I can't say that his ability to mix leadoff hitting with power was the precursor to Rickey Henderson. I can't say that his ability to post 30's in home runs and stolen bases in the same season was the inspiration for the 40's put up by Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez, and his son. I can't even say that his successes and failures were the lessons that made his son the man he is.
I can't say, because I never got to see Bobby Bonds play.
So as the sad events have come to pass this weekend, I realize that, even with various sporadic video highlights, I missed something. It wasn't my fault, or Bobby's, it's the nature of life. I will (and am) seeing things that others will have missed, and those that sit in my seats at Pac Bell after I'm gone will see even more. But still, that feeling of loss is there for me as Bobby fades into legend.
That sounds like a sad thing, fading. It is, in a lot of ways. The details of his days, the things that aren't recorded in stat sheets, aren't going to be forgotten. Those of us in my generation simply never saw them. Those details are the things, though, that make a man and a baseball player. The stats that us younger fans are reminded of are why we know of him. But we, unfortunately, don't know him.
Bobby is not in the Hall of Fame, and for legitimate reasons. That should not diminish what he did on the field, but for players like him who ‘could' have made it into the Hall, it always seems to. Those of us who did not see him play somehow turn to focus not on what he did on the field, but what he didn't do, as a way of explaining such an exclusion. Maybe someday people won't even bother debating what he did or didn't do. That may very well be worse. Many such debates have been lost to time before, as legends fade.
There's something else to Bobby, though, and it doesn't come to us in the form of his progeny. Bobby is family. Not just a certain left fielder on our team, but to all of us. One of the things Peter Magowan did upon his purchase of the Giants was to make sure that people who didn't just leave their hearts, but gave them to San Francisco were always welcome. Within months, Bobby was back on the field in a Giants uniform, giving tips to players and crowds on how to hit. It was something he didn't stop doing when he no longer held the official position of Hitting Coach, and quite frankly, it wasn't something he'd only started doing when he got the job.
But it was while he was doing this job and many others he did with the Giants over the last ten years that those of us who missed him on the field got to learn about him. Him,, and Willie and Willie, and all the Alous, and Cepeda and Marichal and Blue and Kruk and Kuip and many others. Those of us unlucky enough to be born too late might not have gotten to see these men as players, but we've had chances to get to know them, not just as men, but as guys. And that's an important distinction. If you haven't seen or met or talked to some of these guys as a Giants fans in the last 10 years, you've been unlucky, and should try to interact with these men. You can find them in Giants dugout stores, hosting fantasy camps, helping the community, and in many other places. These are not just men who were unreachable figures on a field, but are just regular guys as they continue to give to us, through the Giants, in many different ways. Though I never got to meet Bobby, I've been able to have conversations with others, like Cepeda and Kruk and Lon Simmons. And even though I never got to see Bobby or the others play, I still got the chance to get to know them.
Of course, for my generation, Bobby's achievements will always be second to the one man he's coached through life. Bobby seemed not just content of that, but proud of it. Despite the Greek precedent set by Oedipus, not every father-son relationship is a rivalry. In the case of the Bonds, the son didn't exceed the father, he succeeded him. Everything that Bobby was, his son is. And everything Bobby wasn't, his son has become. They say that the greatest achievement a man can make is to make a good man of his son.
But of that, again, I wouldn't know.
I do know one thing. If watching Bobby Bonds play was half the joy, pleasure and honor that it is for me to watch Bobby's son, those that came before me were as blessed as I am today.
Bobby will not fade into legend. He is a legend. He's a legend in this family. The Giants family. And he always will be.
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