Barry In Bronze
By Mark Madden
Barry Bonds visits Pittsburgh
Aug. 10-12. One of these years, when it's apparent that Barry's career
is on its last legs, he's going to have to leave something behind when
he drops by PNC Park.
Not the No. 25 he wears for the
Giants. That number will be retired soon enough in San Francisco, right
alongside the No. 24 worn by his godfather, Willie Mays. No. 24, of
course, is the number Barry sported for most of his career as a Pirate.
It was a tribute to Mays.
No. 24 is a number that no Pirate
should ever wear again. It should go up there on PNC Park's ring of
honor, right alongside Roberto Clemente's 21, Willie Stargell's 8, Ralph
Kiner's 4 and all the rest. The Pirates should retire Barry Bonds' number.
Of course, that will never happen.
Logic dictates it should. Barry
is the Pirates' only two-time National League MVP. He spent seven years
with the Pirates. He led the team in home runs five times. He won two
Gold Gloves as a Pirate. He ranks fourth all-time among Pirates' home-run
hitters, seventh all-time among Pirates' base stealers, sixth in Pirates'
slugging percentage all-time.
Pittsburgh is the cradle of Bonds'
career. It is one of baseball's greatest careers ever. Bonds accomplished
some special things here. He still speaks fondly of Pittsburgh.
But Bonds will never get the credit
he deserves here in the City of (cough) Champions.
It's partially because he couldn't
throw out Sid Bream, and partially because he never performed up to
snuff in the post-season. But it's mostly because he left.
Bonds jilted Pittsburgh for no
good reason but more money and a chance to play in his spiritual baseball
home, San Francisco, the city where he first grew to love the game thanks
in no small part to his father Bobby and his godfather Willie. The Pirates
low-balled Barry knowing he would leave, but that's no excuse. A true
Pittsburgher would have taken the minimum salary for the honor of being
teammates with Andy Van White.
God, how you must hate Barry.
Me, I like him. I know he's the
greatest player ever to wear a Pirates' uniform, and I'm pretty sure
he's somewhere in baseball's top five all-time. The Pirates would honor
themselves by honoring Barry. To cement the association of Barry's name
with the Bucs actually does the team good.
If you want to say Barry wasn't
with the team long enough, that's not the worst argument ever. But Kiner
was only with the Pirates for a little over seven years. Manager Billy
Meyer, who had a miserable winning percentage of just .412, was only
at the team's helm for five seasons. He lost 112 games his last campaign.
How on earth did Meyer get his No. 1 retired?
If you want to say Barry didn't
finish his career with the team, neither did Kiner. Had free agency
existed back in the day, Clemente and Stargell would have been Yankees
or Red Sox or Angels the first time opportunity afforded. If you don't
want to retire Barry's digits for that reason, bear in mind that you
will probably never get the chance to retire a Pirate's number again.
Unless Jack Wilson gets hot and
stays hot, that is.
I'm not suggesting immortalizing
Barry with a statue outside PNC Park, although that would not be out
of line. That honor should probably be reserved for career Pirates like
Clemente, Stargell and Honus Wagner. But let's get one thing clear.
Barry is better than any of them were. The stats prove it.
Please don't start prattling on
about the aesthetics of Clemente's on-field grace. He's buried in the
clear blue waters of the Caribbean, but he's not mounted in the Louvre.
Baseball is a game of numbers. Barry has them.
The Red Sox never retired Ruth's
number. Players didn't wear numbers then, you see. Everyone retired
Jackie Robinson's number, and that was a tribute well made. You can
retire too many numbers. The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens barely
have any single-digit numbers to hand out.
But retiring Barry Bonds' number
here in Pittsburgh is just the right thing to do.
Who knows? It might even draw
a crowd. Frisking everyone at the gate strikes me as a great idea.
Mark Madden hosts a sports
talk show 3-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1250.