now I live in the City, and I actually kind of like the Giants team this year (sshhhh!) Covering the Giants this year is something like covering a Reality TV show at times (not just due to the Bonds on Bonds crew that is ALWAYS there). And that is all due to Mr. Bonds.

My assignment that was outlined at the beginning of the year with my editors at Getty, was to cover the seven home runs until the Babe is passed, including going on the road later in April as he gets closer. Everything else is put on hold for me, NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs...just Bonds. We thought he would have had at least one or two dingers in the first week, but alas, here we are and no home runs. My assignment was changed to "wait till 3 or 4 away and then go..." It's a frustrating, yet exciting and intriguing story to cover as a journalist.

I guess the guy did steroids. There seems to be so much evidence against him that says he knowingly took them. As a baseball fan you wish that the game is truly a pure thing, a perfect game, but with influences that are not natural to the game start entering into the equation of the sport it all gets fucked up.

It seems to be the lead story in just about every Sports section around the country, whether he does something or not. I'm looking forward to when he actually breaks the record. I hope it's at home because 1) the shooting positions and working facilities are excellent in San Francisco 2) The fans will actually cheer there and not boo, throw syringes our tubes of ointment (what's next?) 3) I can sleep in my own bed!" said Jacobsohn.

Martha Jane Stanton has been the Giants team photographer since 1990 and has been around the club extensively since then. Here is what she has to say:

Photo by Martha Jane Stanton

Photo by Martha Jane Stanton

"This SI for Kids poster ran in the 90's. This was a cool accomplishment for me since I'm was a big fan of the magazine. Barry was bigger than life then and knowing that kids were putting this poster up on their wall really tickled me." - Martha Jane Stan
"It's as if you can feel the circus sitting on the outskirts of town, waiting for the show to begin. They won't come in until the time is right, but there they sit...waiting...waiting for the big fella to wave them in. It wasn't until last Saturday, at Coors Field, that the monkey left the big fella's back and gave hope to the circus that the show can still go on. Now it's just a matter of when. You can't hit in Coors Field forever. So home they come, back to the friendly confines of AT&T.

We've been through this before: opening of a new ballpark, a single-season home run record and post-season. What makes this different is whether it should happen. I'm not just a baseball photographer, I'm a fan too. Our family has season tickets on the club level at AT&T. Monday night against the Mets will be my first game of the season as a fan. I don't know what to expect from myself. I was surprised in Spring Training to find myself cheering after seeing him hit a bomb in his second at-bat of the game. It's impossible to boo or feel bad about a shot that sails out of the yard, especially a big bomb that lands way up in the bleachers. I suppose that is why, no matter how mad baseball fans can be on the road, they can't help themselves when the homer is hit.

So it seems inevitable to me that the big fella is gonna surpass Babe's mark (it's not a record). And when he does, I will be part of the circus, hoping to keep the peace among the animals and entertainers. I think once it happens, there will be a certain amount of celebration and even more so, relief. It's well known within the circle of Bonds that he wants to surpass Babe. What isn't known is how he feels about going after Aaron. I'm sure that feeling can change from day to day.

My feeling is that I know I'll be there for the Babe thing and that's fine. From there, I would like to see a few more bombs launched into the bay while I sit in our seats and enjoy watching one of the greatest players that ever played. At the end of the season with his home run total safely behind Aaron's, I'd like to see the big fella gather up his bats, pack them away and spend the rest of his days enjoying watching his kids grow up," said Stanton.

Stanton's partner with the Giants is fellow team photographer Andy Kuno, who literally grew up in the Giants dugout at Candlestick Park with Giants greats Willie McCovey and John Montefusco. Following are Kuno's thoughts:

"Anyone involved shooting baseball in the San Francisco Bay Area has been anticipating Barry Bonds catching and passing Babe Ruth on the homerun chart. I'm definitely excited about capturing the moment (if there is one). The fun part of this all is imagining where to position myself and where to place my remotes. I'm crossing my fingers he doesn't do it on a Sunday night ESPN game. Their new gimmick is so XFL...

Photo by Andy Kuno

Photo by Andy Kuno

Barry Bonds breaks his bat over his knee during the 1997 season at Candlestick Park.
Hopefully he'll do this at home where he's liked and appreciated. After he hit 709 at Coors Field in Denver, he was greeted with a few cheers but mostly boos. Actually every time his name was announced or when he fielded a ball, negative chants would sprout up throughout the stadium. The court of public opinion hasn't been in his favor and I find that so un-American. Guilty until proven innocent? That's not how the system works you know. I'm just amazed how he can tune out and focus on baseball in light of all the controversy and allegations surrounding him. In the end though, he'll reach 714 and 715 and then some for good measure..." said Kuno.

