Bonds, Bobby 1946–2003
Bobby Bonds 1946–2003
Former San Francisco Giants outfielder Bobby Bonds attracted new attention in the early 2000s as his son, modern-day slugger Barry Bonds, marched toward and then surpassed one hitting record after another. To older baseball fans, however, the elder Bonds was already well known as a key member of the powerhouse Giants squads of the 1960s, the crowd-pleasing teams that included stars such as Bonds’s childhood idol, Willie Mays. If some felt that Bobby Bonds did not fully live up to his tremendous potential as a natural athlete, he nevertheless notched several all-time records over a major league career that was a success by any standard.
Bonds was born on March 15, 1946, in Riverside, California, and grew up in that suburban Los Angeles community. Schoolmates remembered him as a one-of-a-kind talent right from the start. “He’s probably the best athlete I’ve ever known,” future major league manager and Bonds’s childhood friend Dusty Baker told Baseball Digest. “He could have been anything he wanted to be, a football or basketball star, an Olympian.” Indeed, Bonds was a multi-sport star at Riverside Poly High School, taking state long-jump championship honors in his senior year, leading his school’s football league in both rushing and passing as a tailback, and attracting the attention on the basketball court of Jerry Tarkanian, then the coach at Long Beach City College.
Like many other California youngsters, Bonds admired San Francisco Giants outfielder Willie Mays, one of the first wave of African Americans to play in the major leagues and perhaps the first to become a true fan favorite. Bonds was so thrilled by the idea of playing on the same field as Mays that he spurned financially more lucrative offers from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins, to sign with the Giants in 1964. After several years in the Giants’ farm system, Bonds was clearly ready for the majors in 1968. An indication of things to come was the grand slam home run he hit during his major league debut on June 25 of that year—the first time a player had hit a debut grand slam since 1898.
Bonds’s all-around athletic ability showed itself in his combination of power and speed. In 1969, his first full season in the majors, Bonds notched 32 home runs and 45 stolen bases, becoming only the fourth player in major league history to record a so-called “30-30” season. It was the first of five such seasons for Bonds
Born on March 15, 1946 in Riverside, CA; died on August 23, 2003, in San Carlos, CA; married Pat; children: Cheryl Dugan, Barry, Ricky, Bobby Jr.
Career: San Francisco Giants, farm team player, 1964-68, outfielder, 1968-74, batting coach, 1993-96; New York Yankees, outfielder, 1975; California Angels, outfielder, 1976-77; Chicago White Sox, outfielder, 1978; Texas Rangers, outfielder, 1978; Cleveland Indians, outfielder, 1979, batting coach, 1984-late 1980s; St. Louis Cardinals, outfielder, 1980; Chicago Cubs, outfielder, 1981.
Awards: Set record over five seasons with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases each season, 1969, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978; attended Major League Baseball All-Star Game, 1971, 1973, 1975; Golden Glove Award, 1971, 1973-74.
(the others were in 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1978), an all-time record he shares only with his son Barry; no other player has had more than three. Some billed Bonds as Mays’s successor as Mays entered the final stages of his career.
Bonds demurred at such comparisons. “A guy like that you can’t follow,” he was quoted as saying by Sports Illustrated. And, it was true, his high strikeout totals—he set what was then a National League record in 1970 with 189—partly counterbalanced his impressive hitting statistics. But Bonds played some of the best baseball of his career after Mays left San Francisco for the New York Mets. Batting leadoff, Bonds hit 33 home runs with 102 runs batted in (RBIs) for the Giants in 1971, pacing the team to the division title and the postseason playoffs.
In 1973 Bonds did even better; with 39 home runs and 43 stolen bases, almost notching an unprecedented “40-40” combination. Bonds shone in the 1973 AU-Star Game, hitting a two-run home run and winning the Most Valuable Player designation. At the end of the following year, however, Bonds was traded to the New York Yankees, as the powerful Giants roster was broken up for financial reasons. Quaint as it may seem in an era of multimillion-dollar payrolls, the trade of Bonds for the Yankees’ Bobby Murcer was the first in the major leagues that involved players paid over $100,000 a year.
Bonds bounced from team to team after that, recording several strong years but suffering at times from injuries and slumps. Traded to the California Angels for the 1976 season, he was sidelined for much of the season with a hand injury. The following year, however, he notched 115 RBIs, a career best. Bonds then did stints with the Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, and Chicago Cubs before retiring at the end of the 1981 season. He was signed by the Yankees in 1982 but did not play. Bonds retired with an impressive 332 career home runs, 461 stolen bases, and 1,024 RBIs.
Bonds then moved easily into coaching. He signed on with the Cleveland Indians in 1984 and later moved back to San Francisco. It wasn’t long before he crossed professional paths with his son Barry, who had been born when the elder Bonds was 18 years old. The relationship between the two was centered mostly on baseball. “I was a momma’s boy,” Barry Bonds told People. “I didn’t get anything from Dad, except my body and baseball knowledge. The only time I spent with him was at the ballpark.”
Nevertheless, when Barry Bonds attained stardom and began to annoy some fans with his private, reclusive nature, Bobby Bonds and Barry’s Swedish-American wife Sun (whom he married in the late 1980s) became two of his strongest defenders. Bobby Bonds contributed to his son’s skill on the field as well. “I think I’m harder on Barry than on other players,” he told People in reference to his stint as Giants hitting coach from 1993-96. As batting records fell before Barry Bonds’s bat in the early 2000s, his father was often watching from the stands of San Francisco’s Pacific Bell Park. The last game Bonds watched took place three days before his death on August 23, 2003, from the triple onslaught of lung cancer, a brain tumor, and heart disease.
Baseball Digest, November 2003, p. 78.
Jet, September 8, 2003, p. 51.
People, October 4, 1993, p. 101.
Sporting News, September 1, 2003, p. 61.
Sports Illustrated, September 1, 2003, p. 58.
“Bobby Bonds,” Baseball Library, www.baseballlibrary.com/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/B/Bonds_Bobby.stm (December 17, 2003).
“Bobby Bonds,” Baseball Reference, www.baseballreference.com/b/bondsbo0l.shtml (December 17, 2003).
—James M. Manheim
"Bonds, Bobby 1946–2003." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/bonds-bobby-1946-2003
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