AT&T PARK — During his 16-minute, 45-second address to fans on Saturday, Barry Bonds paused for 24 seconds. The hardest part of his speech, on the occasion of his number retirement, wasn’t thanking his mother for driving him to baseball practice, or the fact that it took 11 years after his final inning at AT&T Park to see his number placed alongside his godfather Willie Mays’s No. 24. It was the fact that his father, Bobby, wasn’t there.
During the pregame ceremony — which ran 16 minutes long — Bonds was perhaps the most vulnerable he has been in front of anyone other than his own family. He had put up a wall that prevented media and teammates from getting too close to him during his 22-year career. For all the churlishness and all the grudges and all the haughtiness and difficulty the polarizing and controversial Giants slugger displayed throughout his career, for all the scandal and hostility, on the day his number was retired, Barry Bonds just missed his dad. He let himself show it.
“A big part of my heart is missing today,” Bonds said during prepared his remarks, which preceded a 4-0 Giants loss.
After his lengthy pause to collect himself, Bonds related a story from late in Bobby Bonds’s life, before he passed away in 2003. Barry Bonds sat on the bed with him and asked, “Why, Daddy? Why were you so hard on me?” Bobby, who played for the Giants from 1968 to 1974, told his son: “Because I love you so much, and I was so proud of you, I knew that as long as you were going to chase my approval, nothing was going to stop you from being the best you could be.”
“My dad invented this, my dad created it,” Bonds said after the ceremony. “Period. There’s no question.”
Bobby Bonds was a tough man, hardened by racism in his youth and in his early days in the game. He made sure his son was even harder — to his detriment, at times.
“I always questioned why he was sympathetic to others, while I was out there working my butt off,” Bonds said. “Every time I’d say something like, ‘Hey, Dad, I hit two home runs today.’ He would say, ‘Good. Hit two more tomorrow.'”
As notoriously difficult as Bonds was over the course of his career, he had no shortage of former teammates — Kirk Rueter, Bobby Bonilla, Rob Nen, Fred Lewis (who paid his own way), Ray Durham, Royce Clayton, Eric Davis, Shawon Dunston and Will Clark — make their way to AT&T Park for the ceremony. Of course, so did Mays.
Not scheduled to speak, the 87-year old former Giants outfielder and Hall of Famer — arguably one of the, if not the, greatest all-around player of all time — insisted on not only giving his thoughts, but on giving them from the podium. After making his way from his seat, he spoke for over seven minutes.
“The boy that is here today, he is like my own son,” Mays said. “I had him since he was five years old, and his mother said to me, ‘You’ve got this kid. Take him. Take care of him now that we’re here in San Francisco.'”
So, on Saturday, Mays took up for his godson.
“Give somebody the honor that deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” Mays said. “The Hall of Fame is a privilege, when you get there, you say, ‘How do I get here?’ I want him to have that honor. On behalf of all the people of San Francisco and all over the country, vote this guy in.”
He also advocated for Bonds to receive a statue overlooking McCovey Cove, where he sent 35 baseballs over the course of his time playing at AT&T Park.
“I’m not surprised at anything Willie does,” Bonds said. “Nothing surprises me. Willie can do whatever Willie wants to do. He’s 80-some years old. He can walk up to that podium and speak, and I’ll sit my butt there and listen.”
Bonds, who last played 11 years ago, is not concerned with statues or the Hall of Fame, or so he said.
“Nothing weighs on me,” Bonds said. “I’m 54-years old. I’ve got three lovely children. I’m living the good life, riding my bike every day. Nothing weighs on me. Nothing.”
It would mean a lot, Bonds said, and each year, his vote totals go up.
“And each year, Willie’s getting older, and each year, I’m missing my father even more,” Bonds said. “I can run over ‘each year’ of a whole lot of stuff. I’ve got better things to do. I’ve got a lot of better things to do.”
After his address, Bonds, who finished his career with 586 of his 762 home runs as a Giant, donned his No. 25 jersey and sprinted out to left field, to be relieved by Alen Hanson. Because the ceremony ran long, he wasn’t able to do what he had planned: Put on a full uniform. The Giants could have used him, managing just six hits against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bonds, though, was able to get closure that his final season in 2007 didn’t provide.
“I don’t deny it. I wish I had one more year,” Bonds said, following appearances on television and radio. “The way it happened was not right, but it’s OK. I’m OK with that, and I left everything I had on the field, so I’m definitely OK with it. You never heard me say anything nasty about it. I gave everything I had on that field. I wish I had the opportunity to, but if this is the way that they did it, it’s OK with me, because I’ll tell you right now, I’m one little happy person right now.”
Bonds was affable. He teased, he laughed, he even asked for forgiveness for eating a chocolate chip cookie after the lengthy ceremony and television and radio appearances. But, there was still one thing missing.
“It almost doesn’t seem fitting, or even fair, for me to be here today without my dad,” he said.
“He would be bursting with pride today,” said Giants CEO Larry Baer.
As he pondered his number on the railing of the club level, set between Mays — his godfather — and Juan Marichal’s No. 27, it still didn’t quite sink in.
“[I felt] like me and my dad had Willie surrounded, and there’s nowhere in hell he can go now,” Bonds said. “That was exactly what I thought, because that 25 is my father, to me. I look up there, and I can remember my dad being 25. I just have to remember it’s me, because 25 is always my dad … When I look up there, it still seems like Bonds — my dad — and Willie. It’s going to take me a minute to see ‘Barry and Willie,’ but right now, it looks like my dad and Willie, and I’m still the young one.”