Sacramento Bee staff photographer and author of Home Is Everything: The Latino Baseball Story Jose Luis Villegas know a thing or two about baseball:

"Now that 714 is with in reach, the approach for documenting the next milestone for Barry Bonds takes on a new light. It's not just 714, catching the Babe by the unofficial steroid poster child that makes it a different story to tell. Being in a spot to capture the home run is one piece of the story. My approach will be to look for moments on the field that illustrate Barry's struggles, the treatment from fans, the little things that make this more than reaching 714," said Villegas.

San Jose Mercury News staff photographer Nhat Meyer calls Barry Bonds the "Bill Romanowski of baseball."

"I was actually sent to San Diego for opening day specifically to collect audio (and some images) of his reception on the road ( In the past I've photographed a handful of games on the road while following Bonds and he always received boos, but the boos typically died down as the game went on... The boos at Petco just kept going with taunts in-between innings "juice'em up Bonds" - it was like the boos were on steroids.

If Bonds played for the Padres they would be cheering just as loudly as the Giants fans and the Giants fans would be booing him just as loudly as the Padres fans. Bonds just happens to be with the Giants. He reminds me of Bill Romanowski - I loved it when he was on my team (the Broncos) - he didn't play dirty, he played with passion... on the other hand it was terrible when he was with the dreaded Raiders nation - bitter rivals - then he was definitely a dirty player. Same deal. When he's on your team pretty much no matter what he does, as long as he's contributing to wins, will be forgiven - everywhere else it'll be just another reason to hate that player.

If Bonds were the only baseball player to have ever taken (allegedly of course) steroids then I think all the booing would definitely be justified but he wasn't, so I do think he is being unfairly singled out. Of course this is mainly because he is so close to breaking the highly regarded home run record.

On a craziness scale of 1 to 10 Bonds home run quest has to be an 11 (an ode to my favorite movie Spinal Tap). It's really like covering the playoffs - except Bonds is the only one playing (or that matters)," said Meyer.

Photo by Karl Mondon / Contra Costa Times

Photo by Karl Mondon / Contra Costa Times

Barry Bonds circles the bases after hitting career home run #177 on April 12th 1993.
Associated Press staff photographer and San Francisco native Jeff Chiu offered up these thoughts:

"I'm looking forward to being there when Barry ties and passes Ruth. I've been fortunate to cover a lot of his homeruns, but I haven't shot anything from any of the milestone homers that I liked, so hopefully it'll happen at 714 or 715. I think he'll hit them in San Francisco. I can't see a pitcher giving him something to hit at their home field when he's at 713 or 714. There'll be a ton of photographers, reporters, editors, and TV crews running around, and a lot of pressure on how, where, and what I shoot. So while it'll be exciting, I don't think it'll be fun, but then again it is work. The steroid questions surrounding Bonds don't play into how I feel about him breaking Ruth's numbers. I'm there to shoot the game, the legal coverage and all the off-the-field stuff will come later, I'm sure," said Chiu.

Finally I turned to one of my Giants season ticket partners Karl Mondon of the Contra Costa Times to offer up his views as only he can:

"Drugs, heroes and villains! All in a traveling one-man show. The Barry Bonds show is theatre at its best. If you're a Giants fan, like I've been since the days before his dad, BOBBY, hit a grand slam in his first major league at-bat, you get asked a lot about how you feel about your guy being baseball's biggest prick. We say, "So what, he's an asshole, but he's our asshole." And when I'm working the games as a photographer, with colleagues most of whom aren't Giants fans, it doesn't matter. It's the same for all of us. Once you've got that viewfinder pressed to your eye, all you want is the payoff. The best picture possible. If the guy smashes 715 or pulls a career ending hammy, let me be there, and in focus without some ESPN cable-puller's ass in my face," said Mondon.

Well there you have it. In the coming days at AT&T Park in San Francisco the photo wells will become very crowded and photographers will grow tense every time number 25 steps into the batter's box. I hope to create a few unique photographs of the milestone home runs as it is my job to record history as it happens on the ball field. I will let history judge how big a moment it really was.

(Brad Mangin is a freelance photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also a founding partner in and regular contributor in the monthly Sports Shooter Newsletter.)

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