They had dined on steak. Then came the induction ceremony and Barry Bonds figuratively had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. But of course.
This was his city, San Francisco, where his game helped build a ballpark and a reputation. These were his people packed in the ballroom of the Westin St. Frances Hotel, across the cable car tracks from Union Square, for the annual Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame program Monday.
They had shrugged off the claims of performance-enhancing drugs. They had ignored the disparagement by journalists on the other side of the Sierra. “Bar-ry! Bar-ry! Bar-ry!” they chanted, an audience enthralled.
He wasn't the only one honored on a special Monday night. Others were the late Franklin Mieuli, who owned the Warriors the only season they won an NBA title by the Bay; Marin County's Jonny Moseley, a two-time Olympic ski champ in moguls — just watching him in films makes your knees ache; Roger Maltbie of San Jose, now as famous as an NBC golf analyst as he was for winning five PGA Tour events and missing by a single shot a tie for first in the Masters; and the magnificent Dusty Baker, whose career as a Giants coach and manager (and A's coach) often overshadows his skills as a player. Twice he made the All-Star team.
So much talent, so much glamour but only one superstar, Bonds, as infamous as he is famous, at 762 the career home run leader, the bad boy who seems now to be the good guy. He's not the first to have changed or appeared to have changed. Back in 1930, New York sportswriter Frank Graham wrote of a suddenly accommodating Bob Meusel, about to retire, “He's learning to say hello when it's time to say goodbye.”
Out of the game, so many mature. They may sense their mortality. They've already been confronted with their sporting mortality. They may realize life is better with a smile and greeting instead of a growl.
Barry, 50, hasn't growled for a long while. Monday, he was particularly gracious. And forthright, although there was no mention he would be suing Major League Baseball for collusion because he couldn't get a contract in 2008. That story was breaking about the time Bonds stepped to the microphone.
Once the ovation ebbed, Bonds reached into an inside pocket of his suit and pulled out a pair of eyeglasses. Yes, we and he are growing old when the guy who could count the stitches on a fastball needs spectacles to read words, the preparation of which Barry called tortuous.
“Baseball,” he explained, “was easy. I'd never written a speech before.”
The speech went back to the days as a tot in San Carlos, godson of Willie Mays, arguably the greatest ballplayer of all time, although Dusty Baker drops him just behind Henry Aaron, with whom Baker played in Atlanta; son of Bobby Bonds, whose only fault was he couldn't ever be as great as Mays, the man he replaced in center for the Giants.
“When I was growing up,” Barry Bonds said, “I just wanted to make my godfather and my father proud of me. When I was 4 or 5 years old, I just played ball in front of the house. I didn't want to join a league. My mom made me.
“I know you people out there now are fans. But I'm calling you family. May I call you family?”
Bonds once insisted his rudeness as player was a charade, an affectation required to maintain focus, that if he was too jovial, too polite, his image would suffer. Pitchers would no longer fear him. Neither would writers, as if some guy pounding out prose was worried he might pound on Barry and reveal a weakness.
Bonds is living in The City now, as we've been told, angling for job in some capacity with the Giants, whose president, Larry Baer, was among the dozens of people listening to Bonds. Family, indeed.
Barry at least remembered, as did most of the inductees, to thank his immediate family. All except Maltbie, who zipped back and mentioned wife Donna and their sons. “Hall of Fame to Hall of Shame,” added Maltbie.
Baker, living in Fair Oaks outside of Sacramento, said he used to walk through San Francisco International Airport, looking at the BASHOF plaques in the United terminal, awed by names such as Joe “The Jet” Perry and Leo Nomellini, the old Niners. “And I'll be there with them,” he said.
It was Mike Krukow, who, along with fellow Giants television announcer Duane Kuiper, introduced Bonds, lending perspective. “If there's a Hall of Fame anywhere, Barry has to be in is,” said Krukow, then alluding to Barry's only failing when he quipped: “But Beyonce has a better arm.”
Better voice, too, but Beyonce doesn't have 762 homers. Or a place in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.