Bonds' rally in All-Star voting avoids giant embarrassment

The Baltimore Sun

Sunday was a day for giant San Francisco Giants numbers. Not just that laugher score of 13-0 in a season with little to laugh about, but the eye-popping tally that Barry Bonds put up.

Bonds made a 1978 Yankees-like come-from-behind move in the All-Star Game voting and was voted in as a starter.

"I'm lost for words right now," he said. "I can't say thanks enough to the fans here."

That aggressive Vote Bonds campaign the Giants launched paid big dividends. Bonds earned more than a million votes in the final three days of online balloting and gained 242,036 votes on Alfonso Soriano for the National League's third outfield spot. Who knew the Giants had added Katherine Harris to their front office?

"There are no hanging chads in online voting," Giants executive vice president Larry Baer said.

Jokes aside - and it's pretty clear that Giants employees were encouraged to vote early and often and then to repeat the process - this is an appropriate outcome for the extravaganza that will be hosted by the Giants next Tuesday.

This is an All-Star Game, and never has one franchise been so defined by one star as the Giants are by Bonds. He dwarfs everything else about the team, including, for the past few years, the concept of winning.

For 15 seasons, Bonds has been the Giants, through good and bad, scandals and success, records and irrelevance. The Giants didn't think they could build a ballpark without him, they didn't think they could host the All-Star Game without him and they haven't been able to envision a future without him.

Bonds said his 13th All-Star appearance might be his last and would definitely be his most meaningful because "this is my house."

That it is. So it is only fitting that he'll trot out to left field, under the giant Coca-Cola bottle, in front of the true believers.

The rest of the nation can have its opinions about Giants-fans-in-denial confirmed. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig will be forced to watch and possibly squirm in his seat. As with everything involving the slugger, the scene will be a bizarre, fascinating spectacle and will be viewed through the prism of opinions about Bonds, BALCO and baseball history.

Bonds will be joined in the NL outfield by Ken Griffey Jr. of the Cincinnati Reds and the New York Mets' Carlos Beltran.

It's worth noting that it took the fans to get Bonds into the game. Without them, he would have had to rely on Cardinals manager Tony La Russa's kindness, because the players, who vote for the bulk of the reserves, did not include Bonds in their top five outfielders. The players deemed the league's best to be the Colorado Rockies' Matt Holliday, Griffey, the Houston Astros' Carlos Lee, Beltran and Soriano of the Chicago Cubs.

Bonds will be the oldest position player to start an All-Star Game by almost two years, supplanting Pete Rose, who was 41 in 1982. Bonds will play in the game 14 days before his 43rd birthday.

That's one reason he might not participate in the Home Run Derby on Monday.

"I don't think so," he said. "I won't have anything to prove in that. I'm almost 43. That's asking a lot at my age."

Baer said the Giants will not try to pressure Bonds into participating in the contest.

The Giants have to be relieved by the outcome of the voting. It would have been embarrassing to host baseball's midsummer showcase without their all-consuming star. As it is, they'll probably be hosting it as a last-place team unless they can figure out how to make up games as efficiently as they made up votes for Bonds.

Because of MLB's embargo on the information until it was announced on television, Giants fans had to hang around after the game to learn whether Bonds had made the team.

The selection show followed the Atlanta Braves-Florida Marlins game on TBS, and the announcement was expected during the Giants game, while Bonds was still playing (he was replaced in the seventh inning). But Armando Benitez, now with the Marlins, frustrated the Giants one more time by fumbling a lead, and the game went into extra innings, delaying the news.

When the announcement was finally made, the fans remaining in the ballpark booed the selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers' Russell Martin at catcher, having hoped for Bengie Molina. But when Bonds' selection was announced, a loud cheer went up.

Many of those cheering are true believers, highly invested in Bonds and his legacy. They did the voting, they do the cheering and many of them will be there next Tuesday to see their All-Star representative.

They'll view Bonds' All-Star presence through their prism. So will the audience at home. Really, this couldn't have turned out any other way.

Ann Killion writes for the San Jose Mercury News.

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