Barry Bonds goes up on Giants’ Wall of Fame: ‘This is my family’

Andrew Baggarly Barry Bonds goes up on Giants’ Wall of Fame: ‘This is my family’

SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants made a very big deal about a very small plaque Saturday afternoon.

They unveiled the likeness of Barry Bonds on their Wall of Fame, joining 40 other former players who met the basic qualifications: at least nine years with the club, or five years with an All-Star appearance.

Bonds soared over that criteria with his seven NL MVP awards (five as a Giant), 14 All-Star selections (12 as a Giant), the single-season and career home run records, eight Gold Gloves and the inertia that led to a long-sought escape from Candlestick Park to one of baseball’s greatest shrines in China Basin.

Might as well give Einstein a 7th grade science fair ribbon.

The ceremony was long overdue, and a bit overdone for the event it marked: a plaque no bigger than 6 square feet – the same size of those that honor players like Randy Moffitt and Stu Miller. For all the inertia that Bonds’ brilliance created to secure the franchise in San Francisco, dedicating the cornerstone of AT&T Park in his honor might have been more appropriate.

But the Wall of Fame was the obvious first step in a reestablishment of ties between Bonds and the Giants – a relationship that is expected to be celebrated in future years with the retirement of his No. 25 and a statue alongside his godfather’s in Willie Mays Plaza.

A breeze rippled the black curtain that obscured the plaque as the tributes poured in. The afternoon’s most heartfelt moment might have come when former managing partner Peter Magowan’s voice cracked as he thanked Bonds for being instrumental in ensuring “the answer is a resounding no” to the question whether the Giants will ever leave San Francisco.

“I love you all so much,” Bonds said. “I can never, never, never thank you guys enough for your loyalty to me and my family, for your loyalty to this organization. And yeah Peter, you’re right. Hell, we ain’t going nowhere, ever.”

Magowan and CEO Larry Baer recounted the days in 1992 when they negotiated to sign Bonds to the richest free-agent contract in history before they had completed their purchase of the team from Bob Lurie.

Announcers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow listed the litany of Bonds’ ridiculous statistics. Kuiper implored fans to wave the rubber chickens they brought every time they heard the phrase, “intentional walk” – and then mentioned the major league record 120 intentional walks that Bonds drew in 2004.

“He made us as broadcasters and he built the ballpark,” Krukow said. “You can’t argue with that. We were the ones who got to enjoy all the things he did on the field. That is why we’re here today: to celebrate the genius that was Barry Bonds as a player.”

Former teammate Kirk Rueter thanked Bonds for hitting 77 of his home runs during his starts – the most he hit in support of any pitcher. Rich Aurilia told the story of being a September call-up, colliding with Bonds in the outfield and watching as trainers rushed past him to make sure the franchise’s star was all right.

Hall of Famer Willie McCovey said Ted Williams might have styled himself as the greatest hitter who ever lived, “but believe me, the greatest hitter who ever lived is No.25.”

Mays recalled a 5-year-old Barry following his father, Bobby Bonds, through the Candlestick Park clubhouse.

“All you have to do is give him love,” said Mays, “and he’ll give it back to you twice.”

Magowan closed his remarks by sharing his memory of the final day of the 1994 season just before the strike wiped out the rest of the year, and Bonds leading his teammates onto the field for Until There’s A Cure Day to raise money and awareness for the AIDS epidemic.

“It was a time when there were terrible misconceptions about this awful disease,” Magowan said. “Many people believed that you could catch AIDS by touching someone who already had the disease. So when Barry put his arms around two infected little children, one black, one white, it sent a very powerful message.

“I was very proud of Barry that day and I’m very proud of him today.”

After Baer, Magowan and Bonds pulled the cords to reveal the plaque, Bonds addressed the cheering assembly.

“People say, `How are your fans in San Francisco?’” Bonds said. “And I said, `I never had any fans. I’ve always had family because I was raised here.’”

There wasn’t a mention of BALCO or steroids or the Mitchell Report, or the conviction on a count of obstruction of justice stemming from Bonds’ meandering grand jury testimony – one that finally was overturned on appeal and cleared the way for a repaired relationship with the Giants.

Instead, his glowing statistics were read aloud without any of the sinister context. There were tributes to Bonds’ mother, Pat, and audio calls of some of Bonds’ signature home runs, including No.756 to break Hank Aaron’s record in 2007 and the one he hit in his first at-bat as a Giant on opening day in 1993.

As difficult as his personality could be, there was little doubt among those who spoke: Bonds made the biggest impact of any free-agent signing in baseball history. Baer recalled that when he finally got permission from agent Dennis Gilbert to engage directly with a phone call, and expressed interest in bringing Bonds home to the Giants, the left-handed hitter broke down in tears.

“He said if that’s possible, you don’t know how meaningful that would be to me,” Baer said. “And that was the beginning of Barry Bonds’ return.”

“Truthfully, I didn’t even know what the contract was,” Bonds said. “I was just like, `I want to go home. This is my family.’ I just want to thank you guys so, so much to be able to entertain the city that has embraced me and my family for so many years.”