Mays campaigns for Bonds' Hall of Fame induction: 'Vote this guy in'

SAN FRANCISCO — The plan was for Willie Mays to simply sit on the field with other Giants luminaries during Barry Bonds’ jersey retirement ceremony. And even after Mays requested to say a few words, they brought him a hand-held microphone so he could stay put.

But the Say Hey Kid, even at 87, still has range. He insisted on marching to the podium. “When I say something,” Mays told the crowd in that still boyish high-pitched voice, “I want everybody to hear it.”

By the time he was done, it was clear Mays wanted his message to be heard all the way to Cooperstown.

“On behalf of all the people in San Francisco, and all over the country, vote this guy in,” he said, openly campaigning for Bonds’ induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Former San Francisco Giants player Barry Bonds claps during his uniform number retirement ceremony before their game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Mays kept talking, but the rest of his sentence was drowned out by a roar of approval by 41,209 early arriving fans at AT&T Park.

The cheer, and the many that followed, made it clear Saturday night that this ballpark remains Bonds’ haven, his Eden of unconditional love. It’s a place where he remains so immune to the steroid controversy that the Hall of Fame vote might have been unanimous during the lavish, star-studded, rubber-chicken waving 75-minute ceremony that delayed the start of the Giants’ game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Heck, on this night, Bonds even hugged a Dodger. Eric Gagne, a former gasoline-throwing reliever who served up one of Bonds’ record 762 home runs, made a surprise appearance by coming on the field to salute a hitter he called “the best ever to play the game.”

The this-is-your-life kind of evening prompted tears from Bonds, who choked up several times while talking about the reason he wore No. 25 in the first place. Bonds chose that number shortly after signing with the Giants in 1993 because his father, Bobby Bonds, donned No. 25 for San Francisco from 1968-74, often while playing right field next to Mays.

Periodically looking skyward, Bonds sometimes chose to speak to Bobby directly. “Dad,” he said, fighting his emotions, “a big part of my day is missing without you.”

Bobby Bonds was hard on Barry while growing up in Riverside and, later, San Carlos. If Barry hit two home runs in a Little League game, Bobby would sniff, “Good. Hit two more tomorrow.”

Bonds went silent for several moments while struggling to recount a deathbed conversation with Bobby, who died at age 57 in 2003.

“Daddy, why were you so hard on me,” the son asked.

“Because I loved you so much,” the father replied. “And I’m so proud of you. I knew as long as you were going to chase getting my approval, nothing was going to stop you from being the best you could be.”

Now, No. 25 will never be worn again. Bonds becomes the 11th Giants player to be so honored, joining Bill Terry (3), Mel Ott (4), Carl Hubbell (11), Monte Irvin (20), Mays (24), Juan Marichal (27), Orlando Cepeda (30), Gaylord Perry (36) and Willie McCovey (44). The Giants, like all other major league teams, also retired Jackie Robinson (42).

Former San Francisco Giants player Willie Mays acknowledges the crowd during his godson’s Barry Bonds uniform number retirement ceremony before their game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

His tribute on Saturday included a video montage that recalled a bygone era in San Francisco, back when Bonds’ home run exploits riveted fans from 1993-2007. Out in McCovey Cove, 35 floating buoys signified the landing of each of Bonds’ so-called “Splash Hits.” (The rest of the Giants combined have 43 since the park opened in 2000.)

Mike Krukow, who teamed with broadcast partner Duane Kuiper as the master of ceremonies, recalled how those at-bats connected fans from the ballpark to sports bars to living room recliners everywhere.

“All of a sudden, Bonds is up and we’d stop,” Krukow said. “The room would get quiet and the volume would get turned up. We would boo collectively at the manager who walked him.

“But in that magical moment, that he did 586 times in a Giants uniform, with that beautiful swing that was built for average and for power, he would hit it out of the ballpark. He had the greatest trot. And we would leave our seats and high-five and hug strangers. He united us all together. Us, the most diverse city on the planet.”

Bonds went on to win seven MVP awards. Nobody else has more than three. He was a 14-time All-Star as well as a 12-time Silver Slugger and eight-time Gold Glove winner.

Bonds set a single-season season record with 73 longballs in 2001. He surpassed Hank Aaron’s career total of 755 on Aug. 4, 2007.

In those heady days, Bonds was booed on the road and often pilloried by the press, especially as speculation swirled about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. He has never come close to the Hall of Fame in his six years on the ballot, topping out at 56.4 percent last year. (It takes 75 percent to get inducted.)

Fans hold up the number 25 as former San Francisco Giants player Barry Bonds is introduced during his uniform number retirement ceremony before their game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Aside from Mays, the only other guest speaker to evoke Cooperstown on Saturday was former pitcher Kirk Rueter. “Woody,” as the fan-favorite was known, spent 10 seasons as Bonds’ teammate and also attended his “Wall of Fame” tribute a year ago.

“The next time I see him … I want the letters ‘HOF’ to be included,” Rueter said.

Bonds laughed and clapped along enthusiastically.

The ceremony had its light moments, too. They played several taped congratulatory messages from sports stars on the video board, but boos drowned out tribute from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Like Bonds, Brady attended Serra High School in San Mateo).

The taped messages from Bay Area icons like Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr drew a more enthusiastic reaction. “There was nothing more exciting than when you came to the plate,” Montana said.

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