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Madden: Bonds should be honored here

Saturday, October 19, 2002

Even as we watch Barry Bonds play in his first World Series, the bitter realization that Bonds is among baseball's very best -- maybe even No. 2 behind Babe Ruth -- must be settling into the limited brain pans of even the stupidest among you.

Given that, it seems logical that Pittsburgh in general and the Pirates in particular should think about some way to honor Bonds once his career ends. Hopefully the shock of firing long-time trainer Kent Biggerstaff will have subsided by then.

Bonds played seven seasons with the Pirates. During that time, he hit .275 with 176 home runs, 556 RBIs and 251 stolen bases.

Combine these very respectable statistics with the fact that Pittsburgh was the cradle for one of the greatest baseball careers, and it seems perfectly appropriate to accord Bonds local recognition once he retires. He was the most vital cog of perhaps the last competitive era of Pirates baseball.

For those who say Bonds' time in Pittsburgh was too short to warrant such treatment, consider this: Tony Dorsett spent four years with Pitt's football program, and he has a street named after him on the North Side. Bonds, as noted, played seven seasons with the Pirates.

At any rate, Bonds' greatness transcends the limited time he spent here. So, what to do? The options are:

dot.gif A statue outside PNC Park. Imagine the bronze magnificence of a young Bonds leading off first, thus commemorating one of his main talents as a Pirates player, baserunning.

dot.gif Retire his number. Put No. 24 on the shelf. That would provide a welcome dose of humility for Brian Giles, too.

dot.gif Name a North Side street after him. How does Barry Bonds Way sound?

dot.gif Do all of the above.

I'm guessing you don't support any of my ideas. It's a shame that you don't like Bonds, because Bonds, as he has said many times, likes Pittsburgh.

It would be silly to snub Bonds, yet have statues of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell outside PNC Park. Both were clearly inferior to Bonds.

Among those who played for the Pirates, only Honus Wagner was as, er, statuesque as Bonds. Only the Dutchman had numbers and talent to approach Bonds.

Clemente, Stargell and Wagner spent their whole major-league careers with the Pirates, thus creating the illusion that they were loyal to the team and town. But that's all it was, an illusion. Had Clemente, Stargell and Wagner had the chance to sample the delights of free agency, they would have followed the big money wherever it led. To think otherwise is naive.

True, the Boston Red Sox have not honored Ruth, even though he began his career in Beantown. But they can't retire his number, because players didn't wear numbers when Ruth played in Boston. And don't forget, the Red Sox sold Ruth to the New York Yankees, so erecting a statue of Ruth outside Fenway Park would be commemorating the most embarrassing mistake in baseball history.

Not that signing Andy Van Slyke while letting Bonds walk away was any stroke of genius.

One purpose of this column is to get you angry. How am I doing? But another purpose is to make you realize how illogical your hatred for Bonds is. You dislike Bonds because he let you down in the playoffs. (Actually, I consider that one of his most endearing traits.) Because he couldn't throw out Sid Bream.

But how can that make you ignore the brilliance of his days in Pittsburgh and of his career in general?

Is Bonds often surly, sometimes arrogant? Sure. But at least he's no phony. Most Pittsburghers know Stargell by his kindly demeanor when the camera was on. Consider yourself lucky you never encountered him when the camera was off.

Someday everyone who actually saw Bonds play will be dead. But Bonds' legend and his numbers will live forever. Future Pittsburghers will wonder why there isn't a statue of Bonds outside PNC Park. Those people will ponder why the birth of such a marvelous career was never properly acknowledged.

Or maybe they won't. Perhaps the legacy of Pittsburgh sports fans being petty, small-minded and dumb will last just as long as the legacy of Bonds.

Building a statue, retiring Bonds' number and/or naming a street after him won't happen for years, if ever. But there's one thing Pittsburgh baseball fans can do to honor Bonds in some small way.

When Bonds shows up at PNC Park next season, maybe with a World Series ring, stand up and cheer. Accord the greatest player ever to wear a Pirates uniform the respect he deserves. Show some intelligence. Sometimes a stupid group of people can turn smart one at a time.

Mark Madden's talk show is head 3-7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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