Bobby Bonds, Many Things to Many People

A loyal fan's rambling reminiscence upon the passing of his first and favorite superstar baseball player.

All the stories on Bobby Bonds' sad passing at a much too young age included some variation of the following information: Bobby Bonds was a great player with the very rare combination of great HR power and stolen base abilities: power and speed. You saw all the stats: 332 homers, 461 stolen bases, 3-times All-Star with one All-Star Game MVP, three-time gold glover, and the first of only two people - a Bonds' family thing since Barry is the other - to have hit at least 30 homers and stole at least 30 bases five times. And, of course, many simply know him as Barry Bonds' daddy.

But he was more than just numbers and accomplishments: devoted son, loving husband, doting father to not just Barry but a total of three sons and a daughter, friends to countless ballplayers who came forward with great stories of his inherent goodness, an apparent believer of the concept that some forward nowadays - do random acts of kindness - as I've seen countless stories posted on the positive things he has done for strangers that he didn't have to do but did out of the kindness of his heart. And to some, like me, he was simply one of the best players who were ever blessed to play the game of baseball professionally.

You Always Remember Your First

The cliche is true: you always remember your first, whether it be kiss, girlfriend, or superstar baseball player. As most fans do when they first started following baseball, they latch on to the team's reigning superstar of the moment. When I first started following baseball, Mays was just a shadow of his former greatness and McCovey, while still a superstar, was in his first year in decline. Bobby Bonds, for me, was the superstar; he was da man on the Giants.

Another reason I chose him was that I had a different view of baseball than most fans of my era because I had no one to guide me or share my experiences with. My father did not follow sports at all, though he knew enough to buy me my first glove when I first started following baseball. None of my schoolyard friends at the time were interested in baseball. I ended up with a unique view of baseball because I was mainly self-taught and because I had an affinity for numbers.

My first book I got on baseball was from Scholastic Books and it discussed the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and George Herman Ruth, who was better known as Babe Ruth. From that book, l learned about their great exploits as players and interesting tidbits of information. Like, for example, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth had the same batting grip where the hands were separated by about an inch. Ironically, today most little league or PONY league coaches would tell them they were doing it wrong and correct their grip.

Reading through that thin book numerous times, I learned of different, but key, ways that a position player could contribute to winning. Obviously, all three position players were great hitters. However, there were other qualities that each player was particularly good at. With Honus Wagner, his great defense, especially fielding a key position like shortstop, was emphasized. With Ty Cobb, it was stealing, stealing, and more stealing, setting a record for career steals that still was the standard when I started following baseball; Lou Brock was well on his way to passing him up and Rickey Henderson was still in elementary school. Of course, with the Babe it was his homers, a career high of 714 that still stood on top when I was first learning about baseball, though Aaron was very close; I still can remember the electricity I felt when I saw him hit that historic 715 on TV. With Bobby Bonds, he could do them all and there was no player who compared with him. For me he was a baseball God.

The Glory Years

I was following Bobby Bonds during his golden years with the Giants. I had memorized his stats each season and followed him assiduously. I was aware of the significance of 30-30 and 40-40 and was rooting for him to reach the 40-40 first. I was pretty disgusted that Canseco did it first by consciously stealing bases at any time he could. I felt that it cheapened the accomplishment.

I still contend that Bobby Bonds was the first true 40-40 man. I remembered a rained-out game where he hit a homer before the game was called in the season where he ended up with 39 homers. I still don't understand the arcane rules over which games are suspended and continued where they ended and which are just tossed away as a rain-out. As a child, it was just crushing to know that your hero had done it but had it taken away, as if by fiat.

I still followed him after the heart-breaking trade for Bobby Murcer. I still don't understand why the trade was made. The only interesting thing that happened was that it started a series of trades that bridged for me the Bobby Bonds era with the Barry Bonds era. Murcer was traded for Bill Madlock; who was traded for, among others, Al Holland; who was then traded for, among others, Mark Davis; who was traded for, among others, Kevin Mitchell; who was traded for, among others, Dave Burba; who was traded for, among others, Deion Sanders, who thankfully left baseball afterward. That was about when the thread ended for me, though I learned later that there was further links that continued the connection into the late 1990's. But just seeing those players would remind me of Bobby, of my continuing regret over the trade.

