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BONDS TO WEAR DAD'S NUMBER, LEAVE MAYS' 24 TO THE AGES

Thursday's signings, B11.As it turns out, not even the richest deal in baseball is enough to dislodge Willie Mays' No. 24 from its place of honor in Candlestick Park.

Mays had given godson Barry Bonds permission to unretire the number when Bonds signed with the San Francisco Giants for $43.75 million, but on Thursday the jersey Bonds donned bore No. 25."I'm going to wear the number 25 in honor of my own father, who I love very, very much," Bonds said. "And let a great, great athlete who deserves everything keep his number retired, because that's the only place it belongs, on that fence."

Bobby Bonds wore No. 25 as a Giants outfielder from 1968-74. His son became the highest-paid player in baseball history with the six-year deal completed Tuesday after more than two days of legal wrangling.

Both Bonds said Mays was allowing Barry to resurrect No. 24 as a gift to his godson. But after thinking it over, the younger Bonds decided he could still gain inspiration from Mays without wearing his number.

"It will be a great honor for me to play left field and still see the sign up there, No. 24, because I can still be a little boy pretending I'm in the outfield with my godfather," he said.

"When you have someone you admire, and he's your godfather and he loves you very, very much, he wants to do something very special for you. I think that's what Willie wanted to do for me."

Even though Mays gave his blessing, some newspaper columnists and fans calling in to radio talk shows criticized Bonds' intention to resurrect No. 24. Bonds recognized the need to preserve history, saying he didn't want to appear "a spoiled rotten brat."

Making his first appearance at his new baseball home on a foggy, rainy day, Bonds recalled his memories of Candlestick as a boy when his father was a Giant - shagging fly balls in the outfield - stealing gloves and getting into trouble. As an adult, Bonds hasn't been as fond of the windswept ballpark, once calling it "a pit."

He's changed his tune now, saying his main complaint was with the visitors' dugout and inconvenient bathroom facilities.

"We didn't have a heater and bathrooms, so it was kind of tough for us," he said.