Monday, July 02, 2007

He is an All-Star – Barry Bonds heading home for the mid-summer classic

Justice was served Sunday when Major League Baseball announced Barry Bonds had earned enough votes to earn a starting spot in next Tuesday’s mid-summer classic. The San Francisco Giants star overcame a 119,000-vote deficit in the final days of balloting and finished 123,000 ahead of the Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano on Sunday to claim the third and final starting outfield spot for the National League.

"I'm at a loss for words right now," Bonds said. "It just means more 'cause I'm at home. This is my town. This is my house. You can't say enough about being at home. It's great. This is the one I'll remember all time. This is the one I'll remember forever."

In the days leading up to Sunday evenings announcement Barry Bonds’ peers, including the leading members of the 2007 Baseball Hall of Fame class were universal in saying in no uncertain terms – Barry Bonds the baseball player is an all-star and is worthy of the opportunity to be on the National League team in his home ballpark, San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

"Yes, there's a shadow that's hanging over top of him. The commissioner and Hank Aaron are torn whether they should celebrate the breaking of the all-time home run record," Cal Ripken said Tuesday. "But when I think of Barry, I think of him as an All-Star player."

"There has to be one guy from each team, and there's no question, I think, he's having the best year on that team," Tony Gwynn said. "They're playing it in his home park. And I honestly think he deserves to be there."

"Like Cal said, there's always going to be a cloud hanging over Barry because of all the speculations, but you're talking about one of the two, three greatest players that ever played this game, and the game's in his ballpark," Gwynn said. "I just completely believe he should be there."

Others around baseball agree.

"To me, the All-Star game is for the fans," San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers said. "The fans, especially here in San Francisco, are going to want to see Barry in the All-Star game. He's one of the greatest players of all time. They're hosting the game and I don't think it would be right for Barry not to be in the All-Star game. He's a draw."

Ripken and Gwynn repeatedly praised Bonds during a telephone conference call hosted by TBS and MLB in advance of Sunday’s announcement televised on TBS and hosted by Ripken and Gwynn. Gwynn said there's no question that Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame.

"He's one of the most complete players probably to have ever played this game. I know he's the best player that I played against in my career," Gwynn said. "I think he's good for baseball in the sense that he gives kids the opportunity to see what's possible on the baseball field every day, and there's an anticipation that happens when he comes up to the plate."

While baseball fans made their choice and Barry’s peers offered their support the media continued their portrayal of Barry Bonds as a villain. A front page report in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle “Silencing Angry Fans” suggests MLB is doing their best to censor baseball fans from attending games with anti-Barry Bonds signage.

Chronicle writers Mark Fainaru-Wada, Lance Williams (the authors of the best selling book ‘Game of Shadows’) spoke with a number of fans who have (according to the report) had to deal with ‘the long arm(s) of Major League Baseball’ in sending Barry a message about how they feel about Bonds and his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s 755 career home run record.

Arizona Diamondbacks fan Don Regole went to a game at the Diamondbacks home park “Chase Field”. Regole brought nine different Bonds related signs to a recent game when the Giants were visiting Chase Field. When he arrived at the April 27 game the Diamondbacks gate control staff asked Regole to not take his signs into Chase Field believing they were in poor taste.

A full month after the game Regole sent the Diamondbacks a letter asking for answers as to why his signs were turned away. One sentence caught his attention: "As Mr. Bonds approaches the homerun record, we have been asked by Major League Baseball to carefully screen the signs that are brought into the ballpark by our fans."

"It stinks that Major League Baseball would silence fans in hopes of A) letting revenues keep pouring into the game and B) silencing this whole steroids era and letting the controversy kind of slip by," Regole said in a recent phone interview with The San Francisco Chronicle.

According to a USA Today report, security confiscated a banner in Milwaukee when the Giants were at Miller Park a few weeks ago that said, "Milwaukee Loves Hammerin' Hank, Not BALCO Barry."

The Giants play more games at Dodger Stadium than any other MLB ballpark other than their own AT&T Park. The Dodgers don’t single out any signage relating to Barry Bonds – they ban signs all together.

Camille Johnston, the Dodgers' senior vice president for communications, said the team bans all signage and works to foster a "fan-friendly environment. We don't want anybody inciting the crowd, and we think those kinds of things can cause an untenable atmosphere, so we would ask them to turn those T-shirts inside out or remove them."

Friday night an inning before Bonds hit the 750th home run of his career at AT&T Park, a lapse in security allowed Andrew B. Clapp, 24 and a tourist from Fargo, N.D., to trot out to left field and chat with Bonds during the seventh inning of Friday night's 10-innning, 4-3 loss to Arizona. Bonds casually put his arm on the fan's shoulder and walked him off the field toward the left-field foul line where they were met by security. Bonds was calm, cool and collected throughout the fan incident, but as Barry told maybe it’s time there be better security at Giants games for the foreseeable future.

“This is about baseball players, all of us,” Bonds said prior to the Giants' rematch against the Diamondbacks on Saturday night. “I think you need to go to Major League Baseball and direct that question to them. It's fair for you to ask them what their responsibilities are, not just for me, but to all of us as Major League players.”

And how did Giants fans react – as one they shouted and cheered for Barry Bonds. Yes what took place was at Bonds home park, but in a very difficult situation the one in control was Barry Bonds.

Despite Bonds being honored Sunday, with Bonds only five home runs away from tying Hank Aaron’s career mark and six away from establishing a new record corporate America has shown no interest in working with Barry Bonds. In fairness to corporate America – Barry Bonds has been difficult for companies to work with for many years. It would be fair to suggest Barry Bonds isn’t interested in corporate America. It’s important to understand athlete endorsement contracts only work if both the athlete and company have a certain synergy.

