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Friday, Aug. 22, 2003

SPORTS SCOPE

Bobby Bonds: A lot more than Barry's dad


Too often in life we wait until someone is gone before expressing our admiration for them.

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Bobby Bonds was an excellent all-around player who put up big power numbers as a leadoff batter for the San Francisco Giants in the early 1970s. His career has been overshadowed by the play of his record-setting son Barry.

For whatever reason, we don't get around to telling that loved one or friend how much we admire them or care about them.

Only after they are gone do we gather to pay our respects and speak with relatives or friends about all of the traits of the departed, good and bad, that we remember.

Last week superstar slugger Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants left the team in New York to return to California to be with his ailing father Bobby.

In the past year, Bobby Bonds has endured an incredible series of operations on some of the most critical parts of the body. The types of surgeries that a person who was anything less than the physical specimen he once was, would not have survived.

The 57-year-old father of baseball's biggest star has had surgery for a brain tumor, open-heart surgery and an operation for lung cancer all within the space of a year. It doesn't get much more serious than that.

Years of hard drinking and heavy smoking from his playing days have finally caught up with a man who was once one of the most talented individuals in the game. He played hard on the field and lived hard off it.

I keep thinking about Bobby Bonds and what a stud he was as a player for the Giants when I was growing up in the Bay Area. You talk about a five-tool player, he could do it all. Hit, hit for power, run, throw and field.

Playing on a team with several other Hall of Famers, including Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, Bonds shone brightly in the early 1970s in San Francisco.

The fact is, Bobby was a much better all-around player than his famous son.

A three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner, Bobby was an outstanding outfielder, who could run down balls in the gap and had a rifle arm.

He averaged 10 assists a year during his first eight seasons in the majors.

I can still remember my father taking me to Bat Day at Candlestick Park early in the season one year. It was a high-scoring game against the San Diego Padres. When kids entered the stadium, they were given a bat with the name of one of the players on it.

Mine said 'Bobby Bonds' and I can still remember holding it in my seat as we watched Bonds hit two home runs, and Mays and McCovey also homer, in a game won by the Giants in extra innings.

Bobby Bonds didn't have the flair of his son, but he had the same type of raw talent. His speed, power and strong arm were what stood out most.

He was the type of player who made you say 'Wow' when you saw him in action.

He was the Most Valuable Player of the 1973 All-Star Game, when he hit two home runs for the National League. I remember watching this game from summer camp and thinking, 'He really is amazing.'

That same season he nearly became the first player in MLB history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases, ending up with 39 homers and 43 steals.

He hit 11 leadoff home runs that year, still the second most for a single season in MLB history.

Though his career with the Giants was cut short by the financial problems of owner Horace Stoneham, even 30 years later I can remember the profound impact he had on me.

Growing up, I wanted to play baseball like Bobby Bonds did. I think a lot of other kids in the Bay Area did, too.

After he was traded by the Giants to the New York Yankees following the 1974 season, Bonds had a few more good years, before his career went into a steady, and premature, decline.

He retired in 1981, having played 14 seasons, finishing with 332 home runs, 461 steals and a batting average of .268.

Don't let the final batting average fool you. In 1970, Bonds had 200 hits and drove in 90 runs batting leadoff. He finished that season hitting .302.

Perhaps the most impressive stat about Bobby Bonds was that he retired from the game as the first player to have six 30-30 (home runs-steals) seasons.

When Barry Bonds first came on the scene with the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 1986, I remember thinking: 'He is going to have to do a lot to be the player his old man was.'

Barry has done that and then some, in what still continues to be a fantastic and record-setting career.

For a lot of people, Barry has done so much that his father has practically become a footnote. "Barry's dad played too," that type of thing.

But not for me. I still remember what a grand player Bobby Bonds was, and always will.

His light burned out too quickly as a player and now it is flickering again.

Before it's too late, I want to salute the man who played the game the way it should be played -- all out.



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