Happy on Grumpy

March 07, 2005

Andy Van Slyke played centerfield next to Barry Bonds for six seasons in Pittsburgh, and in all those years, as former Pirates coach Rich Donnelly put it, "the only time Andy spoke to Barry was to say, 'I got it.'"

United by position--both were All-Star outfielders who won Gold Gloves--the two Pirates were divided by disposition. Even now, the surly Bonds and the sunny Van Slyke are like night and day. Bob Knight and Doris Day.

Bonds broods over a federal steroids investigation. Van Slyke says his biggest problem in 13 major league seasons was figuring out how to spend $43 a day in meal money.

Bonds says he's grown accustomed to chants of "Barry sucks!" on the road. Van Slyke never could tell the difference between home stands and road trips, except for this: "On the road," he said, "when you go downstairs for coffee in your underwear, they throw you out of the kitchen."

Barry's Grumpy. Andy's both Happy and Dopey. (Or so Van Slyke would have you believe.) The eldest of his four sons, A.J., is a junior at Kansas and a big league prospect. "He's the smart one," says Andy. "Intelligence skips a generation, like male-pattern baldness. A.J. will be bald and smart, like his granddad. A.J.'s son will be stupid, but he'll have a giant Afro."

Van Slyke retired 10 years ago to suburban St. Louis, where last week he watched Bonds claim in a televised press conference, "I don't know what cheating is." Then Bonds called every reporter in attendance a liar. To Van Slyke--whose 18-year-old son, Scott, will attend Ole Miss next year on a baseball scholarship--Bonds's behavior was exemplary.

"If I were a minor league director," he says, "I would show a tape of that press conference to all my players and say, 'This is how not to conduct yourselves.'"

Andy and his wife, Lauri, have been married for 22 years. The day after their wedding night Van Slyke played third base for the Triple A Louisville Redbirds and committed four errors in six innings. Which is how he became a centerfielder. In the years that followed the personality gap between leftfield (Bonds) and center (Van Slyke) became wider than the physical gap.

"Barry has never figured out that in life, he is ultimately in control of how people perceive him," says Van Slyke. "His problem is, maybe the way people perceive him is the way he actuallyis. I don't think [Giants catcher] Mike Matheny has been fooling people over the years that he's a wonderful guy. He is a wonderful guy. Likewise, if people don't like you, don't blame the messenger."

Van Slyke has been retired for only nine full seasons, but '95 now seems as distant as the Dead Ball era. Only six of the National League ballparks he played in are still in use, no current park has artificial turf, and Roger Maris's single-season home run record has been shattered repeatedly. "I feel like I played in a time warp," says Van Slyke, who retired at 34, an age at which many players are now--oddly--just entering their physical primes.

"I'm glad I wasn't introduced to steroids in my mid-30s because I probably would have taken them," says Van Slyke. "There was no incentive not to. And if I knew I could play into my late 30s and early 40s on steroids, with no cloud of shame over me, I certainly would have done it."

One summer Van Slyke stood outside a batting cage in Houston and watched Astros slugger Ken Caminiti, 25 pounds heavier than during the previous season, smoke ball after ball over the fence. Van Slyke pointed to Caminiti and twice, to a Pirates coach, pantomimed injecting a needle into his own rear end. "I had worked my ass off that off-season," says Van Slyke, "and gained seven pounds."

Still, it is without condemnation that Van Slyke names several players he is certain took steroids. "I didn't see them put needles in their asses," he says, "but Scott Peterson is going to the gas chamber on just as much evidence." He is amused by the self-righteous evasions of those embroiled in the BALCO trial. "I think of the line from The Shawshank Redemption," he says. "'Everyone is innocent in here, don't you know that?'"

Every Sunday night in St. Louis, Van Slyke plays bridge with three of his teammates from the '85 National League champion St. Louis Cardinals. "We sort of create a clubhouse environment, a place where you can rip on your partner in a fun way," says Van Slyke. "My partner is Tom Lawless, and we play against two lefthanders, Rick Horton and Kenny Dayley. It's the athletes against the pitchers. The host is responsible for the chips and beer. Cigars aren't allowed, but there is chewing and dipping."

Van Slyke pauses, acutely aware that these are strange times even forretiredballplayers, especially as regards anything ingestible. "I want to make it clear," says Van Slyke. "In no way do I condone tobacco use for young bridge players." ■

• For a collection of Steve Rushin's columns, go to SI.com/writers.

Maybe Bonds's problem, says Van Slyke, is that "the way people perceive him is the way he actually is."

COLOR PHOTOSIMON BRUTY

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)