Colin Dunlap: Leyland And Bonds Together Again
Better late than never.
Indeed, the press conference with Barry Bonds and Jim Leyland before Monday’s Opening Day celebration was delayed, getting started about 20 minutes behind schedule.
Traffic around the ballpark held up these two icons who lifted this franchise to baseball glory in the early-1990s, one as the take-no-guff manager and the other as the sometimes-Prima Donna superstar.
But they arrived together on Monday, a tad overdue.
Better late than never.
This reunion between the slugger and the manager of the past in our fair City of Steel was, absolutely, better late than never — and Bonds knew it.
“I loved it here; Pittsburgh is a great town, Pittsburgh is a great city,” said Bonds on his first trip back here since 2007 when he played his final season for the Giants. “I got to play for a great manager and a great city. It is an honor to be back … It feels great to come back where it all started.”
Where it all started is a place where Bonds — back in town to take part in a ceremony honoring current MVP Andrew McCutchen — is a place where the now 49-year-old won MVPs in 1990 and 1992 and hit 176 of his career 762 home runs.
Bonds did that all in Pittsburgh under the managerial eye of Leyland, who steered the Pirates from just 64 wins in their first season together (1986) to appearances in the NLCS in 1990, 91 and 92.
It was, unquestionably, an up and down relationship.
There were the moments the two feuded and disagreed, never more public than a Spring Training spat caught by cameras in Bradenton, Fla. one day when Leyland had, quite simply, grown exhausted of Bonds wanting preferential treatment.
In fairness, there were also the times the two treasured and respected each other, never more evident than an embrace after the Pirates clinched the NL East in 1991.
But on Monday, on this day to celebrate McCutchen, Leyland and Bonds entered the press conference room in the underbelly of PNC Park, flanking each other, all smiles.
Perhaps a maturation — particularly by Bonds — has formed his opinion to truly appreciate all that Leyland did for his career. Because, it was apparent, Leyland understood all Bonds did for him.
“When he first came in, I thought I was going to have to bring him along,” Leyland said of Bonds. “But after seeing him for about a half of a season, I could see he was going to keep me around.
“He is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. I don’t think there’s any question about that. And it was an honor to manager such a talent.”
On this sun-splashed afternoon, predictably, when Jim Leyland was announced to the crowd during the ceremony, the crowd exploded with 100 percent approval.
Leyland has that charm.
Leyland has that appeal.
He always has and, presumably, always will here in Pittsburgh. The people are undivided on Leyland — making Leyland what Leyland is here in Pittsburgh.
Just a few feet away, a few moments later, when Bonds was announced to the crowd, the patrons responded with a mixture of cheers and boos. There were some who tried to drown out the boos with a “Bar-ry” chant and some who tried to drown out the “Bar-ry” chant with boos.
Bonds has that impact.
Bonds has that polarization.
He always has and, presumably, always will here in Pittsburgh. The people are divided on Bonds — making Bonds what Bonds is here in Pittsburgh.
In some ways Leyland and Bonds couldn’t be more opposite; but in every way, they will never be able to be separated here in Pittsburgh.
You can hear Bonds and Leyland talk about their time in Pittsburgh by clicking the link below.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.