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Barry Bonds' beef with Jeff Kent included stolen bus seats, motorcycle mishaps, and a dugout fight

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15:30   |   May 07, 2019

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Barry Bonds' beef with Jeff Kent included stolen bus seats, motorcycle mishaps, and a dugout fight
Barry Bonds' beef with Jeff Kent included stolen bus seats, motorcycle mishaps, and a dugout fight thumb Barry Bonds' beef with Jeff Kent included stolen bus seats, motorcycle mishaps, and a dugout fight thumb Barry Bonds' beef with Jeff Kent included stolen bus seats, motorcycle mishaps, and a dugout fight thumb

Transcription

  • Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent were great for each other.
  • They batted consecutively in the San Francisco Giants lineup, and hit so well that both of
  • them won MVP.
  • But teamwork does not always equal friendship.
  • For all their success on the field, the six years Bonds and Kent spent together were full
  • of power struggles, public disparagement, and even physical fights.
  • This was a very successful professional partnership built entirely out of beef.
  • In 1992, the losing San Francisco Giants were for sale, and came very close to a purchase
  • that would move them to Tampa Bay.
  • But when MLB owners blocked the deal, a local buyer -- Peter Magowan -- emerged, and before
  • the sale was even official, made a splash with his new franchise.
  • Magowan and his new GM, Bob Quinn, brought San Francisco the most expensive signing in
  • baseball history up to that point: Barry Bonds: The superstar left fielder who’d won 2 MVPs
  • in Pittsburgh, but had also butted heads with manager Jim Leyland and fallen out of favor
  • with some fans and media while failing to lead the Pirates out of the NLCS three years
  • in a row.
  • That included two brutal 7-game defeats at the hands of the Braves in ‘91 and ‘92.
  • But San Francisco was a good landing spot for Bonds.
  • His father and godfather had been stars there, and -- most important -- he finally received
  • a contract on par with his tremendous value as a player.
  • Bonds had an outstanding first year as a Giant.
  • He led the National League in home runs and RBIs and won yet another MVP.
  • But San Francisco fell short of the playoffs because of a late-season rally by Barry’s
  • old National League foe.
  • The Giants would slump over the next few seasons, seriously testing their star’s patience.
  • Bonds was still an All-Star, if not quite MVP caliber, but the team around him disappointed.
  • Matt Williams was the only other exciting bat in the lineup, and the pitching staff
  • seemed to get worse each season.
  • And as the face of a struggling team, Bonds once again courted negative press.
  • There were specific incidents like shoving a reporter or shouting at a teammate, but
  • also just a general penchant for surliness and egotism.
  • Bonds refused to sign autographs.
  • He was openly adversarial to any and all media.
  • He got special treatment in the clubhouse on top of his massive contract.
  • For all of this, he was called a “prima donna.”
  • A “jerk.”
  • And outside of baseball, he went through a messy public divorce that included allegations
  • of domestic abuse.
  • Characteristically, Bonds blamed the papers for his “bad boy image,” but the dude
  • had a track record.
  • He’d earned his notorious reputation off the field just as much as his dominant reputation
  • on it.
  • Meanwhile, the Giants kept losing, so at the end of the ‘96 season, they shook things
  • up.
  • General manager Bob Quinn stepped aside, and former scouting head Brian Sabean took over
  • as GM.
  • And Sabean continued the shakeup by trading Matt Williams, the only other All-Star slugger
  • in the Giants lineup, to Cleveland.
  • This trade was not well-received.
  • For dealing Williams, the new Giants GM was told to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, and
  • felt compelled to insist he wasn’t an idiot.
  • But he understood why the trade wasn’t popular.
  • In exchange for their beloved second star, San Francisco kinda got back spare parts:
  • middle reliever Julian Tavarez and a couple underwhelming infielders who’d been bouncing
  • from team to team for years.
  • One of those new bats was Jeff Kent, a dude with his own reputation for being a curmudgeon.
  • He’d been kicked off his high school team.
  • He’d wildly overreacted to mild hazing as a youngster on the Mets, and just generally
  • didn’t fit in a place like New York.
  • Kent was called a “loner”, and called himself a “negative person” who owed his
