Barry Bonds’ number retirement Saturday brings with it the usual rhetorical asterisks, most of them having to do with the one honorific he still doesn’t have and likely will never get.
But that is the Bondsian Paradox — what do you get for the man who has everything except the thing he wants most?
The Giants have lavished him with awards specific to their franchise, as they should. He made a lot of people a lot of money in this town, and in a very cynical way that is the truest measuring stick of the modern world.
So with only one thing left to present him, the Giants have decided Saturday is the best day to retire the number 25, a number which, other than he and his father, has never brought much in the way of lasting memories to the franchise. Indeed, only one other Giant has worn that number for more than a decade, and that was Whitey Lockman while the team was still in New York.
So never mind the number. This is indeed about the name on the back, and how the organization’s gratitude for services rendered tends mostly to direct everyone’s attention to the elephant in the room.
The Hall of Fame.
Bonds has four years left in his quest before the task shifts to the far less forgiving Veterans Committee, which means that Saturday’s ceremony may be the highest level he reaches on the baseball honors list, as one of 199 players who have either had their numbers retired or initials commemorated in the pre-numeral days. For that reason alone, that may touch him in ways that it might not otherwise – that, and the fact that the Giants are re-acknowledging him for his contributions to the financial and reputational juggernaut that is this franchise.
(At this point, we take note of the fact that you may be shrieking “HGH!” at the top of your lungs in rebuttal, and you are certainly entitled to your righteous indignation; I just happen to have wearied of the argument. Hate him, like him, take little note of him, it matters not).
But Bonds’ path to the place he currently resides has been among the most tumultuous in modern sports/celebrity history, and he will be so regarded for the foreseeable future. As has always been true, his approval ratings diminish in concentric circles away from Third And King, and the nation seems less eager to reconsider his character than ever. He has been defined, probably for good, and barring different rules for Hall of Fame voting, so shall it remain.
Which is why his number retirement actually matters a bit more than the usual marketing ploy. The Giants can’t really immortalize him any more save a statue, which is almost certainly in the commissioning stage, or naming the field after him a la Rickey Henderson in Oakland, so this is probably the last stop for the Bonds honors train.
And he’s earned it all in the classically fiduciary definition of “earn.” The Giants are who they are in large part because of him, for good and ill, and while they cannot truly do enough to make up that debt, they may be out of ideas for how to do so.