Bonds Is Stuck on No. 755
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 6 -- History took up residence at AT&T Park on Monday, sifting through the San Francisco Giants fans who streamed through the gate to find the one to whom it might hand the fateful baseball at the end of its soaring arc, studying the faces of the Washington Nationals' pitchers in search of the one who might throw the momentous pitch, checking in with Barry Bonds himself to help him pick the right game, the right at-bat, the right moment to drop No. 756 into this world.
Here, in Bonds's home town, where he grew up with the Giants before starring for them, history had no dark undercurrent accompanying it. He moved through the stadium Monday, from the parking lot to the home clubhouse to the field, as the co-owner of the most cherished record in baseball, and there was no shame, no controversy and certainly no asterisks attached to it.
Monday night, as Bonds's Giants played the visiting Nationals, marked the first of seven games on a well-timed homestand, with Bonds, 43, needing one more homer to break Hank Aaron's all-time record.
That homer, however, did not come Monday night. Bonds went 0 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout in an extra-inning game that ended too late for this edition, with all four plate appearances coming against Washington's John Lannan. A lanky, 22-year-old lefty making his third major league start, Lannan might have seemed a perfect candidate to serve up No. 756, but history passed on him.
Moments before the first pitch, a clip of Bonds's 755th homer -- struck Saturday night in San Diego -- was played on the giant video board in center field, drawing a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 43,052. It was followed by a taped video message from boxing great Muhammad Ali, read by Ali's son, Asaad.
Bonds's every move was accompanied by warm ovations and each of his plate appearances by a buzz of anticipation, the crowd rising as one to its feet. When Bonds's mighty swings failed to connect, the crowd gasped and exhaled. And when Lannan walked Bonds on five pitches in the third inning, the crowd grumbled and booed impatiently as it sat back down.
Unlike in Los Angeles -- where Bonds is despised even more than most places, by virtue of his being a hated Giant -- or San Diego, where Padres fans reacted to No. 755 with a roiling mixture of cheers and boos, the fans here love Bonds almost unconditionally. It is Bonds's parallel universe, where there is almost no mention of the unseemly side of this record chase, including Bonds's alleged use of steroids.
"We know all the issues that are out there," Giants President Larry Baer said Monday, when asked about the Giants' plans to celebrate a record that is viewed as tainted in other parts of the country. "And we know those issues [will not be] solved as we're approaching 756. So you operate on what you know, and we're operating on behalf of the Giants' fans and the San Francisco community. That's our job."
The first pitcher to face a 755-home-run hitter in 31 years was Lannan, who left the team hotel and arrived at AT&T Park some four hours before the scheduled 7:15 PDT first pitch, then sat in the visitors' dugout for a few moments in his street clothes, soaking in the moment.
"We're approaching this as [if] it's another ballgame," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "Our mission here isn't stopping Barry from hitting the home run. Our mission here is trying to win as many games as we can."
The Giants have planned the rough outline of an on-field ceremony to take place when No. 756 is struck -- a ceremony replete with a video tribute and other touches, which altogether could cause the game to be stopped for 15 to 20 minutes. During batting practice, Baer approached Acta in the Nationals' dugout to warn him of the plans.
"If you plan on some sort of interruption, you mention that to the opposing manager and the umpires and the league," Baer said, "and we've done that."
Commissioner Bud Selig, whose public ambivalence toward Bonds has underscored the national perception of the slugger, was absent from AT&T Park after having followed Bonds intermittently for much of the past two and a half weeks. In his place as Major League Baseball's official representatives were executive vice president Jimmie Lee Solomon and special assistant Frank Robinson.
Between Robinson, Bonds and Willie Mays -- Bonds's godfather, who was also in the stadium Monday night -- the night was graced by the presence of three of the six living home run leaders of all-time. Of the other three on that list, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. are still playing, and Aaron has chosen to stay away from Bonds's achievement.
But this night was less about the people who were elsewhere than about the people who were here -- Bonds's people. Let the rest of the country turn the record chase into a morality play. Here, it is merely history.
"Anybody who thinks it's an easy issue and it's devoid of complexity is not seeing it clearly," Baer said. "There's a lot of complexity, on both sides of it. [But] in the end, it's less complex for people who are here. They have the emotional ties to the Giants and to Barry. . . . He grew up a Giant. He was in diapers in the Giants' clubhouse. His dad [Bobby] was a great Giant, and his godfather was maybe the greatest Giant of them all.
"I think that explains some of the depth of feelings for him."