  • dourness to being the eldest son of a police officer.
  • But along with his stern, temperamental persona, Kent was praised as a “blue collar” player,
  • hard-nosed, gritty, all that.
  • In other words, white.
  • In any event, Kent took himself very seriously.
  • He didn’t seem like the type of dude to just play along with Bonds’ special status.
  • And indeed, those egos clashed instantly.
  • On the first day of spring training ‘97, vans showed up to take the Giants from the
  • clubhouse out to the field.
  • Kent arrived first and grabbed the front seat in the van.
  • Bonds boarded a few minutes later and told him to scram.
  • That’s my seat.
  • Kent refused, and after a prolonged standoff, Bonds shrugged and went to the back of the
  • van.
  • And this wasn’t just a one-act performance.
  • Kent was genuinely unafraid of Bonds, and confronted the star repeatedly when he neglected
  • practice or refused to hustle in games.
  • Bonds didn’t take kindly to such challenges, so the two bickered constantly.
  • Teammates were amazed by Kent’s nerve.
  • And once the real games started, Kent found another way to amaze them.
  • Bonds wasn’t hitting great to start the year, but mostly he wasn’t getting many
  • opportunities to hit because so many pitchers just put him on first with a walk.
  • Kent typically batted right behind Bonds, and reaped the rewards, because he started
  • his Giants career absolutely raking.
  • With Bonds often on base, Kent racked up RBIs, especially during a three-week stretch of
  • April and May in which he hit *three* grand slams, all after pitchers walked Bonds to
  • load the bases.
  • Bonds response to all that was a flat “I love it,” which some took as resignation
  • to a new reality ... … a reality in which Kent, not Bonds, was
  • San Francisco’s star, though Kent knew full well how big a part the threat ahead of him
  • played in his hot start.
  • Kent was also ingratiating himself to San Francisco -- to Sabean, who in July called
  • his controversial acquisition the MVP of that season so far, and also to the local media,
  • in stark contrast to Bonds.
  • Kent produced enough great quotes about being blue-collar and appreciating the fans that
  • when he kept reporters waiting, he wasn’t a prima donna, he was just busy lifting weights.
  • The Giants got back into the postseason in 1997, falling to the eventual World Series
  • champion Marlins.
  • And they remained a winning team, if not always a playoff team in the ensuing years.
  • Despite those hot takes in ‘97, Bonds was clearly San Francisco’s star, but Kent was
  • right behind him -- in stats, and in the batting order, ready to drive Bonds home.
  • Meanwhile, the gulf between Bonds and his teammates only deepened when the Giants opened
  • Pac Bell Park in 2000.
  • Barry had a whole wall of lockers, basically his own wing of the clubhouse -- and his own
  • fancy massage chair to boot.
  • Kent, meanwhile, was cementing his own clubhouse status, not just with hustle and clutch hitting,
  • but by serving as the team’s union representative, leading meetings that were sometimes interrupted
  • by a grouchy Bonds.
  • Kent’s reputation on and off the field grew to the point that teammates of all stripes,
  • and even manager Dusty Baker, spoke about him as the team’s MVP, which infuriated
  • Bonds.
  • And the recognition wasn’t only coming from teammates.
  • At the end of the 2000 season, Kent won National League MVP, receiving a lot more votes than
  • his statistically superior teammate.
  • Kent made a point of telling reporters he’d celebrate the honor by mowing his lawn and
  • eating some barbecue brisket and turkey for five dollars and fifty cents.
  • Bonds wasn’t around to congratulate Kent.
  • A week before the award was announced, he had a friend call the league demanding to
  • know the winner in advance so Bonds could leave for vacation if it wasn’t him.
  • But Barry would reclaim his award pretty soon.
  • His 2001 season is one of the most legendary performances in baseball history.
  • That was the year Bonds broke Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record, eventually
  • establishing the new high mark of 73.
  • The performance would earn Bonds NL MVP in a near-unanimous vote.
  • Of course, by this point, Bonds was taking steroids, though he maintains he didn't know
  • it.
  • His shady personal trainer, Greg Anderson, was a frequent presence in the Giants clubhouse.
  • While it took the public a few years to fully put together the wacky coincidence of a dude
  • in his mid 30s suddenly ballooning in size and shattering home run records, baseball
