Flashback Friday: Bobby Bondsby John Lepore May 6, 2022 0 comments
Our next Flashback Friday article covers Bobby Bonds. Of course, everyone knows Bobby’s son Barry, but dad was a premier power-speed combo player when he played. In a recent article on the Giants All-Time Roster, dad, son, and godfather, Willie Mays made up the best outfield ever, especially when you consider Mel Ott was the DH only due to his defense. Let’s take a look at Bobby’s career as one of the most dynamic players of the 1970s.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @jball0202 and vote as there will be a poll each week allowing you to select who the next Flashback Friday article will be about. Hopefully, these pieces will bring back some memories for those of us who saw them play while also educating the newer generation of fans on some of the impact players of the past.
Be sure to check out all of the other Flashback Friday articles.
Bobby Lee Bonds was born on March 15, 1946, in Riverside, California. He was the youngest of four siblings who were all good athletes. Brothers, Robert Jr., and David were both football standouts and his sister Ruth was an Olympian track star in 1964.
Bobby grew up with baseball as his primary sport and excelled even back in Little League averaging a home run per game. He played football and ran track, setting records along the way. In 1964, Bonds was signed by the San Francisco Giants out of Riverside Polytechnic High School.
After having a 1.049 OPS at Triple-A in 1968, Bonds was called up. He had a solid rookie season with a .743 OPS, nine home runs, and 16 stolen bases. The following year would put Bonds on the map as one of the most feared offensive players in the league. In 1969, he led the league in runs with 120 while stealing 45 bases and blasting 32 home runs. In 1970, even though he struck out a record 189 times, Bonds hit .300 and had 200 hits for the only time in his career. He also slashed an impressive .302/.375/.504 with 48 stolen bases, also a career high.
In 1972, Bonds struggled as his good friend Mays was traded to the New York Mets in May. “When Willie left, half of me left. I just went through the motions after that. I had no desire, no determination. It was one of the worst things I could’ve done — allowing myself to feel that way.” Bonds would say later in an article in Sports Illustrated. He still managed 44 steals and 26 homers, but his OPS dropped nearly .100 points.
The Return of the Mack
Bonds bounced back in 1973 and had a career year. He nearly became the first player to go 40-40 when he had 39 home runs and 43 stolen bases. The Giants’ right fielder had led the league with 131 runs and had a .900 OPS. He was an All-Star, finished third in MVP voting, and took home his second Gold Glove. Things would start going bad for Bonds. Not so much in his production on the field, but off the field he was having problems. He was arrested twice for drunk driving and got divorced from his first wife, all in 1973.
When 1974 came around, Bonds struggled on the field this time and his disagreements with owner came to head in an argument the two had at Stoneham’s office. The outfielder was traded for Bobby Murcer in October. Despite having another 30-30 season with the Yankees in 1975, he was traded to the California Angels for Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers.
After two years with the Angels, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 1977, then moved to the Texas Rangers in 1978, and again to the Cleveland Indians in 1979, and finally traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1980. Through it all Bonds performed until he got to the Cardinals at 34 years old. He struggled again in his 45-game stint with the Cubs in 1981 and decided to call it a career, Bonds signed with the Yankees for the 1982 season. After 28 games and a .179 average, he was released and subsequently retired.
After His Playing Days
Bonds coached with the Indians from 1984-1987. He then addressed his drinking that had plagued him throughout his life and was a coach for the Giants from 1993-1996. Bonds died of lung cancer and a brain tumor on August 23, 2003, at the age of 57.
Hall of Fame Case
Bonds was the epitome of power and speed when he played. When he retired, Bonds held the record (35) for leadoff home runs. He also was the only player with 300+ homers and 400+ stolen bases. Bonds had 11 seasons with 59 HR+SB and was a 30-30 player five times with his son, the only other player to do it as many times. What hurts Bonds is the fact that he was traded often, and he didn’t get to 2,000 hits. Despite that, Bonds, with the exception of his last two seasons, averaged 4.6 WAR per 600 plate appearances.
Bonds was an anomaly during his time and had more talent than just about anyone who have played the game. Dubbed “the next Willie Mays” probably put too many expectations on Bonds, especially since Mays was a close friend. Off the field issues likely led to Bonds not supposedly reaching the level of production most thought he could achieve. Whatever side you are on, Bonds was an incredible player and arguably the best right fielder in baseball during his career.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images