- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Barry Bonds could have arrived at RFK Stadium last night a hero, the toast of all baseball, heralded as the greatest player of all time — if he had just been a nicer guy.

Specifically, if he had just been nicer to reporters.

How sweet is that?

None of this steroid controversy — not the Congressional hearings, the BALCO investigation, the stricter drug testing in baseball — may have happened if Bonds had just been a little nicer to the boys and girls with pens, paper and microphones.

Jerks in the making might want to pay attention.

According to a lengthy Playboy article about the BALCO lab investigation — the probe that forced Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield to testify before a federal grand jury — was triggered by one IRS agent who didn’t like Bonds.

Specifically, who didn’t like the way Bonds treated the press.

Who knew IRS agents could be so sensitive to the feelings of the fourth estate?

The Playboy report centers around a California narcotics officer named Iran White, who would go undercover in the BALCO investigation. The article says that White became close to an IRS agent named Jeff Novitzky, who worked out at the same gym where Bonds and his trainer, Greg Anderson, put in so many hours to make Bonds so big and so strong.

White told Playboy that Novitzky showed an unusual interest in Bonds in their talks. He recounted one particular conversation.

“That Bonds. He’s a great athlete,” White said Novitzky told him, according to Playboy. “You think he’s on steroids?”

White answered, “I think they’re all on steroids. All of our top major leaguers.”

To which Novitzky, who did not talk to the writer for the article, reportedly said, “He’s such an [expletive] to the press. I’d sure like to prove it.”

And with that, supposedly, the BALCO investigation and all the ramifications surrounding it began. Anderson’s lawyer, J. Tony Serra, also claimed outside a San Francisco courthouse while the grand jury was going on that Novitzky, who was the driving force behind the probe, had it out for Bonds.

Bonds was very nice to reporters yesterday, meeting with them before the game against the San Francisco Giants and answering a variety of questions. Not that he believed it would make much of a difference. “You know as nice as I am or try to be, you guys make up more worse things,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. I have already come to that conclusion, I have accepted it. And I just live my life.”

The RFK fans certainly weren’t nice to Bonds. They began booing him as he came out of the dugout into the on-deck circle in the top of the first inning, but Edgardo Alfonzo flied out to center for the third out, so Bonds wouldn’t come to bat until the second inning. But there were boos as he took his place out in left field. When he came out to hit in the second inning, the boos were loud and long until Bonds popped the first pitch out to short. With more people in the ballpark when he came up in the fourth inning, the boos were even louder.

Then he slammed a 1-2 pitch from Livan Hernandez into the upper right-field deck — a monster home run blast, which left the crowd torn between booing and acknowledging the dramatic response Bonds delivered.

It was career home run 706, and it appears he is on his way to passing Babe Ruth’s 714 mark by early next year, and then eventually on to Henry Aaron’s all-time record of 755 — if he plays next season. While the BALCO probe led to no indictments of Bonds or any of the athletes — his trainer, Anderson, was one of four defendants who pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, money laundering and distribution of anabolic steroids — the other shoe hasn’t dropped yet.

His purported mistress, Kimberly Bell, told the grand jury that in 2000 Bonds told her that he had begun using steroids, and also that Bonds gave her $80,000 in cash from the sale of autographed baseballs and other memorabilia, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. That testimony still hangs out there, unresolved so far.

Now, I think unreported cash is something that really makes the IRS angry — maybe even more than being nasty to reporters. So while in Washington, Bonds might consider making a stop over at IRS headquarters and signing some autographs — for free, of course — to show that he really is a nice guy, and that reporters really are the weasels that he says we are. Then we can get back to the normal order of the universe.

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