BOBBY BONDS TRIBUTE

The greatest athletic family the state has ever seen suffers loss of former S.F. Giant great to cancer.

With nearly 400 career home runs and more than 400 career stolen bases in a memorable major league baseball career, it's hard to think that Bobby Bonds could have been just as prolific in another sport. But once you check out what he did at Poly High of Riverside in the early 1960s, that's certainly the case and not just in one other sport, either.

Bonds, who died at age 57 on Saturday in San Francisco from a year-long battle with lung cancer and a brain tumor, was a promising prospect in football, basketball and track at Riverside Poly. In fact, in 1964, he became the just the second athlete in the history of the California state high school track meet to win the long jump with a mark of more than 25 feet. Who knows what Bonds might have done in track if he continued with it? And with his size, speed and power, playing wide receiver in the NFL would have been a possibility, too.

We were lucky enough a two years ago to produce a story on another Bonds family member, Karena, who played basketball at Morro Bay High and currently plays at UC Santa Barbara. In talking to Karena's family -- her father, Robert, is the older brother of Bobby -- and doing research for that story, a conclusion was drawn: The Bonds family can go down as the greatest athletic family to ever come from California.

One of the greatest confusions in reporting about the Bonds family has always been that there is one brother is named Robert and there also was a brother named Bobby. At first glance, in looking over the record books, you think Robert and Bobby are the same person, but that's not true. Robert actually is older and Bobby is not short for Robert. According to Estela Bonds, Robert's wife, when Bobby was born, his name was supposed to be "Bobvee," a name with additional family history attached. Nurses at the hospital, however, misprinted on the birth certificate, so Bobvee became Bobby and it never changed.

Robert Bonds has now survived two younger brothers. Another brother, David, died in January of 2001, also from cancer, at age 58.

Robert is now a retired college professor from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He was a terrific multi-sport athlete himself at Riverside Poly and in 1960 he became the first athlete in the history of the CIF state track meet to go unter 14 seconds in the 120-yard high hurdles. He also was a CIF state meet champion in 1960 in the 180-yard low hurdles. He later played football at San Jose State and professionally in Canada.

In addition to Robert, Bobby Bonds is survived by an older sister, Rosie. She grew up in the days when girls didn't have many athletic opportunities and it's easy to see that if she did, she might have been even more successful than her brothers. Rosie was able to pursue track and field events and in 1964 she was one of the top hurdlers in the United States. She made it to the finals in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, but she didn't medal.

Of course, many of the children of the four Bonds siblings who grew up in Riverside in the late 1950s and early 1960s have enjoyed athletic success. Barry Bonds is still the best player in baseball at age 39 and barring injury should become the game's all-time career home run record holder.

Ironically, the only other family that comes close to the Bondses is the Millers, also from Riverside Poly. That would be Cheryl and Reggie in basketball and Darrell in baseball.

Bobby Bonds will be revered by San Francisco Giants fans forever. Hitting a grand slam in his first at-bat to beat the Dodgers got him off to a good start, making the 30-30 club five times and nearly becoming the game's first 40-40 player (he missed it by one homer in 1972) kept it going.

We'd just like to humbly add that Bobby should be revered equally in the world of California prep sports that we cover. He would easily be on any list of the state's 100 greatest prep athletes ever and he represents a family that simply has no athletic equal, maybe anywhere in the country.


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