By Jim Sankey
Allied News Baseball Columnist
As this column begins today its 47th year, longtime readers no doubt expected to find what they have found at the beginning of every baseball season — predictions for upcoming summer.
And as I sat down last week to start to put together some ideas for today’s entry, that is fully what I anticipated would fill this space.
Well, I’m as surprised as you are; 2014’s season prognostications must wait until next week.
I just can’t get past the fact that club president Frank Coonelly thought the celebration of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first winning season in 21 years should include Barry Bonds.
You gotta be kidding me!
Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook correctly calls Bonds “most detested athlete in Pittsburgh sports history. No one is a close second.”
While Bonds won two MVP titles in his seven seasons here, in San Francisco he also “won” a federal conviction for obstruction of justice during a grand jury investigation.
Voters to baseball’s Hall of Fame have shrugged off Bonds’ denials of performance-enhancing drugs, as he has failed to get even half the required votes for induction.
His next former teammate to say something positive about him will be the first. But the next story of his nasty, mean-spirited character will merely add to a throng of such examples.
And despite his regular-season success in Pittsburgh, Bonds was a post-season flop: in three post-seasons he batted a combined .191 with one home run and three RBIs in 68 at-bats over 20 games.
But like many fans, I’ll never forget his failing to throw out an Atlanta turtle named Sid Bream in the 1992 playoffs, sending the Pirates into a 20-summer tailspin.
Terrance Moore wrote in 2011 about an interview with Pirates centerfielder Andy VanSlyke.
“According to Van Slyke,” Moore wrote, “he asked Bonds to move in a few steps for the light-hitting [Francisco] Cabrera. Bonds reportedly refused. ‘He turned and looked at me and gave me the international peace sign,’ VanSlyke said. So I said, 'Fine, you play where you want.'
“Soon afterward, Cabrera dropped a single to the left of Bonds that required the left-handed outfielder to race toward the ball and throw home across his body.”
Bonds’ being out of position allowed the Braves to win the NL championship.
Bonds was invited along with Jim Leyland, former MVP Dick Groat, and shortstop Jack Wilson to honor Andrew McCutchen (MVP and Silver Slugger winner), manager Clint Hurdle (NL manager of the year), and third baseman Pedro Alvarez (Silver Slugger) before the game.
From the moment it was announced that Bonds would be at PNC Park, he became the story.
Not the warm fuzzies held over from last summer.
Not the prospects of a possible playoff repeat.
Talking heads on Pittsburgh sports radio railed against the expecting booing of Bonds, insisting that doing so would sully Pittsburgh’s image, then spent two-thirds of their time slots claiming that McCutchen, not Bonds, should be the focus of the opener. That was followed by a parade of phone calls weighing in on whether Bonds should be cheered or booed. Even Neil Walker’s walk-off blast took a back seat to post-game talk about Bonds.
Post-Gazette writer Jenn Menendez tweeted that from the field level, “the initial boos were drowned out by cheers.” But she failed to mention that on opening day, most of those seats are occupied by socialites who wouldn’t know the difference between Barry Bonds or James Bond.
Tribune-Review writer Dejan Kovocevic’s tweet: “Upper deck behind home plate is where most Three Rivers season-ticket holders were relocated. It was ALL BOOS here. Bonds gets booed. Big-time. Actually forces [announcer] Greg Brown to pause.”
I’ll tell you proudly that I booed lustily, aimed as much at Coonelly’s ill-conceived notion that brought Bonds here, as for the anathema to everything sports should be about.
Let’s hope management gets the idea that Opening Day should be about the Pittsburgh Pirates, not about cheats we hope never to see inside PNC Park again