When Kimberly Bell stepped off the plane at San Jose International Airport in May 2003, she was feeling more than a little nervous. Delayed 20 minutes by a late flight from Phoenix, she still had to rent a car and drive almost an hour to San Francisco, and her boyfriend, Barry Bonds, didn’t like it when she was late. Plus he had been angry and moody lately, leaving menacing phone messages and dropping chilling threats into their conversations. As she rode up in the elevator of the San Francisco hotel where he was waiting, her heart was racing.
“I had barely pushed the door open,” she remembers, “before he grabbed me by the throat, choking me. He held me against the wall and pressed himself against me. And he’s huge. He whispered in my ear, ‘You ever pull some fucking shit like that again, I’ll kill you.’”
How did it go so wrong? Bell considers that question and others like it frequently these days. Why did she fall for Bonds on a summer afternoon in 1994? What happened to turn the romance into rage? And why won’t he tell the truth about her, about steroids, about anything?
When Kimberly arrives at Playboy Studio West for her photo shoot, she’s carrying a scrapbook filled with clips, transcripts and letters that tell a story. It’s not just a story of a romance gone bad but one of drug abuse and betrayal, one that has brought Major League Baseball to its knees. She turns a few pages and stops at a 1993 magazine cover featuring a slim, smiling Barry Bonds. “This is how sweet and nice he looked when I met him, which is nothing like how he looks today,” she says. “I mean, nothing. It’s not even the same person.”
The Barry Bonds that Kimberly met in 1994 was lean, charismatic and irresistible. She met him after a game, saw him the next day at a barbecue, and that was it. They drove away in his Porsche at 100 miles an hour. She was young and single, and he was divorcing his first wife. Their relationship was physical from the start. They would make love in the afternoon, and if he hit a home run that night, she’d wonder if he did it for her. That’s not to say the National League’s seven-time most valuable player was an MVP in the bedroom. “For the record,” she says, “he’s incredibly selfish in bed, just like he is on the baseball diamond.” She pauses and chooses her words carefully. “I don’t know if I should say this, but when you’re dealing with someone who’s that selfish, with that kind of ego, you learn to exaggerate your reactions to make him feel better.” In other words, she faked it. Barry’s sexual tastes, she says, were pedestrian. “He was pretty generic in that respect, pretty average in all ways,” she says. “I don’t mean that to make fun of anything, but his needs were really simple, really basic. Which made them not hard to fulfill.”
“ It went from ‘I want to know where you’re at’ to ‘I’m gonna fucking kill you,’” Bell says. ‘I’m gonna cut your head off and leave you in a ditch.’ ”Outside the bedroom, however, the San Francisco Giants’ star player was a charmer. Bonds cooked Kimberly dinner and made her a mix CD of sappy love songs—Mariah Carey and Kenny G. It wasn’t just about sex, Kimberly says. They found in each other something each wanted, needed perhaps. “I needed to feel loved,” she says. “And if he needed an ego boost, he got one every time he saw me.” He had his moods, but she was okay with that. “He could be very macho, and women had their place,” she says. “But I always figured he had PMS, like a woman. He’s grouchy right now, but give him 10 minutes and he’ll be fine.”
Three years into the relationship, Bonds dropped a bombshell: He was getting married to another girlfriend, Liz Watson, his current wife. But, he added, that didn’t mean his relationship with Kimberly had to change. She remembers their conversation:
“Are you going to have children with her?”
He shrugged and said, “Well, she’s gonna be my wife. I guess I have to let her have one.”
“Does this mean I won’t get to see you as often?”
“I won’t be able to see you at home as much as before,” he conceded. “But hey, you’ll go on the road everywhere with me.”
“How can you get married in a church, knowing you’re going to do this?”
“That’s why I’m not getting married in a church,” he said, laughing. “I’m getting married in a hotel.”
Bonds was at Kimberly’s house the day before the wedding, she says, and the day he got back from the honeymoon. Sure enough, she accompanied him to spring trainings in Arizona and hit the road with him when the team traveled.
In 1998 St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire began getting piles of press for his pursuit of Roger Maris’s single-season home-run record. That’s when Bonds’s steroid use began, Kimberly says. “Barry hated McGwire,” she says. “McGwire was white. He was the anti-Barry: He was everybody’s favorite. He was breaking all these records, and Barry couldn’t stand that. Barry had this chip that because he’s black, nobody’s going to let him break the record. And because McGwire was a ‘white boy'—those were his words—he was going to get the pats on the back that Barry wasn’t going to get.”
