Sports collectors of the world take note: If you want a discount on Barry Bonds merchandise, come to the city where his career began. In other places across the country, Bonds memorabilia goes for hundreds of dollars, but at B.C. Sports Collectibles, at the Ross Park Mall, an autographed bat originally priced at $650 can be purchased for $399. And a $400 autographed baseball can be yours for the pedestrian price of $299.
Why is Bonds memorabilia sold at a discount here? "People in this city ha-a-a-a-a-t-e Barry Bonds," says Chip Baum, a sales associate at B.C. Sports.
At some point in the next several weeks Bonds, a former Pittsburgh Pirate, will shatter one of baseball's greatest records. And as Hank Aaron's all-time home-run mark prepares for obliteration, the city where Bonds got his start is exploding with excitement, right?
Not so much.
"We've got plenty of his stuff for sale out here, but nobody wants it," Baum says. "In fact, in the middle of his chase for the home-run record we've reduced it and people still don't want it."
Amid allegations of steroid use and what is generally considered a bad attitude toward fans and the media -- "He's an absolute bastard," local Fox Sports broadcaster Paul Alexander states emphatically -- Bonds has become one of the most polarizing names in professional sports.
As he prepares to break the storied home-run record -- at press time Bonds had 745 home runs, 10 away from tying Aaron's mark of 755 -- the city where it all started for Bonds could care less.
Alexander says it's the steroids question more than anything else that has made Bonds so unpopular with both local fans and fans across the country.
"Because of the steroid question, the whole thing is clouded, it's dirty," says Alexander. "But Bonds came up in baseball's steroid era with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Major League Baseball didn't seem to care about steroids when they weren't testing for them in the 1990s.
"It's ironic that baseball was saved by McGwire, Sosa and the steroid era, and they now want nothing to do with Barry Bonds as he prepares to break this record."
As Bonds gets ready to break the record in the coming weeks, Alexander says Pittsburgh fans should avoid getting too judgmental when it comes to Bonds setting the record under a cloud of steroid use. Witness former 1970s Steelers player Steve Courson admitting, in his book False Glory: The Steve Courson Story, that he used steroids.
"Here in Pittsburgh, if fans are that dead-set against steroids," muses Alexander, "you might want to return those four Lombardi trophies that the Steelers won in the '70s."
Alleged steroid use is definitely the main reason that Bonds is not well liked in Pittsburgh. But there may be something else at the root of the problem.
"I've always been a huge fan of Bonds and that didn't change because he left," says Baum. "But people in Pittsburgh hate anybody who leaves their team."
Dr. Jack Singer, a California-based sports psychologist (www.askdrjack.com), says sports fans can forgive just about any lapse, from drug use to legal transgressions. But there's one sin that is never forgiven or forgotten.
"Fans will let you get away with a lot of stuff, but the minute you're disloyal to the team ... they want nothing to do with you," Singer says. "If he was a likable character he might have a few more fans in Pittsburgh, but he's not likable and he left them."
Every time Bonds comes to town, he is booed whenever he steps on the field. On the other hand, outfielder Brian Giles, now with the San Diego Padres, receives a warm welcome when his team visits PNC Park.
Still, likability is only a small part of the equation, Singer says. If Bonds "was still unlikable and about to break this record in a Pirates uniform, they'd be cheering for him just like the fans in San Francisco are."
Alexander agrees: "Barry was a prickly son-of-a-bitch when he was here, but the fans still loved him."
- Photo by Heather Mull
- Items like Barry Bonds' 1986 Topps rookie card and a baseball signed by the soon-to-be homerun king are easy to find at stores like Smithfield Street's Sports World Specialties.