Introducing… Bobby Bonds

Best known today as the father of Barry, that shouldn’t detract from the fact that Bobby Bonds was one of the greatest natural athletes to play baseball.  Almost the perfect speed/power combo guy, Bobby could hit the long ball with the game’s greatest sluggers and could put the gazelle to blush with his speed.  He retired with 332 homers and 461 stolen bases.  The “power-speed” stat, which judges a players worth by focusing on his career numbers in slugging and stolen bases, has Bobby as the fifth greatest player in the game’s history in that department–behind his son Barry who rests in the top slot.

A native of Riverside, California, Bonds was signed by the Giants in 1964.  He made his debut in 1968 and played in over 80 games which made him ineligible for the Rookie of the Year Award in ’69.  Had he been up for the award, he most certainly would have won it.  Bobby led the NL with 120 runs scored while blasting 32 homeruns with 90 RBI.  He was an unusual leadoffman in that he was capable of swatting thirty homers annually.  Most top-of-the-order hitters have excellent speed and good on-base skills–which Bonds had–but few have the long ball capabilities of a cleanup hitter, which Bobby owned as well.

In his first full year in the Majors, Bobby swatted 32 homers and pilfered 45 bags.  To say that he redefined the leadoff post would be inaccurate because there has never been a leadoffman quite like him since.  Rickey Henderson comes the closest, but Bonds could hit the long ball at a much greater clip than Rick.  Bonds’ only weakness was his propensity to strikeout.  His 187 strikeouts led the NL in 1969 as well, but his large amount of whiffs didn’t hurt his on-base skills any.  He would often have an on-base percentage near .360 in his prime years.  The following year he had his only 200 hit campaign which enabled him to post his lone .300 season.  He also scored 134 runs (2nd in the league), posted an on-base percentage of .375 and slugged over .500. 

Although Bobby again paced the senior circuit in strikeouts, he trimmed his high figure with a terrific 1971 season.  That year he swatted 33 dingers and posted his first 100 RBI season.  His stolen bases however fell from 48 to 26 as he narrowly missed the 30 HR/30 SB Club.  For his great season Bobby was named to the All-Star team and was awarded his first of three Gold Gloves.  His production tapered off in 1972 but he was back to grand form in ’73.  That year he led the National League in total bases and runs scored.  In the five years from 1969 to 1973, Bonds scored at least 110 runs every season (in an era known more for its pitching).  Each of those seasons he either finished first or second in runs scored.  He was named to his second All-Star team, won his second Gold Glove and finished third in MVP voting.

Although Bonds hit 21 homers with 70+ RBI in 1974, it was considered an off-year because he failed to scored 100 runs for the first time in his career.  He claimed his third Gold Glove and posted a fine on-base percentage of .364, but the Giants felt he was declining and traded him after the season for Bobby Murcer, straight up.  Bobby joined the Bronx Bombers and had an All-Star season his only year in pinstripes.  With the Yankees he clubbed 32 homers and tied his career high with a .375 on-base percentage.  However, for the seventh straight year he fanned over 130 times and the Yankees traded their gifted All-Star to the Angels after the season for swift outfielder Mickey Rivers and pitcher Ed Figueroa.

Bobby’s first year with the Angels was cut short due to injury but he still managed 30 steals in under 100 games played.  He bounced back in 1977 and enjoyed one of his finest seasons.  He slugged 37 homeruns, scored 103 runs and reached a career high with 115 RBI.  He fell three homeruns shy of the 40 HR/40 SB Club.  After the season the Angels made one of their best deals when they swapped Bobby to the White Sox for a young Brian Downing.  Downing would eventually become an offensive force while Bonds was tagged as a nomad.  He split the ’78 season between the White Sox and Rangers but nevertheless posted his sixth 30 homer season.  He was then traded to the Indians for Jim Kern and had his last great season in Cleveland.

With the 1979 Indians, Bonds clubbed 25 homers and drove in 85 runs, while maintaining a batting average above .270 and an on-base percentage above .360.  But the twilight of his career was fast approaching and the Indians made a fine trade by sending Bobby to St. Louis for John Denny and Jerry Mumphrey.  Used as a reserve by the Redbirds, Bobby struggled with the Cardinals in 1980 and never got back to form.  He played one final year with the Cubs in 1981 before calling it a career.  After his playing days, Bonds coached at the Major League level and even reached 10% of the Hall of Fame vote in 1993 but he fell off the ballot in 1997.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,849/R 1,258/H 1,886/2B 302/3B 66/HR 332/RBI 1,024/SB 461/BB 914/SO 1,757/BA 268/OBP .353/SA .471

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