SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – How stupid do you have to be to dare the federal government to come get you?
Barry Bonds, posturing like an untouchable mafia don, on Tuesday challenged the investigators who for years have been trying to pin a case on him. First he said he wasn't scared of the grand jury that could press perjury and tax-evasion charges. And then, unleashing a stream of arrogance like an angry skunk's spray, Bonds delivered this salvo, as if Jeff Novitzky and the U.S. Attorney's office needed another reason to ramp up their pursuit of him.
"Let them investigate," Bonds said. "Let 'em. They've been doing it this long."
Bonds might as well have extended his middle finger.
Or at least stuck out his tongue and said, "Na-na-na-na-boo-boo."
Already Novitzky, the IRS special agent who busted the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative to start this whole steroid-related melodrama, and the prosecutors were interested in Bonds – perhaps more than was warranted, seeing as the first grand jury did not return an indictment. And maybe Bonds feels so confident in the legality of all his activities – or the abilities of his lawyers – that he refuses to concern himself with the government's goings-on.
Yet on the day a new interim U.S. Attorney was sworn in to the lead job in the San Francisco office, amid questions of whether the case is even worth pursuing, Bonds did his best to goad the feds into chasing him with even more doggedness.
"Doesn't weigh on me at all," Bonds said. "At all. Because it's just you guys talking. It's just media conversation."
Boy, with what Bonds pays his personal publicist, you'd think she could've come up with a better talking point than that.
Never seen a journalist throw a citizen into federal prison.
Of course, none of this is new, this world of delusion and conceit Bonds inhabits. They seem to drive Bonds as he begins his quest for Henry Aaron's all-time home run record. Though Bonds said Tuesday he came back to win a championship with the San Francisco Giants, hitting his 756th home run has been an admitted goal since his home-run binges – begat in some manner by performance-enhancing-drug binges, according to the book Game of Shadows – earlier in the decade put him within sniffing distance.
Little of the power seems to have escaped Bonds, who turns 43 in July and enters his 22nd season. During a short batting-practice session, Bonds blistered a fastball grooved by Matt Cain over Scottsdale Stadium's right-field wall. He stepped out of the cage and flipped his bat.
"I'm ready," Bonds said.
He was joking, a mood that continued a few minutes later when he summoned one of his assistants into the dugout.
"Where are they?" he said.
She reached into a bag and pulled out two T-shirts. Bonds slipped back into the tunnel toward the clubhouse, only to emerge with his new friend, pitcher Barry Zito.
Newly clothed, the Barrys turned around – making sure to pose in front of cameras – and showed the shirts, which said:
DON'T ASK ME …
Below the last line was an arrow pointing toward the other person, which got a few chuckles, made Bonds smile, brought a little levity to a day that later would turn serious. It was like the fake "American Idol" competition of last spring all over again, Bonds acting human one minute and ruining any good will when he opened his mouth.
"Everyone sees this and they go, 'Ah, Barry's got all these things on his shoulders,' " Zito said. "But if he processed it in that manner, he wouldn't be able to perform at the level he does. So obviously he has a couple of methods or mechanisms that he incorporates to perceive it differently, which makes him very special."
The line between being special and being in denial is thinner than dental floss. Bonds was asked how he handled all of his problems mentally and said: "I don't have any mental problems. Only problems I have mentally is when I tell my son to be home on time and he doesn't get there."
Right. Not the alleged positive amphetamines test last season or him allegedly ratting out teammate Mark Sweeney as the supplier or the report that he refused to pinch hit at times last season or the curious delay in signing his $15.8 million contract or his troublesome knee and elbow.
Bonds glossed over all of them. The sun, in Barry's world, never stops shining.
And as naive as Bonds can come off at times, he is still full of cunning, packing small messages where they're least likely seen. When he walked into the clubhouse and greeted his teammates for the first time in 2007, he was wearing a black shirt emblazoned with a free-form design. Over the art, outlined in gothic letters that were arched slightly, like a name on the back of a jersey, was a word that Bonds surely wanted people to see, to remind them – his fans, his teammates, the media and, yes, the government – that he isn't and won't be going anywhere: