SAN FRANCISCO - Barry Bonds basked in hometown adulation Friday during a celebration where he received the key to the city and heard not a mention of the steroid controversy that dogged him on the way to the career home run record.
Bonds was joined on stage by family, teammates, politicians and Giants greats Willie McCovey and Willie Mays. The sometimes prickly slugger smiled broadly as he thanked his parents, Mayor Gavin Newsom, team owner Peter Magowan and especially the Giants faithful.
“Love was giving me that strength,” Bonds said. “You the fans, the city of San Francisco — that is why I’m the player I am today.”
With throngs in Giants black-and-orange cheering their hero, the lovefest differed sharply from the scathing insults heaped on Bonds at rival ballparks before his record-breaking 756th home run Aug.
7. Across the country, Bonds has faced detractors wielding placards inscribed with asterisks — baseball-fan shorthand for the belief that his record is hopelessly tainted by allegations of steroid abuse.
“Everybody in San Francisco is afraid to say anything bad about Barry,” said Stephen Quirk, 33, a San Francisco resident originally from Boston who still roots for the Red Sox. “If you go to any other city, it’s like the complete opposite.”
In San Francisco on Friday, there wasn’t an asterisk in sight.
But even among Bonds supporters in the crowd, an undercurrent of disenchantment was in evidence — if not with the record-holder himself, then with a league plagued for years with suspicions of widespread performance-enhancing drug abuse.
The influence of Bonds’ achievement on children was a major theme of the day’s events. Video tributes from Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan culminated with a reprise of previous home run record-holder Hank Aaron’s message to the slugger expressing hope that Bonds’ 756th homer “will inspire others to chase their own dream.”
Larry Pagel of Oshkosh, Wis., and his two sons came to observe the festivities as part of their vacation in San Francisco. Each was decked out in Milwaukee Brewers regalia in anticipation of Friday night’s game against the Giants. But they didn’t all share the same opinion of Bonds.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
But Pagel’s son Tanner, 12, wasn’t so sure Bonds could serve as a good role model for himself and his friends. The record books should probably carry a disclaimer next to Bonds’ name, he said, adding “people don’t just gain muscles like that.”
Bonds has long denied using performance-enhancing drugs. Federal officials are investigating whether Bonds lied to a grand jury in 2003 when he testified that he never knowingly took steroids.
Regardless of the truth of the allegations, said Carlos Gonzalez, who donned his Barry Bonds jersey and took time off work to attend the celebration, Bonds deserves to be feted.
“He was a Hall of Famer even before the controversy erupted,” Gonzalez, 34, said. “It doesn’t take away the fact that he has talent to play the game.”
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