But it was hard trying to follow Bobby's further exploits back then. These were the years before there was the Internet, these were the years before there was Bill James annual abstract, which I religiously bought during my college years. These were the years where the newspapers would compile the stats themselves and, years later, I realized that these were probably unpaid interns, but back then I cursed the people who kept the stats because they would make simple errors in compiling that would last for days and weeks and I would have to adjust for them myself. I would look for Bobby's stats with his latest team and try to follow his career but it was very difficult so I only got to know the highlights.

Father Knows Best

After his career ended, I would try to keep tab on him but by then I began to have a career and a life and lost my direct connection with him. But it was around then that I started following Bonds, the next generation.

I still curse Bill Haller for not signing Barry Bonds when the Giants drafted him out of high school. Five freaking thousand dollars is what separated the Giants and Barry as Barry wanted $55,000 and the Giants only offered $50,000. And Barry would have been a Giant for his whole career.

But I've learned as I got older that sometimes things just worked out for the best. Who knows how Barry would have developed in that hell-hole that was the Giants farm system before Al Rosen came on. Of course, most of you know what Barry did afterwards: Arizona State, Pittsburgh Pirates, then the son returns to his home town and, with his father's guidance, takes on baseball's history books. But for me, he was bringing the glory to the Bonds name that should have been given to his father.

One of the Best Ever

I still don't understand why Bobby Bonds does not get more credit for what he did in his career. It is not just a biased fan's narrow-minded passion. Bobby Bonds did something that no one else ever did: he did 30-30 for five years. True, Willie Mays could have done it if he had known that it was a big deal, but even if he did it, it would still be only Willie and Bobby at that time. Pretty exclusive company, no?

And that was a child's very simple - and yet strong - interpretation of Bobby Bonds' Hall of Fame qualifications. Today, there are all sorts of important significant stats that I can easily pull up on Despite all the strikeouts and a career batting average of .268, he still had a high career on-base percentage of .353, which means he was selective enough to draw a lot of walks. In fact, he was in the top 10 in walks 5 times. His OPS+ was still near 100 when he retired, so he was still a productive player at the end, by even today's sabermetric standards, even if he was not a regular anymore.

For his career, he was in the top 10 in runs scored 9 times, in total bases 8 times, home runs 7 times, and stolen bases 11 times in his 14 year career. In addition, his last two years were as a reserve and his first was only for half a season, so these top 10's were actually done in 11 years. That was a long sustained peak in performance.

It shows in his career statistics. He is currently 77th for his career in home runs, but he was probably closer to 50th when he retired, with the players that passed him over the years after he retired. He is still 45th in career-stolen bases and was probably around 30th when he retired. He was probably recently nudged out of the top 100 in runs scored but is not far away, just 35 runs, so he probably was around 70-80th when he retired. He is still close to the 100th player in total bases so he most probably was in the top 100 when he retired.

In addition to that, while batting leadoff for many years, he still ended up with over 1,000 RBIs. His Power/Speed number was 386.0, good for 4th all time, with only his son, Rickey Henderson, and Willie Mays ahead of him. His 162 game average, according to, was 110 runs scored with 29 home runs, 90 RBIs, and 40 stolen bases. Not a bad season, eh? He was an offensive speed machine, a precursor to Rickey Henderson's brand of offensive mayhem at the top of the order, and yet he could also drive in runs, even from the lead-off position.

And he was also good on defense. He won three gold gloves during his career. He had 126 assists - an average of about 10 each year he was a regular - and 40 double plays in his career, about 4 each year he was a regular. How many rightfielders can do both today? His range factor was 2.18 versus a league range factor of 1.97, illustrating his great speed once again.

Bobby Bonds Should Be in the Hall of Fame

All in all, Bobby Bonds was a well-rounded player who unfortunately had the stigma of having the most strikeouts in a season twice which defined many of the media's discussion of him during and after his career. There was also his personal problems that some felt the need to dredge up with his passing but I also noticed that no one ever dares to mention the bad habits that Babe Ruth was known for but which was never reported because of the complicity of the journalists of his era, whenever the Babe is brought up in articles today. In any case, none of that should matter: all that should matter is what happened between the lines on the playing field.

