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There’s no good reason to object to Barry Bonds’ number retirement

Former San Francisco Giant star Barry Bonds is all smiles after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to a standing ovation prior to action against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of the NLCS in San Francisco, California, on Tuesday, October 19, 2010.

JOSE LUIS VILLEGAS/SACRAMENTO BEE/TNS

By DIETER KURTENBACH | The Mercury News | Published: August 10, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO (Tribune News Service) — Look out onto the wall beyond right-center field fence AT&T Park — a place only one man could ever seem to hit it — and you’ll see his name.

Walk past the Giants’ Wall of Fame and you’ll see his name and his face.

Take a stroll along McCovey Cove and you’ll encounter him a few more times. Extend that jaunt into the concourses of the ballpark and you won’t be able to shake him.

Barry Bonds is immortalized in too many places to count in the Giants’ venerable home. Clearly, the team is proud of their association with Bonds.

So why wouldn’t his number be formally retired?

Eleven years ago Tuesday, Barry Bonds set the Major League home run record by hitting his 756th home run. On Saturday, the Giants will finally retire his No. 25 in his honor.

The distinction has been a long time coming — it’ll be both in-place in good taste — but it will no doubt spark drive-by outrage from those who don’t understand what Bonds means to the Giants’ organization.

Yes, Bonds took performance-enhancing drugs — he won’t openly admit it but the evidence is impossibly damning. And no, Bonds wasn’t a good teammate during his playing days.

But when you’re discussing the greatest San Francisco Giants of all time, you cannot pretend that Bonds isn’t at the top of the list alongside Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, and Madison Bumgarner.

I have no doubt that the opportunists slinging righteous fury from the East this weekend will opt to leave plenty of context out of their arguments for why Bonds doesn’t deserve to have his number retired.

They’ll ignore the fact that Barry Bonds helped keep the Giants in San Francisco and was instrumental in building AT&T Park — a now 18-year-old venue that’s still considered one of the best ballparks in baseball.

From 1993 on, Barry Bonds was the Giants. I mean this in an almost literal way.

After four failed ballot measures to get a new ballpark in the Bay Area, the Bob Lurie-owned Giants were slated to move to St. Petersburg, Fla. ahead of the 1993 season, only for the National League owners to reject the deal and push for Lurie to sell to Peter Magowan, who, they had heard, was going to offer Bonds the largest contract in baseball history.

Lurie agreed to sell the team and Bonds was subsequently signed.

Bonds arrived and the Giants immediately became relevant again. People willingly went to Candlestick Park to see the team play. And three years later, the ballot measure to build what is now called AT&T Park passed, effectively saving Major League Baseball in San Francisco.

As Bonds said after the Giants won their third World Series title in 2014: “I built this ballpark. Y’all just learned how to use it.”

The naysayers will forget the context of the era that Bonds played in as well. Forgive them, it’s been a while.

In the time Bonds allegedly used PED — 1999 to 2007 — he hit 388 home runs and reached base nearly half of all of his plate appearances. His 2000 to 2004 stretch were the greatest hitting seasons in baseball history, bar none.

That’s certainly from where the umbrage of the critics of this weekend’s ceremony stems.

But if you have an issue with the Giants retiring a cheater’s number, well, then you’ve had a problem with the sport of baseball for a long time.

As Mark Grace famously said: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

Gaylord Perry’s number is retired by the Giants. He’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, too. But Perry is most famous for being a spitball pitcher, not winning 314 games.

He was trying.

It’s a controversial subject, but Mays reportedly used amphetamines during his career, just like countless players around baseball at the time. That’s rarely mentioned when Mays’ name comes up in conversation, and for good reason, but the evidence says that Mays — perhaps the greatest player of all time — was trying.

Bonds was trying, too — he just had better tools than his predecessors.

Ultimately, Bonds’ sin wasn’t that he took performance-enhancing drugs, it was that he was too good. There were other guys taking PEDs — a ton of ‘em — but he was just the best. Bonds was the poster boy for the Steroid Era, so the full scrutiny of baseball’s sins fell upon him.

Apparently, despite the fact that he was never suspended for using PEDs and there are more than a few suspected steroid cheats already in the hallowed Hall of Fame (as well as commissioner Bud Selig, the guy who was all too happy to ignore the PED problem), Bonds is still facing that scrutiny.

Even the Giants fell prey to the groupthink. Even though Bonds’ image and memorabilia were all over AT&T Park — even though the team knew he was taking PEDs as far back as 2002 — the Giants didn’t re-sign him after he broke baseball’s home-run record in 2007. They got their money and rid themselves of the active controversy.

The Giants now see the error in that thinking. In 2014, Bonds was welcomed back to the team as a Spring Training hitting instructor. Last year, he was named special advisor to team CEO Larry Baer and was added to the team’s Wall of Fame.

There’s only one honor the Giants have left to give Bonds. It’s an easy one to give.

No one has worn No. 25 since Bonds last donned a Giants jersey, and that was no accident. It’s his number. It’s only right that everything is formalized this weekend.

To complain about it is like yelling at the cattle for leaving through an open gate. It’s futile and tone-deaf.

Though I guess that’s par for the course for those who want to pretend that the Steroid Era — and Bonds’ late-career greatness — never happened.

©2018 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
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