Barry Bonds was named a member of the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame this past weekend, an honor he says he cherishes because it is yet one more acknowledgement from those closest to him.
Not sportswriters, mind you. Oh, God not that. We speak here of the place in which he was raised.
“My family, we’ve been (playing) in San Francisco since 1958, starting with my godfather, Willie (Mays), and my dad (Bobby),” he told The Chronicle’s John Shea. “We’ve been entertaining in these ballparks for decades. There’s tradition in my family, and I’m very, very proud of that.”
In other words, the area that most easily acknowledges his achievements and forgives him his trespasses, both real and imagined, has done so again. By an overwhelming vote, Bonds is part of a class that includes the man who managed him longest, Dusty Baker; golfer Roger Maltbie, skier Jonny Moseley, and former Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli. By virtue of Bonds being the highest vote getter, he would be the 151st member of the hall.
In case they give out jerseys or something like that.
But of course the issue of when this will become a precursor to his induction to “that other” hall is always at the forefront with Bonds, and as we know from our reading, his support there is far more ossified. Indeed, he may end up being the Bay Area’s hero by process of elimination.
He has gone in three years from 206 voters (and 221 no’s) to 198 (and 211) to 202 (and 210). It means that eight voters changed their minds on him and then four re-changed them in his favor. It also means that fewer people are voting, and 11 of those have decided to not give a damn either way.
Reduce this to subatomic level all you want. It still means that the warming to Bonds’ deeds, if not necessarily his personality as a player, has not yet begun, and with only seven more cracks at it, it may never happen. And if so, it will be yet one more split decision in a career defined by them.
Bonds is a local phenomenon by any means. Giant fans largely adore him for the work he performed on their behalf. A’s fans mind him far less than any other fan base, because the Oakland fan is largely a live-and-let-live type when it comes to the judgments of others. Oh, they may hate Bonds because he hit none of his home runs for the A’s, but they are less likely to moralize because of their team’s own rich steroidal history.
And in general, the Bay Area likes a bit of a brigand in their sporting icons.
The rest of the class of 2015 is an unusually eclectic one. Baker’s greatest managing successes came with Bonds. Maltbie and Moseley were exemplary though not iconic figures in their sports. Mieuli brought the NBA to Northern California and personified an earlier and more charming era of sports ownership. All are necessary to help make the Bay Area make sense.
But Bonds is, as he always seems to be, the oddest duck in the flock because unlike the others, his perception remains concrete concentric circles. The further from home he gets, the less appealing he becomes – same as it ever was. Whatever the agent that causes mellowing with time, it seems to be Bonds-resistant, which is why he can only hope that this induction will soften hearts and minds in ways that haven’t worked before.
Because, and let’s face it here, Bonds knows that while the Bay Area is safe, he has never been one for safety. He worked at the edges, and has benefited from and been punished for that thinking. He wants Cooperstown to act like San Francisco, only Cooperstown isn’t the problem – the unelected, unpaid “guardians of the game” are. It is a strange priesthood that upholds standards the game never did and the Hall itself does not, defending a holy book (the Baseball Encyclopedia) that Bonds rewrote against their will.
Cooperstown is just where the temple is located, and he wants to be reabsorbed into the community by the force of their own waning stubbornness. He wants the Amish voters to be less Amish, and good luck to him on that. Bonds is the Bay Area’s while defined by the culture he has little in common with, which is an odd bit of cultural hell that is likely to endure a good while longer.