His legacy is complicated, but the retirement of his jersey number was inevitable, and frankly, overdue. On Saturday, the San Francisco Giants retired the infamous #25 of longtime fan-favorite and Major League Baseball home run king Barry Bonds in a ceremony laced with controversy, but in turn, the franchise finally gave the best player of his era proper acknowledgement.
Scratch that “best player of his era” nonsense, actually. Barry Bonds is the most talented, most disciplined, most powerful, and most feared baseball player of all time, and even if he was a disaster in the field and on the bases late in his career, his plate presence never wore off. Ask me, and I’ll say he’s the best baseball player who has ever walked the face of this earth.
And yes, I know about all that stuff he did — sadly, everyone does — but I also know that most of the other elite batters in the game were doing the same things. Bonds was still better, because there’s no drug that enhances the fear he invoked onto opposing pitchers from his insane ability to hit all around the plate and his ease at drawing walks. It’s a culmination of talents that ran all the way to his final season in 2007, a final season that should have never been.
If you’re familiar with the career of Barry Bonds, you have heard all about the 762 home runs, the seven Most Valuable Player Awards, the eight Gold Gloves, the 232 walks he drew in one season, the 1.368 OPS he carried from 2001 to 2004, and his place as the only member of the 500-home runs/500-steals club (he’s also the only one with 400 of each). His career was perhaps the best and most complete in history, but it ended abruptly and with no good reason.[email protected] never got a retirement tour or a proper farewell before his playing career ended. His jersey retirement ceremony on Saturday was the salute he deserved from the @SFGiants organization and its fans.Click To Tweet
And it’s for this reason why his jersey retirement ceremony was necessary and deserved: Giants fans were able to give Bonds the signoff he had earned from the city, from the AT&T Park crowd, and from the fanbase altogether. Yeah, there was this game, after which Bonds got a standing ovation, but the home run king deserved something of a Derek Jeter-esque retirement tour and never received such.
This is why: After 2007, Bonds was a free agent and looked to return to the Giants, but the left-hander was 43 years old, and San Francisco needed a major overhaul and rebuild. Bonds was, understandably, not a part of their plans past his historic 2007 campaign, as San Fran limped to 77-85 and last in the National League West division. Bonds was told of the Giants’ decision to let him go about a week before the season concluded, but planned on bringing his talents to another MLB team.
Bonds went unsigned entering 2008 despite telling teams that he would play for the minimum major-league salary, less than $400,000 a year. Then, he waited patiently for a chance to bring his league-best on base percentage (.480) and 28 home runs in just 340 at-bats the year prior to a new team, looking for a chance to stay in the game and extend his competitive window. But the phone never rang.
If you believe it’s because he would have been 44 years old and couldn’t play defense or run the bases anymore, that’s fine. However, Bonds could have been a serviceable bench player or a useful designated hitter had an AL team inked him. That .480 OBP was the highest in baseball that season, and the highest since. No player in the past 11 seasons, despite the best efforts of walk machines like Joey Votto or Mike Trout, has come close.
Bonds had has baggage, and no team would take the PR hit of signing him, which in hindsight is somewhat understandable. The point remains: instead of being celebrated and honored as the player he was and eventually ending things on his own terms, we watched Barry Bonds slowly fade away from the game before an undignified retirement forced by the hands of MLB executives. It’s sad.
On Saturday, Bonds entered a class with all-time legends like Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, and Juan Marichal as Giants with retired numbers, and will eventually join those three in the Hall of Fame, or at least Mays hopes. The fans at AT&T Park, the Giants’ home stadium Bonds claims — and maybe rightfully so — that he built, chanted his name like he had broken Hank Aaron‘s home run mark again.
Bonds ran out to take his place in left field one more time, with a smile on his face and a number no Giant will ever wear again on his back, getting the proper salute his status as home run king merited.
Bonds worked privately with some players after retirement, such as Alex Rodriguez and Dexter Fowler, and then professionally with Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins organization, and now as a special assistant with the Giants. It’s all important to note, because he has been involved with the game that shunned him, and been around the area that adored him (he’s a common presence at Golden State Warriors games), since his untimely demise.
Due to things beyond his power, Bonds never got a retirement tour and has not yet gotten a chance to speak at the podium in Cooperstown, but on Saturday, that one final salute from San Francisco Giants fans for the best hitter to ever walk this earth gave Barry Bonds what he deserved.
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