I grew up as a huge Barry Bonds fan.
I’ve been a Giants fan since birth. My first memories are of the 1989 World Series and the earthquake. The games were always on in my house, and even if I didn’t really know who was playing for the team, my identity was “American. Californian. Giants fan.”
But it wasn’t until Bonds arrived, when I was eight years old, that I had an actual interest in the team and its players. Mainly Barry Bonds. I was the weirdo who when everyone else was playing with pogs normally, I would recreate a baseball lineup with the slammer representing Bonds at cleanup. And he hit a grand slam every time because I didn’t yet really understand how baseball works.
I wasn’t as fanatical as some are when they are kids. Baseball was just part of life every year, not necessarily something I followed very closely. I loosely remember a group of players from the 90s, but aside from Bonds, I couldn’t tell you without double checking which ones actually played on the same teams or if my memory is just lumping together all the players I liked onto the same team.
But for me, Bonds was an ever-present part of my childhood and part of how I connected with my dad. My dad and I sometimes had a strained relationship throughout my childhood and teenage years. But my happiest memories were when his company had season tickets to the inaugural year of Pac Bell Park during my freshman year of high school.
My dad would pull me out of band practice (to the consternation of my band director, Santa look-a-like and father of world-renowned competitive eater Joey Chestnut, who played the trumpet) and take me to games every other week or so. And he would buy me a necklace pendant (usually #25 related) to add to my growing collection and the usual ballpark snacks. Having grown up very poor, these small-seeming tokens meant the world to me.
He would keep score and listen to the game on the radio, something I never understood at the time. (“But the game is right in front of you, why do you need the radio?”). We would wear matching shirseys, his bearing Willie Mays’ name and number, and mine with Bonds’. And always, always, I hoped that I would be able to get a signed ball from Bonds himself.
I didn’t know then that Barry Bonds was known for being a monumental jerk at the time, and was unlikely to ever sign anything for me. Perhaps my dad didn’t either, or he did but didn’t want to tell me. That’s fine, I never got angry about it. I always hoped that I’d get luckier next time.
I also didn’t know at the time that Barry Bonds was reportedly a domestic abuser. Another thing my dad either didn’t know, or didn’t want to tell me.
I was a Bonds stan well into adulthood, and when he was unceremoniously removed from the game after the 2007 season, I was upset. As someone who was used to going to a ballpark that was drenched in Bonds merchandise and advertising during my entire baseball life, it was unsettling to see it all gone in 2008, seemingly overnight. To me, it seemed like he was being treated as though he was never there, and I don’t think I understood why at the time.
I grew accustomed to defending him (mostly to A’s fans) with regards to his steroid use or arguing his Hall of Fame case. “They were all doing it,” I would say. “He was treated as a scapegoat.” And who knew how many Hall of Famers were doing things they shouldn’t have been doing when they played, but we’ll never know because there weren’t millions of wasted tax dollars being poured into congressional hearings about baseball players back then.
Within this last year, I found out about the domestic abuse allegations, though. And it lingered in the back of my head. He wasn’t playing, he wasn’t an active part of my life anymore. But I stopped defending him so vociferously on the other matters in which I used to stand up for him.
To be clear, I’m not saying I don’t believe the accusations. I find them highly likely to be true. It’s just hard to wrap my mind around. Finding out your childhood hero was possibly an awful person during that time is difficult.
Though, of course, not more difficult than suffering domestic violence or abuse.
Domestic violence affects our society in staggeringly high numbers. And yet, the prosecution rate of alleged offenders is staggeringly low. And that is not, as many would have you believe, because they are false accusations. There is a rampant belief in this country that women lie about domestic violence or assault, but in reality most victims don’t follow through on reports, if reported at all, either due to fear of their abuser or the likely accurate assumption that nothing will come of it.
Now add to that already seemingly hopeless process the additional hurdle of the victim’s partner being famous and beloved by the public.
People are quick to say “but he was never charged” in order to defend players they like who have been accused of domestic abuse or other violent acts against women. And it’s true as well that Bonds was never charged. But it’s also true that most victims don’t want to go through the public hell of pursuing legal action, especially against a famous partner.
The victims are generally the ones put on trial both by the public and in the courtroom, if it even gets that far, which it generally doesn’t. Bonds’ accusers were no exception.
There’s often “not enough evidence” because it’s he said vs. she said and people generally tend to believe the athlete’s version of events. Cases often get dropped because there are conflicting stories.
Victim: “He hurt me.”
Accused Famous Athlete: “No I didn’t.”
Police detectives trained in investigative work: “How could anyone possibly get to the bottom of this? Guess we’d better drop the case.”
But I get the other side of it, too, that it’s difficult to say what exactly MLB should be doing in these cases if the police aren’t going to pursue charges or the partner doesn’t want to go through the ordeal.
At what point is it okay for the player to play baseball again in the court of public opinion? Obviously, you want the player to take responsibility, take action to address the underlying issues, and you want to see the league take it more seriously than they do players who take cough syrup for a cold before getting randomed.
But even if a player does all of that, will it ever be okay for them to play in the fans’ eyes; especially fans who are, themselves, victims of domestic violence? Probably not. Should the player be banned for life? Also probably not.
To write off a person forever implies a belief that people cannot grow or learn from their wrongdoings, if willing to do so. A belief that people cannot be redeemed.
And if a player doesn’t even admit to doing anything wrong and is never charged? What more can/should the league be doing?
Honestly, it’s difficult to address the situation fully in sports today until our society decides to take violence against women more seriously, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try.
In the case of a former player, though, what is there to be done about it now? Should they be shunned for the rest of their lives? Should they be banned from participating in baseball activities? I don’t honestly know. It goes back to the issue of whether people can learn from their past actions and become a better person.
That said, other players have been shunned for less egregious offenses.
So I get the sentiment that maybe Bonds shouldn’t be celebrated, even now. And I would like to think that maybe that was why there was little fanfare for him after he left the game; though, it’s more likely due to all the bad press he created for the organization concerning PEDs.
Indeed, now that his obstruction of justice conviction has been overturned and the investigations are gone from the rearview mirror, the Giants have welcomed him back into the organization with open arms.
So now it’s something myself and many others who grew up loving him without knowing these things will have to come to terms with.
It’s likely hypocritical of me to still be going to the ceremony on Saturday. I’m conflicted about it and have been for some time.
But it’s not about him, for me. It’s about me. My love of baseball and celebrating the great memories I got to have with my dad that provided us with some of our only really happy moments when I was young.
The number #25 doesn’t symbolize Barry Bonds, the person, who has allegedly done very awful things. The number #25 symbolizes Giants baseball from my childhood the way #24 did for my dad. So I’ll be there to tip my cap, say thanks for the memories, and close the door on that part of my life.
That might be a problematic stance, even still, but it’s where I’ve come down on the matter after months of careful consideration.