It is opening day, to many the best day of the sports year, the perfect day to celebrate the start of spring after a long, brutal winter. It has added significance here because of the Pirates' remarkable success in 2013 after 20 years of embarrassing baseball. It is a day to say thank you to a team that, in manager Clint Hurdle's words, reconnected a proud, sports-loving city with its ball club. It is especially a day to honor Andrew McCutchen, the best of the best, the National League's Most Valuable Player.
So why is Barry Bonds a part of the pregame ceremony?
The Pirates picked a lousy time to bring back Bonds. Nothing should detract from this awesome day, but Bonds' presence surely will. There will be boos. Bonds is the most detested athlete in Pittsburgh sports history. No one is a close second. Not Kordell Stewart, who lived under the normal, absurd scrutiny associated with being Steelers quarterback but also had to deal with more haters because he is black. Not even Jaromir Jagr, who was a petulant child almost into his 30s when he played for the Penguins, begged to be traded and jilted the team one final time to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers in the summer of 2011.
Hardly anyone will argue that Bonds might have been the greatest player in Pirates history. He was the best player of my lifetime, which includes Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski. It's true, he failed badly in the postseason, hitting a combined .191 with one home run and three RBIs in 20 games in the Pirates' three playoff appearances from 1990-92. But he's best-remembered -- worst-remembered? -- for his throw to the plate from left field that was too late to get Atlanta's Sid Bream in Game 7 of the 1992 playoffs. He gets a bum rap there. That wasn't a bad throw. He had to go into left-center field to get the ball, then throw across his body. His mistake was brushing off center fielder Andy Van Slyke's repeated suggestion a few pitches earlier that he move a couple of steps into left-center.
Bonds was the NL MVP in 1992 after also winning it for the Pirates in 1990. He went on to win five more MVPs with the San Francisco Giants, although those awards were badly tainted because of his perceived use of performance-enhancing drugs. He never had a positive test and always proclaimed his innocence despite his changed physique and increased power, which enabled him to become baseball's most prolific home-run hitter. Bonds testified before a grand jury in December 2003 that he unknowingly took steroids -- "the clear and the cream." If you have a hard time believing that a world-class athlete didn't know what he was putting in his body every second of every day, you are not alone. In April 2011, Bonds was found guilty on a felony charge of obstruction of justice for giving incomplete and misleading information to the grand jury about his alleged steroid use. Three counts of perjury were dismissed after the jury couldn't reach an agreement on his guilt or innocence.
You want this guy at PNC Park on this day, of all days?
It's the Pirates' worst opening day mistake since 2006 when they invited actor Michael Keaton to throw out the first pitch and he ripped the club for not spending money.
Bonds was a dislikable man long before he was found guilty of a felony. He was aloof and arrogant when he played here, and in San Francisco, for that matter. Most of his teammates had no use for him, although they were quick to shake his hand when he hit a big home run. I remember a conversation I had with a Pirates veteran after Bonds' infamous blowup with manager Jim Leyland in the spring of 1991. "I'd rather lose without him than win with him," the player said of Bonds.
It's safe to say the majority of Bonds' former teammates won't be upset if he doesn't make the Hall of Fame. I will never vote for him.
McCutchen is almost the exact opposite of Bonds, their wondrous athletic ability the only common tie. McCutchen is liked by everyone, not just by his teammates, but by anyone who comes into contact with him. He managed to win over a new set of fans from a much different demographic in December when he proposed to his girlfriend, Maria Hanslovan, on the "Ellen" show. It was a nice moment. McCutchen has represented the Pirates organization with class at almost every turn.
Management did the right thing by asking McCutchen for his approval before inviting Bonds. Of course, McCutchen agreed and said all the right things about Bonds being a great player and how honored he was for him to be a part of the ceremony. It would have been surprising if he had said anything else. He would have looked small. He is anything but.
But that doesn't make it right.
The hope here is that the cheers for McCutchen drown out the boos for Bonds. Bonds doesn't deserve that. McCutchen does.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
First Published March 30, 2014 11:54 PM