SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale explains why Barry Bonds remains a San Francisco legend despite his controversial exit from the game.
SAN FRANCISCO — It was Barry Bonds’ own Hall of Fame ceremony, surrounded by admiration, love and feted just as if he were standing behind the podium with his own Hall of Fame class in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Only this was at AT&T Park, with the sellout crowd giving him thunderous standing ovations, cheering wildly as he was driven around the outfield, and feeling his raw emotion as he talked about his parents and godfather Willie Mays, pausing several times, to keep from breaking down.
This was his Hall of Fame day, where his jersey, No. 25, was retired by the San Francisco Giants, with the crowd reacting as if he just broke Hank Aaron’s home-run record once again.
Yet, the man who stole the show was the great Mays, who was seated with other Giants’ Hall of Famers and dignitaries, and presented the microphone.
Mays, 87, who is legally blind, asked where the podium was located. He didn’t want his message to be lost. He got to his feet, was helped to the podium by former Giants manager Dusty Baker and broadcaster Duane Kuiper, and mesmerized the audience.
He talked about raising Bonds at the age of 5, saying he was like his son instead of merely the son of his best friend, Bobby Bonds, and about watching him become perhaps the greatest living player today.
It wasn’t enough for Mays to simply be the latest to regale the crowd with stories of Bonds, talking about his greatness, but he took the opportunity to deliver a message to the Giants, and Hall of Fame voters.
“I want them to give him a statue over the bridge over there,’’ Mays said, whose own statue sits at the entrance to AT&T Park. “Let him have it. Let him have it. I want him to have his kids, and his kids’ kids to say, ‘That’s my Daddy over there.’ Let him have it.’’
Still, even having his own statue, isn’t enough, Mays said.
He belongs to be with him in the Hall of Fame.
“Give him that honor, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,’’ Mays said. “The Hall of Fame is where I want him to get. I want him to have that honor.
“On behalf of all the people, vote this guy in.’’
The crowd erupted, as they did often through the 75-minute ceremony, with actor Danny Glover hosting a video presentation, and ending with R&B artist Johnny Gill singing the national anthem. Bonds was then driven around the outfield with his family, and actually stood in left field one last time during pre-game warmups, before Giants left fielder Allen Hanson replacing him.
There’s a reason, of course, Bonds isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He is being penalized by the Baseball Writers Association of America for his link to performance-enhancing drugs in the latter years of his career.
Yet, on this day, just like when he played for the Giants, there was no mention of steroids, HGH or any performance-enhancing drugs. There was no mention of BALCO, the laboratory that brought down many of the biggest track and field stars in the game, but not Bonds, who was indicted but later cleared of all charges of obstruction of justice and perjury.
This was simply about his fabulous career, helping San Francisco become a baseball town again, linking their past to their future, with three World Series championships this decade, all after Bonds played his last game.
The happiest moment of former Giants owner Peter Magowan’s baseball career, he said, was when Bonds signed a six-year, $43 million free-agent contract in 1992, before he officially became the owner. The saddest, he said, was “when we fired Barry.’’
Well, not technically a firing, but the decision was made to not bring Bonds back after the 2007 season. Bonds hit 28 homers and drew a league-leading 132 walks that season, with a .480 on-base percentage and 1.041 on-base-plus slugging percentage.
“I really thought someone would sign Barry,’’ Magowan said Saturday, sitting on the Giants’ bench before the game. “It never happened.’’
Simply, no one wanted the baggage that came with him, the scrutiny, the media circus, and the constant sideshow.
His career ended prematurely, before he could obtain 3,000 hits, hit 800 home runs, and perhaps win the World Series title that eluded him, but the Giants made sure that will never be forgotten.
“Thank you,’’ Bonds says, “this means more than you’ll ever know. Thank you for making my dreams come true.’’
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