I knew this day was bound to happen. I knew that someday it would be tough to hold a grudge against Barry Lamar Bonds (you always know the middle names of the great ones, don’t you).
There are so many reasons to dislike Bonds. I point to his three dismal postseason performances in Pittsburgh. Lots of Pirates played poorly in those playoff matchups, but there was only one regular-season MVP – and that was Bonds.
Pittsburgh likes its links to famous people, whether it’s Andy Warhola or Michael Keaton or Arnold Palmer. Bonds is one example, but at what price? It would be easier to dislike him if he still acted like the person who played for Pittsburgh from 1986 to 1992, but he had nothing but nice things to say about the city Opening Day. I kept waiting for a jab, a punch line.
“It’s great to come back where it all started,” Bonds told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Great to be back with [former Pirates manager] Jim Leyland. I mean, it almost brings tears to my eyes. We were a last-place team, put it together, but we just didn’t get over the top though.”
And he even had some good things to say about the fans.
“We had some good times here,” Bonds said in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I would expect a cheerful (response). We were baseball players here and tried to win championships. Unfortunately, we came up short. That’s all we did. We loved the fans here, and we loved playing here in this organization. We did the best we could and we hope they appreciate it.”
If you were a die-hard Pirates fan during Bonds’s playing tenure, it’s quite possible your eyes popped out of your head reading the above quote.
Not surprisingly, some in the media questioned Bonds’s intentions Monday, subtlety or otherwise.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Columnist Dejan Kovacevic noted how Bonds didn’t stay for more than a couple innings of Monday’s game.
“Rewind to the pregame festivities and, as I’d expected all along, it wasn’t about Barry Bonds. None of this was, no matter how much he might have hoped for that as part of this sudden push to get back in baseball’s good graces. (Getting only 36.2 percent of the needed 75 percent for Hall of Fame induction will do that.) Some booed him. Others cheered. No big deal either way.
In the end, he bolted the ballpark — after a couple of innings at most, per people accompanying him — for a flight out of town a few hours after landing.
“I love the city,” came the explanation from Bonds’ visibly smaller head when asked why he returned. “It’s a great place, and it’s an honor to be back.”
Hey, thanks for stoppin.’
Having an opinion on Bonds is part of being a Pirates fan. I can’t say I talked to one person at the park Monday who didn’t have something to say – good or bad – about him.
A lot of people like being associated with history. Once it’s okay to be a fan of Bonds – and that day is coming — his popularity in Western Pennsylvania will grow.
Why is that likely to happen?
First, the people who saw him play (and act) are getting old. A new generation looks at both of his pre-and-post steroid numbers and just says “wow.”
Second, the people who attended Monday’s game seemed inclined to move on from booing Barry. A great majority of the fans I spoke with Opening Day said they’d cheer for Bonds, or at the very worst, stay silent when he was announced. During his announcement, the boo-birds got off to a strong start, but like Bonds in the playoffs, they faded (sorry, couldn’t resist the snipe) and he was fairly well received. Lesser players like Adam LaRoche have been booed more vociferously.
The intensity of holding a grudge against Bonds is dimming. The Pirates could easily have been baseball’s best team in the 1990s. I, for one, was readying myself for a trip or two to the World Series. If Bonds had played in the playoffs like he did in the regular season, who knows, there might be more than five World Series signs (1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, 1979) hanging underneath the Bucs’ broadcasting booth inside PNC Park.
But having a winning team on the field after two decades of losing changes one’s perspective.
A lot of Pirates fans are moving on from hating Barry Bonds and it feels like a steroids-sized Bonds head being lifted off one’s shoulders.
Of course, if Bonds comes out next week and says something bad about Pittsburgh – all bets are off.
I was fortunate enough to take in Bonds’s first major-league hit. My college roommate and I made the hour trip from Westminster College. Here’s the actual ticket.