Look at all those stats above and tell me how can he not be in the Hall of Fame. I don't know how many players exactly are currently in the Hall of Fame, but wouldn't you think that a player who ranked in the top 100 or better in home runs, stolen bases, runs scored, plus high in RBIs and one of the best EVER, in combining power and speed, should be in the Hall of Fame?

Media Holding A Collective Grudge

I believe that it is because he did not get along with the media that he is not in the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Hall of Fame voting can sometimes be a popularity contest for the players who are apparently on the fringe and apparently, based on some of the writing I've seen after his death, there are still those who still hold a grudge for past transgressions. But how can a professional let personal feelings allow them to overlook a player who is in the top 100 and better of all these important categories of offensive production when he retired? That, to me, is not fringe, that, to me, is worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame.

For example, I saw one writer on talk about how Bobby did not have a sustained peak of excellence. One can say the same about Sandy Koufax. He really only had four years of a sustained greatness plus a few good years in addition. But what a peak that was! And yet he made it in while Bobby didn't.

How is Bobby Bonds so different? He had five, count them, five years of 30 homers/30 stolen bases! Besides his son, there are few who have done it, fewer who have done it multiple times, none that did it five time. What more of a sustained peak do you want? He first did it when he was 23 years old and he last did it at age 32, just barely missing by five home runs the next year of doing it a sixth time. Overall, he missed doing it an additional five times by a combined total of 18 homers and stolen bases.

And this is not a trivial feat, like hitting a home run in your first at-bat, hitting a grand slam in his first game (which Bobby is the only one who has done this), pitching a no-hitter in your first start, or pitching two no-hitters in a roll. Not many players, even today, can hit 30 home runs and Bobby Bonds did it in the offensive wasteland that the 60's and 70's was relative to other eras; he did it when hitting 30 meant something. Not many people, even today, can steal 30 bases in a season and Bobby Bonds' average per season when he was a regular was 35; last year the leader in the NL had 48 steals and in the AL had 41 steals. And he did both in a season! Not only that, he did it FIVE times.

We all know how important home runs are, with the legacy of Babe Ruth and all that followed him. But steals have been a very important part of baseball history as well, from Ty Cobb to Lou Brock to Rickey Henderson; they have shown how important a stolen base can be for the offense. And Bobby could do both of them with sustained excellence over 11 seasons. He could score runs, he could hit home runs, he could drive in runs, and he could steal bases. Plus he could get on base, an important criteria in today's advanced baseball stat analysis. It is an unconscionable exclusion of a great player that he is not in the Hall of Fame.

The Most Important Thing I Learned

I feel sorry for people who feel the need to dredge up past hurts and transgressions when someone passes away. Life is a hard enough thing to live through without the compassion to let things go when someone passes away. Did Bobby do some things that caused some people to hold it against him? From what I read, apparently he did.

But you know what? On a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 is the worse ever and 0 is sainthood, the worse I read about probably rates no more than a 1, maybe a 2. I've had worse things said to me by complete strangers when my only crime was that my skin is of a different color.

The thing I cherish most of all from the articles and testimonials I've seen in newspapers and on the internet via the various Giant's boards, is the outpouring of love that I've seen, from people who knew him intimately and people who just happened to meet him and people who just admired him from afar. He really sounded like a great person, who tried to be positive, at least with his friends, who would do simple things for strangers, like help out one of Barry's teammates when Barry was growing up, or showing up at a school, talking with a class of elementary school children and patiently answering each and every question.

I learned that while he was not a perfect person, my hero was a good person overall who tried his best to stay positive and that there were many, many more people positively affected by him than otherwise and you cannot ask for much more than that.

All You Need Is Love

And in the end, that's all that really matters: the love of friends and family. Apparently, there was a lot of that for Bobby so I am happy for him for that. I regret never trying to contact him to let him know there are those like me who still care after all these years. I still get a little misty-eyed thinking about his passing; I've never done that for anyone who is not a relative, not even for my beloved Beatles. I have taken some solace knowing that he is no longer suffering from his various ailments.

Thank you Bobby for all you have given me, a nameless, faceless fan following his favorite childhood baseball player. May you rest in peace.

Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fan's View' for when the mood and muse strikes him. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player. E-mail him at and maybe he'll reply back.

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