The New San Francisco giants are like a nursery rhyme, what with all of their talk about butchers and Baker and the Candlestick makeover. But rub-a-dub-dub, one man keys the club. And who do you think he be?
Like the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge, cable cars and Rice-a-Roni, Barry Bonds has become an alliterative San Francisco treat. As new Giant manager Dusty Baker says of the new Giant leftfielder, "He is a bad dude, man."
And bad is good, and good is nice, and nice is what the residents of the newly renovated Candlestick Park are all about. "It's important when you walk into the ballpark that people are outwardly friendly," says new Giant president Peter Magowan, former CEO of a grocery conglomerate. "A lot of people judge Safeway on how friendly the butcher is."
Thus, as San Francisco was ascending to first place in the National League West last week, third base coach Wendell Kim politely inquired of an autograph hound behind the home dugout, "Are you sure? I don't want to decrease the value of your ball." The kid had Kim sign anyway, happy in the knowledge that the Giants (who finished 26 games out of first place last season) aren't moving to Tampa- St. Petersburg. Or moving anywhere else. Save, perhaps, in the right direction.
When Magowan arrived at the Giants' executive offices last Friday morning, San Francisco was in first place for the first time since June 1, 1992, having beaten the Atlanta Braves and their ace, Greg Maddux, 6-1 the night before. The lavishly salaried Bonds had hit a home run in his first at bat (as he had in the Giant home opener, on April 12) and had driven in five runs on the evening after having missed the previous two games with a strained right hamstring.
"Ol' Barry," said Magowan, one of 20 investors who collectively paid $100 million last January to keep the Giants in San Francisco. "When he hits these home runs in the first inning, it's like: Forty-three million dollars? All this controversy? And then bang! And there's no doubt about it."
Magowan couldn't quite contain himself, so how was his office supposed to? He burst into the hallway and popped in on new Giant general manager Bob Quinn. "Last night was the epitome of what a great athlete Bonds is," Quinn told Magowan. "The home run. Then that ball he hit to left center: It hit the wall before the defense could turn around. After two days off. With an injury!"
With hands held high over their heads, the fans in Candlestick's new bleachers had bowed deeply from the waist each time Bonds trotted out to his defensive post. Magowan mentions that he would have loved to have seen Bonds bow back or, at least, acknowledge the fans' gesture. And wouldn't it have been nice if Giant pitcher Jeff Brantley had exhibited so much as a tug of the cap when he was removed from that game to a standing ovation? "I know," says Quinn, nodding. "I know. I'll give them a nudge at the appropriate time."
Un-nudged, Bonds hit three doubles and a single, drove in three runs, scored three others and stole a base in San Francisco's 13-12 win over Atlanta in 11 innings on Sunday, giving the Giants three wins in their four-game series with the division favorites and an 8-5 season record. And while second baseman Robby Thompson had already missed seven games with tendinitis in his left forearm and first baseman Will Clark was hitting an un-Thrilling .170 at week's end, San Francisco still had won seven of its last nine. Shortstop Royce Clayton (.319) had hit safely in the Giants' first 11 games, and catcher Kirt Manwaring was hitting .317.
As the winds of change sweep Candlestick Park, it is important to remember two things: It is still windy, and it is still Candlestick Park. For 33 seasons now the Stick has been the Frigidaire that has prevented the Giants from drawing as many as two million fans in all but one year in San Francisco. Because Bay Area taxpayers wouldn't subsidize a new ballpark, owner Bob Lurie sold the Giants to Magowan's group after a deal with a group of buyers from St. Petersburg was not approved by baseball's other owners.