Ron Agostini

Goodbye good for Giants

Barry Bonds is going, going, gone, which means the San Francisco Giants can reclaim their franchise.

It's been hijacked for 15 seasons by baseball's flawed home-run king, who finally will return it with a few personal additions: An attractive ballpark, a few water-logged balls fetched from McCovey Cove, one National League pennant, a used Barca-lounger, and milestone after milestone that inspired nationwide scorn.

Who got the better deal? Not the Giants, who can only blame themselves.

The Giants signed this Faustian bargain and grimly held on to the last gate receipt, until all a bone-weary Bonds could do was swat a mistake over the fence. They committed to the following strategy: Postpone the rebuilding of the ballclub, make sure he's wearing orange and black when he passes Hank Aaron, and then send him out of town when the ride is over.

Fifteen years later, there are no heroes left on this stage.

The show started in 1993 to rave reviews. Peter Magowan and his friends rescued the ballclub from a terrible fate -- Tampa Bay -- and celebrated the feat by signing Bonds, the kid from San Mateo's Serra High and the godson of Willie Mays. It seemed like the perfect union. Bonds homered in his first game and the Giants won 103 games in '93.

But there would be no pennant or playoffs in '93, a pattern that dogged the Giants through the Bonds years. They won a memorable NL West title in '97 but were swept by the Marlins. They compiled baseball's best regular-season record in 2000, the year they opened their new ballpark, but were escorted home by the Mets. With Bonds at his career peak, they came within five outs of a World Series title in 2002 only to be rally-monkeyed by the Angels. They haven't advanced to the postseason since 2003.

In 2001 while we ducked for cover after Sept. 11, Bonds hit home runs No. 71 and No. 72 to overtake Mark McGwire's single-season record. Alas, he did the deed on the same night the Giants were eliminated from playoff contention by the Dodgers. A melancholy ceremony was staged at home plate well after midnight.

And so it went to this year, when an old and sad-sack Giants team rallied around Bonds as he put his name on sports' most glamorous record. Again, the Giants made this choice, much like Bonds' choice to be as friendly as barbed wire.

There were victories along the way. Bonds actually posed for the team photo this season and somehow escaped -- for now -- a perjury and tax-evasion indictment.

At times, Bonds seemed bigger than life, especially after he reported to spring training in 1999 with a new physique. The repercussions wouldn't be felt until later, but Bonds launched a power surge never before accomplished by a man his age.

But as we survey the remains of the Bonds years, important questions arise. Was he worth all the trouble? Was it fun for Giants fans to know their guy became the poster child for a game skewed by steroids? Was it easy to dismiss the fact he was chemically enhanced to set all those records?

No, it must not be easy to be Barry Bonds. But rest assured, it was much harder to watch him.

The majestic home runs and the porcupine personality. The cheers and the asterisks. The quick hands and the icy stare. Jeff Kent on deck and Greg Anderson behind bars. Unforgettable wins and heartbreak in Anaheim.

Even today, as Bonds seeks an American League locale next year, no one can figure out exactly what we saw the last 15 years.

Fans in opposing ballparks booed Bonds, then cheered for him when he deposited a pitch into the bleachers. They yelled approval when he struck out but protested when their pitcher walked him. At home, Bonds switched from city icon to guilty pleasure, sometimes during the same at-bat.

Look, Bonds would have cranked at least 650 home runs on a diet of Wheaties and orange juice. His Hall of Fame credentials would have been stamped on the first ballot. He was that great.

Trouble is, he wasn't satisfied with "great." He sought more, and if it took some law-breaking, so be it. I suspect the Bonds era with the Giants will be enveloped neatly into baseball's steroids era, a bittersweet time when hubris and greed trumped home runs.

As for Giants fans, your team has been returned to you, tarnished and scarred but still there. Let the recovery begin.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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