  • people suspected what was up at the time.
  • Kent, who took great pride in working his ass off and not cheating for his relatively
  • inferior stats, was deeply resentful of Bonds’ ill-gotten glory
  • And while he wouldn’t snitch, Kent would turn his animosity public.
  • Speaking to Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly in the middle of Bonds’ historic home run
  • chase-- and in the middle of a pennant race-- Kent skewered his teammate for giving the
  • media the cold shoulder, leaving others to answer questions for him.
  • Barry was Barry, whereas Kent was raised to be a “team guy.”
  • Kent came right out and said he didn’t care about Bonds, and Bonds didn’t care about
  • him.
  • And asked about Bonds’ free agency, Kent immediately mentioned the Seattle Mariners,
  • who’d improved after their big-ego superstar, Alex Rodriguez, left town.
  • No one apologized for anything in that SI article: Kent did not bite on suggestions
  • that he’d been misquoted or taken out of context, he was just like “guess that reporter
  • doesn’t like Barry”.
  • And Bonds hardly seemed bothered by this image of him standing apart from his teammates:
  • “What do you think, that we’re supposed to be break dancing in here?”
  • … no?
  • Yes?
  • I want to see Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent break dancing.
  • Anyway, it’s worth mentioning that while Bonds was getting roasted in the middle of
  • a historic achievement, no one seemed too bothered by Kent’s behavior.
  • Writing for Salon, journalist and Giants fan Joan Walsh made the point that Kent was himself
  • moody and sometimes cruel to teammates.
  • And, ya know, he’d just thrown his colleague under the bus in a national magazine.
  • But Kent was more accommodating with reporters and, notably, had the same skin color as most
  • reporters.
  • Even though he could be just as grouchy and difficult as his black superstar teammate,
  • Kent fit all the hard-working, blue-collar stereotypes of a white player, so he was treated
  • to a double standard.
  • David Grann put a finer point on this hypothesis a few years later, recounting an occasion
  • in which Kent made some vile homophobic and sexist remarks in front of sportswriters … and
  • nobody reported it.
  • A pretty clear example of that double standard.
  • And about that.
  • In early 2002, the famously no-nonsense Kent came through with some big-time nonsense.
  • He showed up to spring training one day with a fractured left wrist, claiming he’d fallen
  • off his pickup truck while washing it.
  • In fact, 911 recordings revealed Kent had injured the wrist in a motorcycle accident
  • -- not a collision or anything like that.
  • He’d fallen off the bike while popping wheelies on the highway.
  • Kent got some minor scolding from the media, but that’s one of those things that … like
  • … man, imagine if it had been Bonds who got hurt dicking around on his motorcycle,
  • then tried to lie about it.
  • It would have been huge.
  • In any event, Kent had damaged his relationship with the Giants, and 2002 would be his last
  • season in San Francisco.
  • It would also be his most successful, and most visibly contentious, with Bonds.
  • In June 2002, the Giants were in San Diego facing the Padres when third baseman David
  • Bell misplayed a throw to second base, at least according to Kent.
  • Kent screamed at Bell, while Bonds came to Bell’s defense.
  • The argument devolved into a dugout fight caught by television cameras: We saw Bonds
  • grabbing at Kent’s neck, manager Dusty Baker stepping in and getting a little physical
  • himself.
  • Once again, no one felt particularly apologetic after the dust-up.
  • Dusty Baker was like hey, no big deal.
  • Good teams hate to lose, so it happens.
  • And Kent himself said if there were dislike between him and Bonds, they wouldn’t play
  • so well together.
  • Any dysfunctional relationship was invented by the media.
  • Oh, and by the way, they’d fought a “half-dozen times before,” including one time immediately
  • before Kent hit a grand slam.
  • That bit of the story really stuck with me, and I dug through articles following each
  • of Kent’s grand slams as a Giant.
  • But my research turned up no clear answer on which of those slams immediately followed
  • a scuffle.
  • So this is officially a BEEF MYSTERY.
  • If you have any tips that can help SB Nation determine the day on which Jeff Kent fought
  • Barry Bonds then hit a grand slam, please contact my office.
  • Anyway, the media and the public were not so quick to brush aside the incident.
  • The papers consulted a local astrologer to determine Bonds and Kent’s cosmic compatibility.
