The Giants retired No. 25 Saturday in honor of Barry Bonds before a sold out AT&T Park crowd that responded to Bonds’ entrance through the center field gate by giving him a standing ovation worthy of royalty.
The crowd stood for more than five minutes and refused to sit until directed by Giants broadcaster and emcee Duane Kuiper.
The guest list for the ceremony was long, including his mother Pat Bonds, his daughters Nikolai, Shikari and Aisha Bonds, Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry and Willie McCovey, his godfather Willie Mays, former Giants manager Dusty Baker, former teammates Fred Lewis, Kirk Reuter, and Royce Clayton and many others.
Bonds was an eight-time Gold Glover and broke an extraordinary number of Major League records; among them: he was voted National League MVP a league-record seven times, he recorded more home runs than any other player in history with 762 (586 in a Giants uniform and 35 of them splash hits into the San Francisco Bay) and he drew more walks than any other player in history (2,558, and 688 of them intentional).
Saturday’s ceremony took place before the Giants played the Pirates, the team Bonds debuted with in 1986. The choice to retire his number during the weekend series with the team Bonds spent the first seven years of career with was strictly coincidental according to the Giants, but it seemed apt. Among the honored guests was his first manager, Pirates skipper Jim Leyland who spoke of the privilege it was to manage the eight-time Gold Glove winner:
“Without question he was the best player I ever managed in my 22 years as a major league skipper, so let all of us be thankful that we had the opportunity to see one of the greatest players that ever lived.”
Bonds offered thanks to Pittsburgh Saturday for offering him a safe haven to start his career without all the noise and expectations he might have experienced had he started in San Francisco:
“I truly think it was meant for me to start my career in Pittsburgh. The worst thing you can do is be a hometown boy, and fail. I had a lot of tradition here and pressure to live up to. If it wasn’t for the preparation I received in Pittsburgh, I don’t think I would’ve been ready to be successful here at home.”
He became a Giant in 1993 and among the ceremonial speakers Saturday was Giants President Larry Baer, who spoke of acquiring Bonds back in an era when the Giants were floundering and nearly moved away to Florida. Baer said the Braves and Indians were “taking a hard run” at Bonds, but Baer was not deterred from at least posing the question:
“We gave the pitch: ‘In the tradition of your father Bobby [Bonds] and your godfather Mays — come home and play for the San Francisco Giants.’”
“There was a long silent pause, [and] I didn’t know what to make of the silence. Then Barry, full of emotion clearly choked up, said, ‘If I could come home again, you don’t know what it would mean to me.’”
“Well, Barry, you don’t know what it has meant to us.”
Bonds recognized the important role the City and the organization has played in his life and what it meant to him to sign with the Giants, during his speech:
“I come from a family full of incredible baseball history, but I have always felt that this City is my home and where belong. My dad was a baseball player and I literally grew up in this organization—from a mischievous five-year-old who couldn’t get enough of his godfather’s attention or time at his locker, to being a proud Pirate, to coming full circle signing with the Giants and coming home.”
Bonds joins nine other Giants whose jersey numbers the team has retired: Mays (24), Juan Marichal (27), Orlando Cepeda (30), Perry (36) and McCovey (44) of the San Francisco era, and Bill Terry (3), Mel Ott (4), Carl Hubbell (11) and Monte Irvin (20) of the New York era.
But unlike the other players whose numbers are displayed to the left of the foul pole in left field at AT&T Park, never to be worn by another player again, Bonds has yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. His name has been on the ballot for the last six years, but despite his record-shattering stats and extraordinary legacy, his involvement in the steroid controversy of the 90s and the BALCO scandal is also part of his legacy and the latter seems to have left a sour taste in the mouths Hall of Fame voters.
A federal grand jury indicted Bonds in 2007 for perjury related to his 2003 testimony about the charge that he used anabolic steroids during his career. He was eventually acquitted, but later found guilty of obstruction of justice. The latter charge was overturned by an appeals court in 2015.
Bonds received only 36.2 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America, the body who votes on inductees, his first time on the ballot in 2013. But since that time the support has steadily climbed and in 2018 that number was 56.4 percent.
Many believe he will ultimately make his way to the Hall of Fame and among those campaigning for is Mays, who was not originally scheduled to speak Saturday, but was moved to make a statement. After an aide brought a microphone to where he was seated in his wheelchair among other of Bonds’ guests, Mays insisted upon making the 15-foot walk to the podium, a challenge for him with the limited mobility that has come at the age of 87:
“I have to talk at the podium, because when I say something I want everybody to hear.”
And all 41,029 fans listened intently as the living legend talked about what it was like to be Bonds’ godfather, entrusted by his parents Bobby and Pat with looking out for a young Barry. He recalled for those present a time when the Giants offered Bonds $100,000 to sign and Mays stepped in and insisted that education came first.
He went on to describe how he had a special understanding of the relationship the home run king had with his late father Bobby:
“I was a kid that played baseball daily, and I had a father that said, ‘I’m gonna teach you the game,’ so I know what Bobby and Barry had together.”
Lastly the Forever Giant offered a plea to the gatekeepers of the Hall of Fame:
“The Hall of Fame is a type of privilege that when you get there you say, ‘Man how did I get here?’ and I want [Bonds] to have that honor. On behalf of all of the people in San Francisco and all over the country — vote this guy in.”
This drew a roar of applause as the familiar chant of: “BARRY! BARRY! BARRY!” echoed within the confines of the house that Barry built.
The Giants for their part seem to have tired of waiting for Bonds to be recognized in Cooperstown, and felt they had waited long enough to honor the man whom many believe brought a love for the game back to San Francisco.
Current Giants skipper Bruce Bochy managed Bonds for only one year in 2007 before he retired but he felt that year was a meaningful one:
“I enjoyed my year with him, I really did. I learned a lot about him what makes him so good. He saw the game in a different way.”
“I think you look at what would be his legacy here in San Francisco—he did a lot to bring baseball back to life here. You look at this ballpark and he certainly had a lot to do with the success of this ballpark bringing the fans back and the excitement and enthusiasm for baseball and helping them build a winning tradition when he came over here.”
Bonds’ credited his parents with much of his success, describing how his mother signed him up for baseball as a kid and got him on the path to his dreams. His father Bobby spent six years, from 1968 to 1974, with the Giants, and Barry became emotional when he talked about him, noting that it seemed unfair that the person who helped shape his career couldn’t be present:
“As a kid I was always wondering why my father didn’t say positive things to me often, I always questioned why he was sympathetic with others while I was out there working my butt off. Every time I’d say something like, ‘Hey dad, I hit two home runs today,’ he’d say, ‘Good, hit two more tomorrow.’ It wasn’t until I was well into my career that I finally understood why my father treated me like that. Before he died I had the opportunity to sit with him and ask, ‘Why daddy?’”
Here Bonds paused for several seconds as he grappled with his emotions:
“’Why were you so hard on me?’ But he said to me, ‘Because I love you so much and I was so proud of you, I knew as long as you were gonna chase getting my approval nothing was gonna stop you from being the best you could be.’”
Bonds’ father died in 2003 of lung cancer.
“A big part of my heart is missing today here without you.”
Bonds closed his remarks by thanking the City he called home:
“Number 25 meant a lot to me throughout my career and its even more special that I got to share that number with my dad. … Thank you San Francisco for making all my dreams come true.”