Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 13 August 2007
You may not like Barry Bonds, or believe in any of his records, but he has been money in the bank and has revitalized baseball in the Bay area. He’s the face of the San Francisco Giants; he’s been their premier player for 14 seasons; he’s one of the game’s biggest draws.
You only need to look back at the records to see what Barry Bonds has meant to the Giants and to San Francisco and baseball in general. When the Giants acquired Barry back in 1993, they wanted to take a sub-.500 team to the next level, and, for a season, it worked. In Barry’s first year, he hit .336 with 46 home runs (the best total in his career up until this point) and the Giants went 103-59, which was only good enough for second in the division.
But that surge was a brief one. The next three seasons the Giants returned to their more pedestrian (i.e. sub-.500 ways). During this time, Barry managed to hit home runs at a pace no one would have ever considered remarkable (37, 33, 42) - but considering the level of talent around him he was the star of the team.
Then came 1997. The Giants made a real move by acquiring future Hall of Fame second baseman Jeff Kent and while the two got along as well as oil and water, it was the move that propelled the Giants to the top of NL West and kept them competitive for the next six years. Kent wasn’t a panacea. He was just a good hitter who helped boost the team’s offense and helped them to two first place and four second place finishes, but it was Barry who carried them there.
Yes the Giants were good, but they weren’t that good. They didn’t once win 100 games, only twice managed 95 or more wins, and in the other years never managed more than 90 wins (twice they didn’t even reach 90 wins). And the seats were full for the good teams, but they were full for those teams which won 89 and 86 games respectively too. Barry was the constant, putting ball after ball in the seats. People flocked to see the Giants both at home and on the road to see one of the great players of all time - a guy who was a lock to be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
And in 1998 - a full year before Barry became hard to believe - the Giants decided to cash in on that commodity and take advantage of the reputation of Barry Bonds. The icon who everyone respected and hadn’t yet become a target of speculation was to be the centerpiece of the Giants resurrection as a major industry in the San Fran area. Barry was to be the main draw and the team’s great hope of bringing a World Series to the city.
But even with Barry’s prowess and skill, taxpayers didn’t want to pony up for a new ballpark Ownership found private partners to help finance the deal - all with the knowledge that Barry would keep fans coming as he moved closer and closer to his date with the Hall of Fame.
And has he ever. To inaugurate the 2000 season, he hit 49 home runs and was a key player along with Sammy Sosa in Mark McGwire’s historic home run charge. In 2001 he shattered that mark with a 73 home run season and became the new single season home run king.*
And that did exactly what the Giants were paying his salary for. Barry put butts in the seats and sold merchandise.
And that has persisted, despite the fact that the team was aging and that the Giants were becoming less and less competitive each season since 2003. In fact, every year from 2000 on the Giants have drawn more than three million fans at home - a testiment to Bond's drawing power and allure.
Yet at home or on the road, fans throng out to see Barry, some to see a legend, some to see a cheat. He’s perhaps the most recognized and controversial figure of the modern game - surpassing Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Curt Flood, and even Pete Rose.
And while the Giants haven’t had the on field success of the Oakland A’s over the past 15 years, they are certainly more recognized, get more national media attention, and have bigger stars. And none is more recognized than Barry Bonds.
*Arguing whether or not those, or any of his subsequent home run totals, are real is something beyond the scope of this article.