Welcome to the Barry Bonds Show
There is going to be a serious disconnect in tonights All-Star Game in San Francisco.At 24 Willie Mays Place, the address of AT&T Park, the Giants palace of a home ballpark, the fans will roar when Barry Bonds is introduced, takes his position in left field, comes to the plate or has a ham sandwich.Most of America watching on television will be booing the man who is five dingers short of breaking Hank Aarons Major League career home run record, a chase which has been marred by Bonds alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.Pretty much every media outlet in the country has portrayed Giants fans as simpletons who cheer Bonds because he pounds balls into McCovey Cove. (As a side note, San Franciscans may be called many things, but certainly not simple.)Make no mistake, we do enjoy Bonds going yard, and whats more, fans of the 29 other clubs in baseball would love it, too, if he were playing for their team. Yankee fans cheer when Jason Giambi puts one over the short porch and their counterparts in Texas seem to have no problem with Sammy Sosa back in baseball. Dont kid yourself.While his recent home runs certainly dont hurt his cause in the hearts of Giants fans, its a far too simple reason why we revere the guy. Bonds is and will forever be a legend in the minds of Giants fans because he helped save baseball in San Francisco, is a link to the franchises glorious past and keeps our team were very possessive people on the baseball map.
The Giants are in their 50th season in The City by the Bay since moving from New Yorks old Polo Grounds. Its a miracle theyve made it to 50 years.San Francisco is a baseball town. Before the Giants came, San Francisco had the Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Joe DiMaggio and other baseball legends played with the Seals before going up to the bigs.When the Giants came west in 1958, they played for two years in the Seals old home before moving to their new state-of-the-art ballpark, Candlestick Park.Whoops.The Stick was cold, windy, ugly, had bad sight lines, had far too many seats and was located in the worst part of the city, and those were some of the parks best qualities. Candlestick not only hampered the Giants ability to attract players when free agency started, but endangered the existence of the franchise itself.In 1976, the Giants looked like they were moving to Toronto. Bob Lurie bought the team, keeping it in San Francisco. But Lurie, rightfully so, spent his 16 years in charge of the team trying to build a new stadium. After the possibility of doming Candlestick, building an floating-island stadium (yep, its Northern California), rumors of the team moving to places like Denver or Vancouver, British Columbia, and four failed ballot initiatives, Lurie sold the Giants to investors in St. Petersburg, Fla.On Sept. 27, 1992, I want to the last San Francisco Giants game ever. The miracle came nearly three month later when baseball forced Lurie to sell the team to Peter Magowans group, which kept the Giants in town.Magowans first move as the new owner was to sign Bonds to a then-whopping 6-year, $42-million contract, and a team which went 72-90 (for the record, we still finished nine games ahead of the Dodgers) had instant credibility.That was needed at the ballot box. Magowan realized that a new ballpark needed to be privately-financed, the flaw in the four previous attempts, but the team also needed to have a drawing card as well. You couldnt pitch a new stadium for a club centered around Robby Thompson. Bonds, yes. Terry Mulholland, no.San Francisco voters approved the new park in 1996 though now privately-financed, there were still zoning issues, no mean feat and the Giants future was finally secure after playing in the city for 40 years. In 2000, then-Pac Bell Park opened. Bonds appropriately homered in the opener.
A year after going 72-90, Bonds led the Giants to 103-59 in 1993, and were talking skinny Barry. Bonds would have brought San Francisco its first World Series in 2002, had it not been for manager Dusty Baker pulling Russ Ortiz with a 5-0 lead in Game 6.With Bonds, the Giants went on a run in San Francisco from 1993-2004, surpassed only by the their counterparts of the 1960s, led by Will McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, and most of all, Willie Mays.Barrys father, Bobby, was meant to be the next Willie Mays. As it turns out, the son has been as close as you can get Mays remains the greatest Giant ever, and likely will be throwing out the first pitch tonight.For all of the citys international prestige, San Francisco is still a small community, and an old one for the West Coast. That Mays and Bobby Bonds played together in the 60s, and now the godson/son, Barry, plays in San Francisco counts for a lot. To Giants fans, Bonds embodies the lineage of a once-proud franchise John McGraw, Christy Matthewson, Mays, McCovey and now Bonds.Its just like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter to Yankee fans or Ted Williams, Carl Yazstremski, Jim Rice and David Ortiz to Red Sox Nation.Born and raised in the Bay Area, a regular in the clubhouse as a kid, drafted originally by the Giants (yep), and returning from Pittsburgh after the 1992 season, Bonds is one of our own.
And he is one of our own for better or worse. There has been a lot more better than worse during Bonds tenure in San Francisco. Before old age and seeming ravages of steroids, he was a magnificent all-around player. The $4.50 bleacher seats at Candlestick in 1993 were the best buy in the house because you could watch Bonds fly in the field.His batting eye, until the last two years, was second to none, and the way the ball flew off his bat and you knew it was gone is something Giants fans will never forget.The last four years or so have not been kind to Bonds on and off the field. Be it BALCO, injuries or old age, he is no longer the player he was. And since the Giants have built their team around him, they have tumbled into baseball oblivion.Yet, the faithful still follow Bonds, and more surprisingly, those who revile him for what they perceive him to be, still watch the guy. And thus, Bonds, though hes done with the Giants after breaking the record this season, has elevated the team into the spotlight again.And so when Bonds takes the field tonight, Giants fans will welcome him heartily. If he puts one in the Cove, heaven help San Francisco because another earthquake is coming. The applause is not about cheering dingers, but a genuine thank you for everything hes done in San Francisco. Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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