Bonds received preferential treatment before he wore his first Giants uniform. Shortly after first signing the outfielder to baseball's richest contract, six years and $43.75 million, the Giants showed in a surprising announcement just how willing they were to do Bonds a favor. They were giving him Willie Mays' number.
The Yankees never offered Mickey Mantle No. 3 (Babe Ruth's number), and the Braves never considered giving Andruw Jones No. 44 (Hank Aaron's number). A retired number is a retired number. But Bonds was going to wear 24, the number the great Mays wore during his cherished career as a Giant.
Though Bonds never got to wear 24 - fans and columnists complained, and he settled on 25, which his dad, Bobby, wore - the groundwork was laid. Bonds wasn't just a special player on the field but someone who'd receive special favors off the field from an organization going to great lengths to satisfy the game's premier player.
Seems crazy now, but I can't recall all that much of a stink being raised that the time. Maybe that's because stinks were smaller back in 1992 given that no one aside from some research scientists and a handful of assorted geeks were online then and thus things weren't so easily blown out of proportion. That aside, I'm struck by two thoughts upon reading this article:
1) I don't really have a problem with giving a special player -- and I mean a truly once-in-a-lifetime player like Bonds -- special perks. Barry was unequivocally the best player in baseball at the time he was signed by the Giants and remained so for the length of his tenure. If I were running the team I would have given him a fifth locker and a spare ottoman if he asked for one. While some people would say that such preferential treatment sows division, my response would be "coffee is for closers." You want to be treated like Barry? Play like Barry. It's really that simple.
2) If you're in the business of bestowing perks, you had best remain prepared to take them away lest you cede all of your authority. The line should have been drawn at allowing suspected steroid traffickers like Greg Anderson onto the premises. MLB and the Giants did background checks on the guy. They knew the score, but continued to let him in the clubhouse. It's naive to think that Bonds wouldn't have had access to and used steroids if these guys were barred from the premises, but at least the Giants and, by extension, Major League Baseball itself wouldn't be implicated in all of this, as they most certainly are.
And this, more than his sociopathic personality or ego is why Barry Bonds has remained so calm about the steroid controversy swirling around him for the past several years. He knows, as anyone who has thought much about the issue should know, that he is not dangling by himself. The Giants and Major League Baseball are as well, and if George Mitchell or anyone else affiliated with baseball decides to make an example out of him, everyone gets hurt, because no one would take a stand when it mattered.
That leaves public scorn as the only arrow in the quiver of those who seek to take Bonds down. Public scorn, however, is something Barry has been dealing with since long before anyone had heard of the cream and the clear, and it bounces off of him like Gatorade bounces off of a stain-proofed recliner.
Barry's safe, and he knows it.