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Remember Magowan for the good things … and the bad

He's on the hook for all of it. That's what you can say about Peter Magowan. Magowan is an owner -- excuse me, "managing general partner" -- in Major League Baseball, and for 16 years he has plied his trade in San Francisco, and he has done some amazing things. And when I say amazing, I mean both "Wow, fantastic!" and "Do you think someone could get suspended for that?"

And it is all Magowan. The good and the bad, the inspired and the blunder-ific, are what make Magowan -- or any owner -- whole. He's the man of record for all of the past 16 years in San Francisco, and as the fan of any franchise can tell you: Sixteen years can take in a whole lot of pretty, and sleazy, territory.

I mention this now only because the campaign to reduce Magowan's tenure to a single memory already is under way. It's understandable: Magowan is an owner, after all, and you'd like to get your owners boiled down to one sentence apiece in the baseball history book so there's more room left for the players themselves. (Example: "Veeck was a carnival barker imbued with a love of the sport.")

The problem is that this is an idea doomed to failure. Magowan is the man who "saved" baseball in San Francisco, who signed Barry Bonds as a free agent, who built a new ballpark without public money, and who presided over a run to the 2002 World Series with Dusty Baker as manager. He's also the man who let Bonds' ego crush everything else in sight, turned a blind eye to the rampant abuses of clubhouse access around the Giants, chased off Baker, got smacked down by MLB for his refusal to deal with the steroid-related problems that grew from such access, and stunted the Giants' long-term growth by continually larding the roster with veteran free agents in an attempt to gin one more pennant run out of Bonds' slow-declining game.

Now the Giants bear on their backs the tread marks of most of the National League, Bonds cools his heels while awaiting the epilogue to "Game of Shadows," and Barry Zito struggles to live up to the $126 million contract that Magowan blithely referred to Friday as "clearly a failure," talking his way around the fact that the owner ultimately was the one who offered it.

But wait: Magowan is still the guy who kept the Giants in town when they were about to be relocated to Tampa, Fla. He still built AT&T Park, nee Pac Bell, with private financing at a time when voters had turned down four straight proposals for ballparks that would require taxpayer money. And he still signed Bonds in the winter of 1992 for the then mind-blowing sum of $43.75 million, which eventually came to look like one of the great bargains in baseball, considering it was Bonds' fan-attracting presence that enabled AT&T Park to come to fruition at all.

So which is it?

Answer: Yes to all.

The thing about saving baseball is mostly true. MLB didn't want the Giants to leave San Francisco, and it effectively blocked a sale to Tampa while ordering Bob Lurie to look once again for a local buyer. It was then, in the 11th hour and 45th minute, when Magowan fronted a group of about 30 investors and reclaimed the team for the Left Coast. That was '92, and before the ownership change was even official, Magowan had courted and signed Bonds.

(Nobody particularly liked Bonds back then, by the way, but at the time he was thought of as a misunderstood genius, not a megalomaniacal cheater.)

Bonds' presence in San Francisco ultimately produced seismic shifts in the Giants' franchise, for better and for worse. Magowan was in the middle of all of it. He and his front office presided over great years of ascension, as Bonds hit with power and ran with speed. Magowan stuck with Baker even though, after a 103-victory debut in 1993, the manager suffered three straight losing seasons. Baker, with Magowan's blessing, showed Bonds tremendous favor and latitude, and Bonds rewarded the franchise with prizes that are difficult to value. Certainly, without Bonds there would have been no great catalyst for AT&T Park, one of the crown jewels in MLB's collection.

But Magowan and his front-office stablemates just as clearly continued to push the Bonds button when baseball logic (as opposed to business sense) dictated otherwise. Bonds was a gate attraction as he scaled Mt. Ruth and Mt. Aaron, but the team around him simply couldn't be built to compete on the Giants' remaining budget. No matter: Even as his popularity plunged and the controversy around him grew, Bonds put fannies in the seats. Most egregious was 2007, when the club paid Bonds $17 million for the right to host the most toxic surpassing of a record in memory. Once Bonds passed Aaron, Magowan and the Giants couldn't be rid of him quickly enough.

It is not a wholly attractive legacy, as Magowan vaguely acknowledged Friday. He did his best to distance himself from the fact that San Francisco is perceived as headquarters of the BALCO/steroid scandal in baseball. He defended the product on the field as promising, even though the Giants are jogging in place (dead last in '07, sub-.400 currently) and Zito entered the weekend still seeking his first win of the season.

Magowan, that is, would prefer to be remembered for all the good he did for baseball in San Francisco, which would be lovely, seeing as he did an awful lot of good. Alas, it would be only half the truth. It's the rest of it that makes the Magowan story nonfiction.

Mark Kreidler's book "Six Good Innings", about the pressure-filled season of one Little League team intent on upholding its town's championship tradition, will be released on July 1 and can be preordered now. His book "Four Days to Glory" has been optioned for film/TV development by ESPN Original Entertainment. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, Kreidler can be reached at mark@markkreidler.com.