Bonds' legacy is safe at home

SAN FRANCISCO -- At Joe DiMaggio playground in the North Beach neighborhood near Fisherman's Wharf, the same park where DiMaggio learned to play baseball as a youngster, Jesse Smith spent Thursday afternoon practicing his free-throw shooting technique at a basketball hoop in the middle of an asphalt lot.

Smith didn't know the DiMaggio story, but he sure knew all about another local baseball legend, Barry Bonds.

Bonds, the major league all-time home run leader, was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroid investigation. Smith said he was far from shocked.

"I think we all knew he used the stuff," he said. "He blew up, didn't he? All you had to do was look at his body. We love him here, though. He's a hero. He's not the only one who used steroids, but he's the only one hitting the home runs."

There may be places where Bonds is universally reviled, but this isn't one of them. That may be understandable given that Bonds has rewarded the city with enough thrills on the baseball diamond to take the edge off his expanding legal problems.

Jim Diaz said the indictment of Bonds clearly would have some sort of effect on the city's psyche, at least for a while.

"I sort of expected this, but I think he was targeted by the media," said Diaz, who owns a security and investigative services company. "As a result, the courts had to do what they had to do. And even though he's not a Giant anymore, his ties with the team and the city mean something to a lot of people here."

Diaz said he served on the same board of the United Way of the Bay Area as Bonds.

"The fact is that Barry Bonds has been trying for years to resuscitate his name, all the while the whole thing with steroids has been going on," he said.

As he stood behind the steam-pressing machine he operates at Comet Cleaners, Jing Zhang didn't feel like giving Bonds much of a break over the perjury charges.

"He should be a role model," he said. "A very popular person like him, he should not lie. He should be honest."

A couple of blocks away, there are "Summer of Love 40th Anniversary" T-shirts in the window of a storefront, where nostalgia is a solid consumer product. Guapo Meyer sells memories of some of the city's great musical moments at SF Rock Posters and Collectibles, but he said his memory of Bonds isn't that wonderful.

"I'm not surprised he lied," Meyers said. "Nobody ever comes clean, they all try to put their best face forward, if they can find one that somebody will believe."

As he rolled up electrical cables near a manhole on Lombard Street, Chance Lancaster said he was expecting Bonds to be indicted, but he didn't really care that much.

"I'm from Colorado," he explained. "But look, everybody knew he was doing steroids. He should pay for it. Unless they make it legal, it's cheating."

That's precisely the point, said Dick Bright, a bandleader and performer who often plays the national anthem at Giants home games at AT&T Park.

"There's a great history of cheating in baseball," Bright said. "Gaylord Perry admitted he threw spitballs, but he won 300 games and where's his asterisk? Steve Howe did blow, Rick Honeycutt had a razor blade in his glove to scuff the ball. I guess he threw a real cutter, huh?

"The fact is that they all cheated. Why doesn't anybody talk about that? Greenies in the '60s. Steroids are not the first time they did drugs and played ball."

Bright said he believes that Bonds was singled out for scrutiny because he fell far short of being media friendly.

In rush-hour traffic, Fahd steered his Yellow Cab down California Street, his cap backward. Fahd said the truth always comes out, and if Bonds did lie to the grand jury, he will have to pay for it.

"I don't care if he used steroids, there are a lot of players who did, and 99% of the people know he did it," he said. "It's going to stick on him forever."

Anthony Abuzeide is more of a fan of the 49ers than the Giants, but he said he had closely followed the Bonds-BALCO controversy from the beginning. He wonders why it took nearly four years for the indictment to be handed down, from the time Bonds testified about steroids before the first grand jury in December 2003.

"They wanted it, they got him, but I don't know who it benefits," he said. "When and if he did use them, it wasn't illegal. And I do know one thing, this doesn't have anything to do with San Francisco. He lied; it's about him."

Bonds spent the last 22 years swatting baseballs out of major league parks until his home run total eclipsed Babe Ruth's, then Hank Aaron's.

His record stands at 762, and the Hall of Fame is waiting, but so is his court appearance before a federal magistrate at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 7.

In this city, for Bonds and his followers, it's evident that baseball season starts early.