The greatest baseball player that any of us ever saw turned 50 yesterday. Happy belated birthday, Barry Bonds!
People HATE Barry. Loathe him. Even in San Francisco! But then there are those of us who love him with the fire of a thousand suns. The hate — the puritanical hate — started in the early 2000's when it became apparent that something, um, unnatural was going on. But the love — the irrational, unconditional, undying love — started in 1993, when Barry arrived.
1992 was the absolute bottom for the San Francisco Giants: 5th place in the NL West and 72-90 record. Oh, and it would be the Giants' last year in San Francisco. Come the spring of 1993, they'd be the St. Petersburg Giants. That's in Florida, by the way. Motherfreaking Florida.
But then Major League Baseball blocked the sale! An 11th-hour ownership group stepped up and promised to keep the Giants in San Francisco! And they signed Barry.
Barry was born into the San Francisco Giants. His father, Bobby Bonds, was a Giants great. His godfather was Willie Mays. That is some gold-plated pedigree. He grew up on the peninsula, went to high school at Serra in San Mateo, then left for Arizona for college before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985. And in 1993, Barry came back to San Francisco — to a city that nearly lost its team and was ready to embrace its prodigal son.
And embrace him we did. Throughout that season, whenever Barry strolled out to take his position in left field, everyone in the left field bleachers would stand and bow at the waist repeatedly, their extended arms fanning their adoration toward him. And he gave the fans what they wanted: .336 batting average, 46 home runs, 123 RBI. The Giants won 103 games that year. Barry was the NL MVP.
Barry Bonds was a Giant and the Giants were in San Francisco and the nightmare of 1992 was over — Barry killed boogeyman that kept us up at night.
Over the next 13 seasons, Barry proved, undeniably, that he was greatest baseball player this generation has seen. The numbers are mind-numbing — they make absolutely no sense because no one has achieved anything similar, ever. Some say Willie Mays was the greatest. Willie has a statue out front, so I'm going to take their word for it. Others say it was the Babe. I'll also take their word for it. But later in life, when it's my turn to pass down the tall tales to the youngins, Paul Bunyan will be played by Barry Bonds. "And there was one time," I'll say in hushed tones, "when Barry came up to bat with the bases loaded, and they walked him — intentionally."
The hate, of course, comes from how Barry did it. Performance enhancing drugs? Only about 5 people know for sure if he did or not, and none of them have testified, but yeah, sure, probably. But it's 2014 and the PED-in-baseball discussion has exhausted itself. We're now approaching a more nuanced phase where we can look back at those crazy, record-breaking years of drug-fueled numbers, stipulate to the widespread steroid use, and recognize that Barry remains a seminal figure and a once-in-a-lifetime athlete and in the discussion for the GOAT. And San Francisco was lucky to have him.
Baseball has always been a game of cheats and scoundrels — there will always be more Ty Cobbs in the Hall of Fame and folklore than Christy Matthewsons. I, personally, will never call Barry a cheat or a scoundrel (love being blind and all that), but even if he was, he was our cheat and our scoundrel, dammit. He was our native son and we loved him, and we still do.
Happy birthday, Barry, you magnificent bastard.
Season To-Date: 57-45 (.559); 1st Place in the NL West (1.5 games)
Fri: at Miami (WON)
Sat: at Miami (WON)
Sun: at Miami (lost)
Mon: at Philadelphia (WON)
Tue: at Philadelphia (WON)
Wed: at Philadelphia (WON)
Thu: at Philadelphia (lost)
Fri: against the Bums
Sat: against the Bums
Sun: against the Bums