According to The New York Times Richard Sandomir -- In 2000, Tom George, the senior marketing officer for athletes and personalities for Octagon, a sports marketing agency, recalled that a major client had identified Bonds as a prime candidate to endorse one of its consumer products, which he did not identify.

But before George could complete the deal, the client pulled out, offended by Bonds’s personality. “The C.E.O. was driving around,” George said, “and heard snippets from a press conference where Bonds snapped at a reporter and said, ‘I don’t want this guy representing my company.’ ”

Looking back, George said: “If it was just his irascibility, he could be redeemed. Everybody can be redeemed.” But George added that there was too much that was unpalatable about Bonds. “How can you wrap baseball, hot dogs and Chevrolet around Barry Bonds?” he asked.

As Sandomir reported Barry Bonds has been his own worst enemy when it comes to his persona. Bob Cramer, then MasterCard’s vice president for global sponsorships, said there was concern that Bonds might be injured (which he was, limiting him to five home runs in 14 games in 2005), and some fretting about his temperament. “But we had worked with him before and knew how difficult he was,” Cramer said. “The casual fan didn’t know what a jerk he was then. Now everybody knows.”

Then came the BALCO story. Promotion canceled.

“He could have been the biggest baseball marketer in history,” Cramer told The New York Times.

Major League Baseball sponsors have made it clear for some time – they have no interest in celebrating Barry Bonds moment in time. Bonds standoffish attitude and image is nothing new, but early last week Bonds made a move forward in terms of understanding how people felt about the image he has. For months there had been speculation Barry Bonds wasn’t going to freely make his baseball related memorabilia available to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Thankfully Barry has seen the bigger picture.

According to’s Barry M. Bloom: during the course of a 45-minute private discussion prior to a Giants home game against the Padres Barry met with Jeff Idelson, the Baseball Hall of Fame's vice president of communications and education, that he would later pass along the shoes, the bat, the jersey and pants from those famous blasts, among other items from his prolific 22-year career.

"The Hall of Fame is a class organization and it has always been my intention to pass along many of my more cherished items to them," Bonds told after the meeting. "There's no question that they will get some items from me if I succeed in these accomplishments. I never even considered the helmets before, but they are theirs for them to keep. And there will be a lot more stuff when the time is right."

Bonds said he would begin officially authenticating his helmets, beginning with homer No. 750, and set them aside. For years, going back into the 600s, Bonds has had Major League Baseball authenticate the rest of his apparel, some of which he keeps on display in his Beverly Hills, Calif., home. The rest is archived in a local San Francisco Bay Area warehouse.

Officials of the Hall have been hoping to talk directly with Bonds for weeks, particularly before the crush of national media descends on the chase. The Giants said the media contingent will greatly balloon when Bonds reaches 752. Idelson expects to rejoin the party when Bonds nears 754 and travel with the team until he hits the landmark homers, barring only a conflict with the July 29 Hall of Fame induction of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn.

"Barry has been generous with the Hall since his rookie year in 1986, and 20 years later he's no different," Idelson said. "He knows the significance of 756, and he's agreed to donate something to the Hall of Fame when and if that time comes. He has a great appreciation for the game's history and his part in it."

A small gesture on Barry Bonds part – the sun has set on corporate America caring if Bonds is finally making the right decisions when it comes to his image.

“Who will associate themselves with Bonds?” said Dan Migala, the publisher of the Migala Report, an industry newsletter in a New York Times report. “I think M.L.B. has to come up with its own obligatory full-page advertisement congratulating him in USA Today, but the sponsors just aren’t associating themselves with him.”

He added: “He’s just not out there. No one’s investing in him.”

And what can we expect from the media in the coming weeks as Barry nears baseball immorality? Let’s not forget this programming gem from ESPN -- In April 2006, ESPN premiered a 10-part reality TV series starring Bonds. The show, titled Bonds on Bonds, revolves on the life of Bonds and his chase of Babe Ruth's and Hank Aaron's home run records but was met with public indifference and ridicule. It was produced by Tollin/Robbins Productions, producers of the Nickelodeon series All That and other shows and movies.

The first segment of Bonds on Bonds aired Tuesday, April 4 nationwide on ESPN2. Much of the premiere episode dealt with how Bonds has coped with questions about whether steroids have fueled his athletic performance. At one point, Bonds even started to break down in tears. "If it makes them happy to go out of their way to try to destroy me, go right ahead. You can't hurt me any more than you've already hurt me", he said. He continued by saying, "You don't see me bringing anyone else into this. I'm going to take it myself." Bonds paused as his eyes welled and he choked back tears, "And I'm going to take it because there's so many people who depend on me."

In different segments throughout the program, Bonds acknowledged his often rocky relations with the press but cast himself as a victim of critics out to tear him down. He described himself as "mentally and emotionally drained" but insisted he was not going to let anyone "bring me down."

In June 2006, ESPN and producer Tollin/Robbins Productions cancelled the series, citing "creative control" issues with Bonds and his representatives. No other details about the decision were given. Bonds on Bonds had been absent from the network's schedule since May 30, and had suffered from poor ratings.

A few years ago Bonds withdrew from the MLB Players Association's (MLBPA) licensing agreements because he felt independent marketing deals would be more lucrative for him. If Bonds had not withdrawn, his name and likeness would be deemed usable in any merchandise licensed by the MLBPA. In order to use his name or likeness, a company must deal directly with Bonds. For this reason he does not appear in some baseball video games, forcing game-makers to create generic athletes to replace him.

According to Barry Bonds has made $172,711,352 during his 23 year Major League Baseball career – as a baseball player. Bonds isn’t known as a big spender, he’s set finically for life as are many generations of Barry’s family. Bottom line – for better or for worse it’s better for everyone that Barry and corporate America never became best friends.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times and Wikipedia

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