Monday, March 28, 2005

Barry Teaches Anti-Media Relations 101 (MarketWatch)

By Jon Friedman, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) - He surely didn't realize it, but baseball star Barry Bonds performed a valuable service for journalists everywhere this week.

The San Francisco Giants' slugger showed public figures how NOT to treat the press in times of stress.

The upshot was that the irascible Bonds, expected to miss an unspecified number of games this season following knee surgery, blasted the media over our relentless reporting about him and said WE had driven him to the brink of retirement.

Like other fans, I love to watch Bonds muscle homer after homer out of ballparks across the country. But if he thinks the media would miss him -- one of the most unpleasant people in sports -- all that much, he should buy a clue. Remember, the entire National Hockey League went out on strike this season, and has anyone even noticed?

Folks, history has proved that Bonds' Nixon-like rant never works. The New York Times, for example, responded to his calculated Chicken Little threat to retire by publishing a headline with echoes of Nixon, possibly the most paranoid public figure in modern history.

It said: "We Won't Have That Surly Superstar to Kick Around Anymore."

Bonds might as well be teaching a course for his fellow celebrities called Anti-Media Relations 101.

The big bad press

Think about it. When some pitcher tests Bonds' manhood by whistling a 95 mph fastball under his chin, he typically eyeballs the guy, dusts himself off and, more than likely, blasts the next pitch 450 feet, into McCovey Cove.

On Tuesday, however, Bonds responded to his (self-created) problems in the easiest and most time-honored way possible: he blamed the big bad press.

Fortunately, his threat to retire sounded as credible as his insistence that he hadn't done anything wrong regarding performance-enhancement substances.

Jeez, talk about the bully-boy media! A self-pitying coward can't even crawl into a corner and "retire" with impunity.

Even if you despise what people like me do for a living, your best bet is to take a page out of the wisdom of "The Godfather," where the cardinal rule was to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

Understandably, Bonds is depressed these days about the prospects of rehabbing a surgically-treated knee so close to the end of his quest for baseball immortality. Entering the 2005 season, he has amassed 703 home runs and is only 11 homers behind Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time home run list and 52 in back of all-time leader Henry Aaron.

Further, Bonds is being dogged by potentially damaging statements made by a woman, who has been blabbing about money that Bonds supposedly received from signing autographs. Then there are those never-ending accusations from hectoring reporters that Bonds has been taking steroids for years.

ESPN even assigned a reporter, full-time, to The Bonds Beat -- a full-court press that no athlete has ever received, not Ali or Gretzky or Jordan or Tiger. Imagine what might happen when Bonds (if?) Bonds gets within spitting distance of Aaron's mark. Will ESPN call out the Connecticut National Guard?

Shame on you, Barry.

It can't be easy to be the subject of such intense scrutiny. But I never heard Bonds complain when the press asked him to comment about one of his many hard-earned awards. He should know that when you're a public figure and making millions of bucks a year to play a game, you have to take the good with the bad.

Bottom line: Bonds should be ashamed of himself. His father Bobby Bonds was a big star in the 1960s and 1970s. Barry, who was close to his dad, saw first hand how closely the press covers a star athlete.

Even if Bobby Bonds wasn't a big enough name to get hounded and pestered by reporters, Barry's godfather could have filled him in. His name is Willie Mays, widely regarded as the greatest player to come along since Babe Ruth.

Maybe it's unfair of reporters to expect that every kid who comes along should sound as poised and appear as charismatic as Michael Jordan. Perhaps the media demand too much from our sports stars.

But it's not unreasonable, Barry, to expect you and other public figures to exhibit just a little class.

No comments: