Hometown Views of Bonds Are Unchanged

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO -- In some ways, the indictment of home run king Barry Bonds changed little about the complex relationship between the controversial slugger and the city that still cheered his approach to the plate when every other major league ballpark erupted in boos.

People who already attributed Bonds's late-in-life surge in performance to illegal steroids found scant reason to alter their belief since Nov. 16, when a federal grand jury publicly charged Bonds, 43, with lying about using the drugs.

"If you knew he used them, you knew he was lying anyway, and it's not going to change your opinion," said Dave Romero, 33, a computer specialist on a coffee break downtown. "And if you didn't, you were kind of a fool."

At the same time, fans who supported Bonds despite the persistent cloud were hardly shocked to see the controversy move from the sports pages to the federal courthouse. Bonds could face 30 years in prison if convicted of all five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.

"Are they going to indict everyone?" asked Rick Shults, 29, who began listing oversized sluggers who denied steroid use in congressional hearings, if not before a grand jury after being given immunity. "I don't think [Rafael] Palmeiro got indicted."

But in interviews over the long holiday weekend, residents agreed that the federal case affects not only the ballplayer, but also the city bound to him in ways no longer seen in baseball. In an era when stars routinely change teams in bidding wars, Bonds, a native son born to Giants All-Star Bobby Bonds, played in San Francisco for 15 years.

"Home town," Shults said. "He may be cheating, but he's cheating for his home town."

The Giants' ownership explicitly linked the franchise's fortunes to Bonds, building a new stadium downtown while offering contracts that returned the aging but newly bulked up superstar to the field year after year in pursuit of Hank Aaron's record of 755 home runs.

"I never liked the guy, but he got us a ballpark," said Chris Robert, 58, selling jewelry to the crowds coursing from the historic ferry building to the cable cars on Market Street.

"That was basically the deal: He'd go for the home run record, the city would help with the ballpark. You ever been to Candlestick [Park]? You know what an uncomfortable experience that is. Down here, we don't do weather."

The crowds thronged even as the Giants faded. Last year, as Bonds approached, then broke, Aaron's record, the team finished last in its division. Yet only two clubs filled a higher percentage of seats.

"With the team performing so poorly, he's the only thing they could cheer on," said Steve Taylor, 57, a transplant from Southern California. "He hasn't brought them a World Series. But as a Dodger fan, I love it. I wish they had brought him back again."

In fact, just days before the indictment, the Giants announced that Bonds would not be welcomed back for a 16th season. The sequence of events raised questions with fans already wondering why the charges came almost four years after Bonds's secret testimony.

Some said it also allowed ownership to escape responsibility for not policing for steroid use that had grown rampant.

"The much bigger issue is who is really at fault: Major League Baseball or the players' union?" Taylor said. "But with Bonds, it's really hard to get past his arrogance. He really turns people off.''

The whole controversy confounded Eric Raible, 46, a software writer who had his laptop open at Peet's Coffee. He regards professional sports as "bread and circuses" designed to distract the masses from vital issues such as the war in Iraq. None of the new faces on his commuter train on game days had much to say about anything except how much they hoped the Giants won.

"I don't care if they take steroids," Raible declared before immediately adding: "The problem is it propagates down. I was talking to a friend whose kid plays football. You get these kids who are 30 to 40 pounds bigger than anyone else and it's all muscle. They're in ninth or 10th grade and they look like they're in college.

"It's kind of scary."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company