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SAN FRANCISCO — A little before 8 p.m. on Saturday night, a ripple went through the press box at AT&T Park. The great man was going to speak.

This was Barry Bonds’ night. The Giants were retiring his jersey, No. 25, and the whole of the San Francisco baseball establishment, it seemed, was on hand to mark the occasion. There were Willie Mays and Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry, five Giants who had previously reduced the stock of available jersey numbers. Bonds’ first MLB manager (with the Pirates), Jim Leyland, was on hand, and so was his last, Bruce Bochy. Bonds’ mother, two of his siblings and his three children took part in the pregame ceremony, too, and there were taped congratulations from the likes of Joe Montana and Stephen Curry.

Really, just one element had been missing: a Barry Bonds interview. Then word bounced around the room. Bonds was up in the broadcast booth, and might just have a moment to resume pleasantries when his TV stint was done. Perhaps 10 of us scurried up a flight of stairs, and after about 15 minutes, Bonds came striding down the hallway. He was eating a cookie, still looking dapper in black suit and silver tie.

Surly Barry Bonds has long ago ceded the microphone to Charming Barry Bonds, and this was the charming version, all the way. He gently teased writers who once tormented him, and were tormented by him. He talked lovingly of his father, and said it was Bobby Bonds he’d think of when he saw that No. 25 hanging just beyond the left-field foul pole. He insisted he doesn’t care one bit about whether he is voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He used the word “awesome” a lot.

But toward the end of the interview, the cookie gone, Bonds dropped his guard. I asked him how he feels when he returns to AT&T, knowing the role he played in building its history, and the old bravado returned.

“The park thing is more to me than the number thing, because I built this park,” Bonds said. “That’s all!”

Those last two words came out as a hearty laugh, as if he couldn’t hold back the truth.

“Now when I walk in this ballpark, I know whose house it is,” Bonds continued. “It’s our house as a unified city. But I know who did that. Willie (Mays) never played here. McCovey didn’t play here. None of them played here. I played here. So I know who did that part. So when I walk in the park, yeah, I may have my chest out, my head’s a little big or whatever. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I did that.’”

More than a decade after his final MLB at-bat, Bonds remains the most complicated Bay Area sports hero of his era. He was a generational baseball talent, but he muddied the issue by filling himself with steroids, then steadfastly denied it after the whole world knew it was true. He was hostile to reporters and dismissive of fans, but could light up a room with a smile whenever he wanted to.

All of these images returned with Bonds, to confound us once again. It feels like we’ve been debating his legacy since before he retired. Should Barry Bonds be in the Hall of Fame? Should there be a statue of Barry Bonds outside of AT&T Park? And, this week’s permutation, should the Giants retire Barry Bonds’ jersey?

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7. NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant opts out of his Warriors contract, then re-signs a team-friendly extension that allows the team to keep almost everyone from the championship team.

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9. Racked by age and injuries, the Giants struggle mightily and end up last in the NL West with 98 losses.

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The first two questions are pretty easy.

Should Bonds be in the Hall of Fame? Duh. It’s like asking if Abraham Lincoln should be on Mount Rushmore. Bonds is arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport. Your mileage may vary, but my personal Top Three are (1) Babe Ruth, (2) Bonds and (3) Mays. No one has ever menaced pitchers like Bonds did in the steroid years. And if you try to negate what he did because of the performance enhancers, you are attempting to erase an entire era of baseball. It happened. He happened. We all saw it, and it was amazing.

Should Bonds have a statue outside the ballpark? No. We don’t erect statues to memorialize people who reached base 44.4 percent of the time. We build statues of heroes, like Roberto Clemente, or at least those whom we consider exemplary humans, like Marichal. Bonds was pouty and entitled. No one needs to bronze him.

Should the Giants have retired Bonds’ number? Now that’s a solid question.

On one hand, you might find it a little galling to see that No. 25 wedged between Mays’ No. 24 and Marichal’s No. 27. Those other two men carried themselves with a lot more dignity and, as far as we know, didn’t use any body enhancers stronger than Vitamin C.

But what is a retired number, really? To me it signifies an athlete who had a major impact on his franchise, who etched himself or herself into its history. So, did Bonds really build AT&T, as he suggested?

“I don’t think that’s true,” Peter McGowan said before the game. “I mean, Bonds certainly helped get the three million people in here every year with how he played. But the ballpark was gonna get built. We couldn’t promise that Barry Bonds was gonna hit the home runs he hit. We knew he was one of the best players in baseball. And of course that had to help build our fan base up. But I don’t think he built the ballpark.”

McGowan’s opinion counts. He took over as Giants president and managing general partner in the 1993 offseason, and one of the team’s first moves in his tenure was to sign Bonds, already a two-time MVP with the Pirates. It was under McGowan’s leadership that the Giants escaped gloomy Candlestick Park and built this magnificent field in the shadow of the Bay Bridge.

But McGowan isn’t downplaying Bonds’ significance. He’s merely stating the obvious, that one player — even if he’s the best player in baseball — can’t get a stadium built in San Francisco. McGowan, who is a bit frail at 76 but whose eyes are still a blinding blue, acknowledges that Bonds made the transition to Pac Bell Park (as it was originally called) much smoother.

McGowan noted that the Giants drew a robust 2.6 million fans to Candlestick in 1993, Bonds’ first year here. The next projected at 2.4 million before the players went on strike and the season was abandoned. Fans rebelled after the strike, and the number plummeted to 1.4 million in 1995.

“We had to build that up to two million to make 2.8 million a realistic projection for the new ballpark,” McGowan said. “And that was the forecast, or 2.75 million. And that was enough to eke out a small profit.”

The Giants exceeded that projection, because they had a playoff contender when AT&T opened in 2000, and they had one of the best players in the majors in Bonds. The ballpark was McGowan’s project, but it became Bonds’ playground.

“We have a pretty good reputation of having people back in our organization,” McGowan said. “If we didn’t have Barry, it would demean all these other guys. … We would have lost, I think, some of that aura.”

As former Giants manager Dusty Baker said before the game: “I want to thank Barry for putting food on my table, on everybody else’s table, for helping to build this beautiful stadium here.”

Bonds had his cookie, but he baked a few for the rest of the Giants, too.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at (707) 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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