SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Likely for the last time and almost 11 years after playing his final game, Barry Bonds ran out to left field in his No. 25 uniform shirt after being announced as if he were still in San Francisco’s lineup.
Bonds had his number retired by the Giants during a long ceremony Saturday night before playing his other team, the Pittsburgh Pirates — also 11 years to the month from when he broke Hank Aaron’s home run record in his 22nd and final major league season. Still beloved and cheered in the Bay Area he cherishes as home, Bonds finished his career under the cloud of steroids allegations that made him a villain most everywhere else.
“I am overwhelmed with emotions as the reality of this day sets in,” Bonds said. “This may come as a surprise to a lot of people but as a child I didn’t even want to play baseball. I wanted to play all sports — basketball, football, ride my bike, all the things that kids do. But once my mom signed me up … I got my first taste of what would be my lifelong passion.”
Surrounded by former teammates and managers, Hall of Famers and his family, an overjoyed Bonds had no words as he mentally prepared for his number retirement ceremony. Much like his days chasing the home run record.
“Shhhh,” the slugger said smiling, then a few minutes later repeated three times, “I have to focus.”
Bonds became the 10th Giants player in franchise history to have his number retired. He finished with 762 career home runs.
In July 2015, Bonds said he had a huge “weight lifted” when federal prosecutors dropped what was left of their criminal case against him after a nearly decade-long steroids prosecution. Bonds needs to be on 75 percent of Hall of Fame ballots to be enshrined in Cooperstown. He was on 56.4 percent of Hall ballots this year, up from 53.8 percent last year. He had just 36.2 percent in his initial appearance.
The seven-time NL MVP was greeted Saturday with a rousing ovation as fans chanted his name. The 54-year-old Bonds waved, clapped his hands and raised both arms to acknowledge the cheers as he made his big entrance from center field.
“Thank you San Francisco, thank you for making all my dreams come true,” Bonds said in concluding a long, thoughtful speech thanking so many and remembering his late father, Bobby.
Giants great Willie Mays, Bonds’ godfather, called for the slugger to reach the Hall of Fame.
“When people talk about, ‘Oh, who’s the best ballplayer in the world?’ I don’t care,” Mays said. “I played my 20 years, 22 years, whatever it might be. Give somebody honor that deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is a type of fraternity that, when you get there, you’ll say, ‘Man, how did I get here?’ And I want him to have that honor be something that happens to him.”
“Vote this guy in!” Mays added.
Other Giants Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry also took part in the festivities.
Former managers Jim Leyland and Dusty Baker and current Giants skipper Bruce Bochy were on hand. So were Bonds’ mother, Pat, and his three children.
“Without question he is the best player I ever managed in my 22 years as a major league skipper,” Leyland said. “Let all of us be thankful that we had the opportunity to see one of the greatest players that’s ever lived for so many years.”
The Pirates stood in their dugout and clapped during a ceremony that lasted more than an hour. First pitch was 16 minutes late. R&B singer Johnny Gill performed the national anthem in another surprise to Bonds.
Baker managed Bonds from 1993-2002. He recalled watching Bobby Bonds in Riverside, California.
“I thought Bobby Bonds was the greatest prep school athlete I had ever seen in my life until one day Bobby Bonds told me that ‘my son is going to be greater than me,'” Baker said. “I couldn’t see that at the time because I hadn’t seen Barry play much before he went to ASU. But he told me, my son — and I told Barry this — is more dedicated and works harder than he did, and Bobby was right.”