  • Skip Bayless wrote that the Giants should get rid of Kent, whose animosity for Bonds
  • was, he said, fueled by jealousy.
  • And Bayless sourced a quote from a fan suggesting Kent wouldn’t mind a departure.
  • Ray Ratto, ever the poet, wrote of Kent and Bonds that “the one who lives longer will
  • attend the other’s funeral, just to make sure he’s dead”, but suggested the whole
  • thing was great theater separate from the Giants’ playoff pursuit, and certainly not
  • incentive to trade Kent, who was due to become a free agent in the offseason anyway.
  • And a quote from the Giants owner stating Kent would be hitting behind Bonds for “another
  • 90 games” suggested that free agency would indeed be Kent’s route out of San Francisco.
  • Kent could read the writing on the wall.
  • But in the meantime, the Giants had a season to finish, and as is the case weirdly often
  • in beef histories … that dugout fight kinda relieved some tension.
  • Kent and Bonds felt the air had cleared.
  • At one point, the Giants’ Shawon Dunston was so surprised to see Kent and Bonds cheerfully
  • conversing that he swiped a photographer’s camera and took some pictures.
  • And the Giants rallied.
  • Bonds continued to put up otherworldly stats en route to another MVP, while Kent caught
  • fire at the plate to finish the season strong.
  • That heat carried San Francisco all the way into the World Series.
  • They got right up to the precipice of beating the Anaheim Angels, but blew leads in games
  • 6 and 7 as the championship slipped away.
  • And that was the end.
  • Nothing was gonna undo what Kent had done and said in San Francisco, and in free agency,
  • he signed with the Astros to be closer to his ranch in Spicewood, Texas.
  • Over the ensuing years, it would become public that Bonds’ prior power surge wasn’t just
  • the product of weight lifting and eating leafy greens.
  • Kent said he wasn’t surprised to see Bonds at the center of the MLB steroid scandal.
  • He didn’t want to talk about Bonds much after that, at least not by name ...
  • … but he remained outspoken against steroid use, and pushed for increased blood testing
  • in the aftermath of the scandal.
  • Not a big fan of gay marriage, either!
  • In retirement, Kent’s a rancher and a motorcycle dealer who was on Survivor for a bit.
  • When asked, he’s been blunt about his relationship with Bonds: they weren’t friends and it
  • didn’t matter.
  • They played well off each other, and they won.
  • And it’s true that part of what makes baseball fascinating is the relative unimportance of
  • camaraderie, at least compared to other sports.
  • Dusty Baker still professes that conflicts like that are just part of the game.
  • Baker, like a lot of people who worked with both men, would never paint Bonds and Kent
  • as opposites.
  • Yes, one of the teammates was white and the other black, and their reputations surely
  • varied because of that.
  • One got favorable treatment from reporters even in his uglier moments, while the other
  • kept media at arm’s length and paid the price.
  • One was harshly demanding of himself and his teammates, the other didn’t really care.
  • One cheated, the other didn’t, as far as we know.
  • And one was much better at staying on his motorcycle.
  • But when the conflict hit its public climax, Baker was quick to point out that Barry Bonds
  • and Jeff Kent were more similar than people realized.
  • And for all the binaries involved, I think this beef is incredibly simple.
  • Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent were both assholes.

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Description

Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent were never going to get along. Bonds was self-centered, standoffish, and unwilling to conform to norms (or rules) to achieve his legendary accomplishments. Kent took himself and the traditions of baseball extremely seriously, even if it rubbed people the wrong way.

When they became teammates as Giants, everyone figured there would be blow-ups, and they were right: They battled in the clubhouse, on the field, on a bus during spring training, and in the dugout in full view of TV cameras. In spite of it all, they had great success together, even reaching a World Series.

This episode of BEEF HISTORY covers the fraught Bonds-Kent relationship, the success in spite of that, and the differing reputations of these two men who, despite appearances, had some very important things in common.

Written and produced by Seth Rosenthal
Shot and edited by Jiazhen Zhang

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