PLAYBOY was one of the first publications to report in depth about Bond’s connections with trainer Greg Anderson and the Bay Area steroid lab BALCO (Gunning for the Big Guy, May 2004). But Kimberly knew something was up long before then. She didn’t know much about steroids, but she knew something was going on with Bonds and his trainer. “Anderson was always at spring training with us, everywhere we went,” she says. “Barry used to have a little satchel, and in the mornings he would say, ‘Hey, I need to go talk to Greg.’ They’d grab the satchel and go into a room, and then I’d hear the door lock. I’d be like, ‘Why would you lock the door? I would never burst in on a conversation you were having.' "
Kimberly says Bonds flatly admitted to her that he was using steroids in 1999, after he tore a tendon in his triceps. “It looked like a tumor,” she says of the injury, which required surgery and sidelined Bonds for a chunk of that season. “He said steroids builds up the muscles faster than the joint can handle, and that’s why his elbow kind of blew out. He absolutely told me he was taking steroids."
She saw his body thickening, his head growing bigger, his back developing acne, his hair falling out and his testicles shrinking. (“They shriveled up,” she says.) The couple would stand in front of the mirror together, and Bonds would fret about his new body.
"Do I look bloated?” he’d ask her. “Does it look funny? Do you think this is obvious?"
Bonds also suffered sexual dysfunction, a common steroid side effect. “He tried Viagra several times,” Kimberly says, “but he didn’t like it. It changed the color of things, affected his vision and stuffed up his nose.” She pauses and clears her throat. “The funny thing about Viagra: It works so well, he stayed like that for hours."
In his late 30s Bonds began to crush home runs at a pace he’d never managed as a younger player. He broke McGwire’s single-season record in 2001 on the way to passing Hank Aaron’s career homerun total this past season. At the same time, Kimberly saw the emergence of what she describes as “a sudden sociopathic personality.” Bond’s phone messages, which she saved on a series of tapes, went from controlling to threatening, and in person he was even scarier. She says, “It went from ‘I want to know where you’re at’ to ‘I’m gonna fucking kill you. I’m gonna cut your head off and leave you in a ditch. And I’m glad nobody will know it’s me when I kill you.' "
This last threat—to cut her head off and throw her in a ditch—was, she says, one he frequently repeated. “I used to think, How can you say nobody knows? Your family’s met me, and you call my job every day.”
Kimberly made efforts to recapture the good times, and there did prove to be a couple good times left. During spring training in 2001, she sat with Bonds one evening in Scottsdale, Arizona, admiring the desert sunset. He offered to buy her a house in the area and gave her a down payment, she says, in chucks of $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000 in cash—money he had acquired by selling autographed memorabilia. She says he told her to spread the money over several bank accounts to avoid government suspicion.
She moved, but she couldn’t support herself in Arizona the way she could in the Bay Area, where she’d had a good job in graphic design. Bonds, she says, stopped making the house payments he had promised her. Then, in May 2003, she flew to see him. That’s when she ran late and, she says, he pushed her up against the wall, choked her and threatened her life. That’s when she decided she needed to get out.
Kimberly saw Bonds once more after that, when, she say, he came to Arizona and told her she “needed to disappear.” A few months later federal agents raided BALCO and arrested several people, including Anderson, who pleaded guilty to steroid dealing and money laundering and since then has spent a year in prison for contempt of court after refusing to testify against Bonds in a grand jury hearing. Kimberly asked Bonds to honor his commitment and pay off the $157,000 balance on her house, but she says his lawyers responded by characterizing the relationship as “meretricious,” painting Kimberly as little more than a prostitute and offering $20,000 in exchange for signing a confidentiality agreement.
“He wanted to call me an extortionist,” she says. “If that’s what I was, I wouldn’t have asked for $157,000. I probably would have asked for millions. I just wanted the balance due on the house, and I felt I deserved that.”
Kimberly has spoken at length to a grand jury investigating possible perjury charges against Bonds. “People have said to me, ‘Watch what you say to PLAYBOY because if the story doesn’t match what you told the FBI and the grand jury, you could be in trouble,’” she says. “But for me it’s simple: If you tell the truth, your story’s not going to change.”
She closes the scrapbook that details her nine tumultuous years with Bonds. “I’m not afraid of him now,” she says. “And I’m not afraid of the attention. People can call me whatever they want to call me. I do want to add that it is my fault. I can’t blame all this on him, because if I hadn’t been so stupid, I would have seen it myself. It’s important that be said. It’s a cautionary tale: A woman screwed up and chose the wrong person. She should have known better. And that’s the honest truth.”
Read Playboy's previous coverage of Barry Bonds and the BALCO Investigation:
Playboy's Special Report on BALCO and Barry Bonds - Published in the May 2004 issue
Here is the actual story.