Bonds joins Giants in remembering Davenport

Bonds joins Giants in remembering Davenport

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds seized upon the freedom to speak from the heart Friday. Not within the stilted constraints of an interview or news conference. Not about a ballgame or a contract or a legal matter.

Moved by the occasion -- a celebration of the life of Jim Davenport, who died on Feb. 18 after spending 51 years with the Giants -- Bonds talked about love, family and friendship. Befitting his status as baseball's all-time home run leader, he hit those subjects out of the park.

In town as hitting coach of the Miami Marlins, who began a weekend series against the Giants on Friday, Bonds paid profound tribute to Davenport while conveying his eternal loyalty to the man and his family. Bonds also briefly opened a window that revealed his own soul.

"Jimmy just wanted to learn from everyone," Bonds said of Davenport, an All-Star and Gold Glove-winning third baseman with the Giants who also served the club as a coach, manager, scout and instructor in the Majors and Minors. "He loved baseball so much that he took a little bit from everyone. He was friends with everyone. He made everyone feel good. As a player, I didn't understand it that much. Now that I don't play, I understand people like Jimmy Davenport.

"Baseball has given us a great gift and a learning tool, and [with] me coaching, it's nice to give that back to the next generation of ballplayers. I get it now, Jimmy. I thank you for being my father's friend. I think you for being there for me. I'm so thankful you were in this organization as a Giant."

Giants president Larry Baer and others lavished praise upon Davenport, a native of Siluria, Ala., who rejected the racist attitudes that permeated society when he began his Major League playing career in 1958.

"He was one of the first to embrace the diversity of the Giants clubhouse," Baer said, calling Davenport's open-mindedness "his greatest legacy."

General manager Bobby Evans marveled at Davenport's humility.

"I don't think any of our players fully understand how great a player Jim Davenport was, because he never talked about himself," Evans said.

The relationship between Davenport and Bonds' late father, Bobby, extended far beyond being Giants teammates from 1968-70. To say they were close was a gross understatement.

"I'm going to tell you about a friend. He was the best friend of my father I've ever seen," Bonds said. At that point, Bonds asked his mother, Pat, and Davenport's widow, Betty, to join him at the lectern. "My father and Jimmy, I never saw one without the other. I never saw my mom without Betty."

Bonds knew his audience, and vice versa. Besides Baer and Evans, among those attending the memorial for the popular Davenport were numerous family members, Giants baseball czar Brian Sabean and others in the team's front office, as well as manager Bruce Bochy. Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda were present. So were Giants alumni such as Joe Amalfitano, Jim Barr, Felipe Alou, Hobie Landrith, Bill Laskey, J.T. Snow, Vida Blue, Terry Whitfield, Fred Breining, Rich Robertson, Rich Murray and Mark Gardner, who's also the team's bullpen coach.

Nearly everybody listening to Bonds knew how baseball's time-consuming, monomaniacal lifestyle can strengthen or sink a family or friendship. Bonds told a story of two clans and two men that nothing, not even baseball, could tear asunder.

"I never saw two guys that were like two little boys all the time," Bonds said of his father and Davenport. "Every Monday, Half Moon Bay golf. Wednesday, Half Moon Bay golf. Friday, they go fishing."

Bonds paused and jokingly added that if his father and Davenport happened to be squabbling with their wives, they'd "go fishing again."

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.