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Ratto: A gifted player

Greatest father-son combos

Sunday, August 24, 2003
Three-time All-Star had been battling cancer
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bobby Bonds, one of the first major leaguers to blend home-run power with base-stealing speed and the father of one of baseball's greatest sluggers, died Saturday. He was 57.

The Fab Four
Bobby Bonds didn't have a long enough stretch of excellence to be considered for the Hall of Fame (his last good year came at 33, due in part to alcohol problems that plagued him during his career), but he's a vastly underrated player. Consider:

  • One of the first great power-speed combos, he finished in the top 10 in his league in HRs seven times and in the top six in steals eight times.

  • A predecessor of sorts to Rickey Henderson, he revolutionized the leadoff spot by bringing power to a position usually filled by singles hitters. With his power, speed and on-base ability, he finished first or second in the NL in runs scored each season from 1969-1973 while with the Giants.

  • He won three Gold Gloves.

    His main shortcoming was strikeouts -- his 189 K's in 1970 remain the single-season record -- but that approach to hitting is commonplace now and Bonds' productivity helped make striking out acceptable. In 1970, he still hit .302 with 72 extra-base hits and scored 134 runs.
    -- David Schoenfield,

  • Barry Bonds' father had been ill for nearly a year with lung cancer and a brain tumor, but he never lost his love for baseball. He was at Pacific Bell Park on Wednesday night, watching his superstar son and the San Francisco Giants.

    Bobby Bonds died shortly before noon ET, a Giants spokesman said.

    Barry Bonds, who leads the majors with 39 homers, will be away from the Giants indefinitely. He left the team for five days during a road trip last week to be with his father.

    "It's a very sad day, but I want to remember him the way he used to be, having a good time and making jokes," said Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, Bonds' longtime friend and former teammate. "I'm happy that he's resting in peace."

    The Giants and their fans observed a moment of silence before Saturday's game against Florida. A sellout crowd rose and stood in near-complete quiet as photographs of Bonds in his San Francisco playing days flashed on the scoreboard.

    "All of baseball mourns the passing of Bobby Bonds," commissioner Bud Selig said. "He was a great player, who with speed and power, helped redefine the game. He was a credit to baseball. We will miss him."

    Before their NFL preseason game, the San Francisco 49ers also observed a moment of silence for Bonds at Candlestick Park, where he once roamed the wind-swept outfield for the Giants.

    Bonds' health had been in decline for many months. In early June, he spent time in the hospital while fighting pneumonia. He underwent surgery for a brain tumor in April and also endured many rounds of chemotherapy.

    "My wife called me earlier this morning and told me when I was on the way to the ballpark," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "It appeared to be inevitable, but nobody thought it would happen this soon. I lost a childhood hero -- we grew up in the same town, my dad was his coach and his mom babysat me when I was young -- and a great friend."

    Bobby Bonds, a three-time All-Star and the MVP of the 1973 game, hit 332 home runs and stole 461 bases for the Giants, New York Yankees, California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Texas, Cleveland, St. Louis and the Cubs.

    He began his career with a bang, hitting a grand slam in his first game on June 25, 1968. He's the only player in the modern era to accomplish that feat.

    Bonds hit his last home run on Sept. 24, 1981, for the Cubs -- he connected against Jesse Orosco, still playing for the Yankees.

    "This is a great loss for the Giants family," San Francisco owner Peter Magowan said. "We want the Bonds family to know that they're in our thoughts and prayers. Bobby has meant so much to this organization for such a long time.

    "It will be strange not to see him in the clubhouse and working on the field with Barry and our other players."

    Bobby Bonds was a dazzling player who approached every aspect of the game with aggression -- for better and worse. He led the majors in strikeouts three times in his first six seasons, setting the single-season record with 189 in 1970.

    "When I pitched against him, I loved to watch him swing at those high fastballs," Hall of Famer Tom Seaver recalled. "He used to tease me and say, 'Listen, when I go to the American League, you'll lose three strikeouts a game.' "

    "He was always smiling, very happy. I stole one of his bats and used it for about three starts. I hit a home run and a double," Seaver said.

    Bonds hit .268, had 1,024 RBI and won three Gold Glove awards as an outfielder -- and his combination of power and speed was nearly unmatched.

    "I would think in that era we were the fastest outfield in baseball," recalled Cubs hitting coach Gary Matthews, who played alongside Bonds and Garry Maddox with the Giants in the early 1970s.

    Though he often was overshadowed by close friend and longtime teammate Willie Mays, Bonds became the fourth player ever to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season in 1969 with the Giants.

    Mays, Barry Bonds' godfather, was the only player to do it more than once before Bobby Bonds accomplished the feat five times in his 14-year career. Barry Bonds also has done it five times; no other player has reached the mark more than three times.

    Said Matthews: "I remember him telling me that if he'd known hitting 30 home runs and stealing 30 bases was such a big deal, he would have done it every year."

    In fact, Bobby Bonds nearly became the first 40-40 player in the majors. In 1973, he hit 39 homers and stole 43 bases.

    Mays and Bonds came together before that. The opening of NBC's "Game of the Week" telecast used to feature a highlight of Mays catching a ball above the wall as he collided with Bonds against the chain-link fence at Candlestick.

    "He was a little bit ahead of his time," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, Bonds' former teammate. "You didn't see a lot of guys of his stature as leadoff hitters. Bobby was a big, strong guy."

    A native of Riverside, Calif., Bobby Bonds signed with the Giants in 1964 out of high school.

    He played just one season with the Yankees, but became the first 30-30 player in the team's storied history with 32 homers and 30 steals in 1975.

    Bonds played seven seasons with San Francisco, and he was with the organization for 23 seasons as a player, coach, scout or front-office employee. Bonds served as the club's hitting coach from 1993-96, and since then has been a special assistant to general manager Brian Sabean.

    Bonds was a frequent presence in the Giants' clubhouse, where he often chatted with his son, Mays, Willie McCovey, Cepeda and any other players within range.

    "There's a man who's been coming into this clubhouse since I've been here," Giants outfielder Marvin Benard said. "He was my hitting coach my first two years. He's healthy and everything's great, and then, bam. It's been hard on us. I can't imagine what it's been like for Barry."

    Bonds spent his final years enjoying the rise of his son on baseball's career homers list and his development into the game's best active player. Barry Bonds hit extra-inning, game-winning homers against Atlanta on Tuesday and Thursday, then rushed from the clubhouse after each blast to be with his father.

    Cepeda recalled a conversation with Bobby Bonds at a golf tournament in Cleveland several years ago.

    "He told me, 'My son is going to be the best ever,' " Cepeda said. "I said, 'Bobby, that's what everybody thinks about their son!' ... He was so proud. Sometimes he wouldn't show any emotions, but he was very proud."

    Bonds is survived by his wife, Pat; a daughter, Cheryl Dugan; and three sons: Barry, Ricky and Bobby Jr.

    "Bobby was a good man, a great ballplayer," said Arizona manager Bob Brenly, who coached with Bonds on the Giants' staff for two seasons. "I know how much that's been weighing on Barry's mind and the entire family. Hopefully, they can find some peace in this."

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