Several return for opener
PITTSBURGH – Maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates inaugurated a new tradition at Monday’s season opener:
Barry Bonds headed a list of former Pirates award winners who came back to present 2013 trophies.
Bonds, who was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1990 and ’92 with the Pirates, helped 1960 MVP Dick Groat present the 2013 award to Andrew McCutchen.
The reaction to Bonds was mixed. The boos were noticeable as soon as he was introduced, but the people cheering were soon heard, too. Some people raised a chant of “Bar-ry, Bar-ry.”
Announcer Greg Brown, who hosted the ceremony, kept it moving and thus limited the reaction to Bonds.
Bonds, wearing a neatly tailored gray suit with white shirt and conservative striped tie, smiled and waved to the fans.
He wasn’t available for comment after the ceremony, but in an earlier news conference he said he hoped for a “cheerful” reaction when he was introduced.
“We were baseball players here and tried to win championships,” Bonds said. “Unfortunately, we came up short. We loved the fans here, and we loved playing for this organization. We did the best we could, and we hope they appreciate it.”
Bonds seemed to be speaking for all four men at the table, which included Groat, former manager Jim Leyland and ex-shortstop Jack Wilson, who played for the Pirates exclusively during their streak of 20 losing seasons.
But Groat was a member of the 1960 team that beat the New York Yankees in the World Series and brought Pittsburgh its first major sports championship since the 1925 Pirates won the Series.
It was a confusing response, but Bonds was known for those when he played for the Pirates from 1986-1992.
In his last three years with Pittsburgh, he won the two MVP awards and finished second in the other season. He went on to play 15 seasons for San Francisco after signing as a free agent with the Giants.
“Hey, it was nothing personal, Pittsburgh,” Bonds said on Monday. “I wanted to be here for my whole career, but things changed.”
The Pirates didn’t make him an offer after he reached free agency. They didn’t even offer him salary arbitration because they were afraid he might not get a good free agent offer and come back to the Pirates, possibly at a one-year price tag in excess of $7 million.
Bonds’ last game for the Pirates was the crushing defeat in Atlanta in Game Seven of the 1992 National League playoffs. He and pitcher Doug Drabek left as free agents following that game, and the Pirates then started the 20-year losing streak.
In San Francisco, Bonds’ reputation grew as he won five more MVP awards. His body grew, too. Bonds was linked to the BALCO laboratories, which produced performance-enhancing drugs for athletes.
Despite having the all-time record with 762 home runs, Bonds was named on just 36 percent of the ballots in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Induction requires 75 percent of the vote.
“In my opinion, Barry Bonds is a Hall of Fame player,” Leyland said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
Bonds has trimmed down since his playing days. He turns 50 in July and it seems as though he would like to find a place in baseball. The Giants had him in camp this year as a part-time instructor.
He responded immediately to the Pirates’ request to come back to Pittsburgh, even catching a red eye flight from his California home for the brief visit.
“It feels good to come back to where it all started,” Bonds said.
Leyland is starting his second retirement after stepping down as Detroit Tigers manager last fall.
He took a five-year sabbatical from 2000-2005. He ended that when he signed on to manage the Tigers and spent eight seasons there, winning three division titles and reaching the World Series twice.
This time, the retirement will stick, he promised.
“I’m going to be 70 years old [in December],” he said. “It’s time.”
Leyland remains on the Tigers payroll in a consulting role. He is also working for Major League Baseball in a similar advisory capacity.
Leyland managed for 22 seasons. Despite having sub-.500 career records with the Pirates, Miami and Colorado, he finished 1,769-1,728 (.506) after going 700-597 with the Tigers.