The Real Jerk in Pittsburgh

(Photo: Eric Beato)

In our “Legacy of a Jerk” podcast, we told a story about how Roberto Clemente‘s earthly reputation was burnished forever by his saintly death. It wasn’t that Clemente was a jerk — far from it — but the story emphasized how a certain kind of death can smooth out the rougher parts of a person’s reputation.

So I read with interest this fantastic ESPN article by Kevin Guilfoile about the bat that Clemente used to get his 3,000th hit. Guilfoile writes about the time he spent as an intern working for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente’s old team, and his interactions with the Pirates’ rising star Barry Bonds. If we ever make a sequel to “Legacy of a Jerk,” we should probably talk about Bonds and to what degree his damaged reputation — as a reputed long-time steroid user — is a product of his personality:

Barry wasn’t the kind of jerk who was nice to people only when he needed something from them. As far as I could tell, Barry was pretty much an ass to everybody all the time. Instead of berating me directly or just ignoring me, Barry would sometimes talk about me like I wasn’t there. Sometimes he would tell Bobby Bonilla, who had the locker next to him, that I was lying to them and these autographs weren’t for fans and that I was just selling these pictures to professional dealers, that I was another no-talent white man exploiting black men who possessed real ability.

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  1. Spencer says:

    I have to wonder how much of Barry Bonds’ reputation is clouded by his tempestuous relationship with the media. He seems to be a private person and one can easily see how that could cause a strained relationship with the media. I would like to hear more stories about teammates that didn’t like him before calling him a jerk. The only one I’ve ever heard had to do with a rift between him and Jeff Kent, who seemed to be someone that was difficult to get along with.

    I see that he’s a very easy person to hate But i wonder how much of this is actually real. I hear very few actual stories and more often just a blanket condemnation of the man.

    Lastly I don’t see how this post fits into the freakonomics blog

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  2. Jim says:

    In a recent interview, Andy Van Slyke, one of the Pirates unanimous “nice guys” tells of the fateful game 7 of the NLCS. Knowing where Francisco Cabrera was likely to hit, Van Slyke motioned for Bonds to come in a few steps. According to Van Slyke, Bonds flipped him off and stayed put. The ball landed just two steps in front of Bonds. http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/blog/big_league_stew/post/Answer-Man-Andy-Van-Slyke-talks-slugging-Bonds-?urn=mlb,80289

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    • David says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Jon says:

        Ironic comment for this blog. Note the word “likely.” Read it to mean not >50% chance but what you would assume for purposes of achieving the best expected outcome in positioning your outfielder.

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      • John says:

        Major league players, with and without coaches’ and managers’ signals, regularly reposition themselves for given batters. Do they “know” where a ball will be hit. Yes, to the extent they know from experience where a ball is “likely” to be hit.

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  3. Spencer says:

    Still have some reservations.

    Van Slyke was likeable, very much so. But in that same article he admits to punching bonds in the face.

    And if you look at advanced fielding metrics (not gold gloves, they’re a joke) bonds was a far superior outfielder.

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  4. Thomadeus says:

    That article really is fantastic.

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  5. dave says:

    I don’t care if a player is a jerk. Like any other employee, I just want him to do what I pay him to do. Like John Madden said: “Be on time, pay attention and play like hell when I tell you to”

    I will say this. however. I was on a flight from Pittsburgh to San Francisco with Barry and all I could think of was how much more fun it would have been to have taken a train ride with Babe Ruth.

    Economic aspect? In this instance, there would have been a lot more alcohol sold on the train…

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