Long before Barry Bonds was a twinkle in the eyes of Giants fans, his father electrified the baseball world. For a time, Bobby Bonds was compared to Willie Mays. Sure, it was an unfair, burdensome comparison. But still, the similarities were, for a brief time, remarkable.
And 1973, 40 years ago, was the best season in Bobby Bonds' often brilliant, puzzlingly uneven and ultimately abbreviated big-league career.
So, with this year's All-Star Game approaching, it seems like an appropriate time to honor Bobby Bonds with a brief retrospective. After all, in the middle of that '73 season Bonds was the All-Star Game MVP. He'd be the only Giant to win the award for the next 39 years — until Melky Cabrera last year.
Bobby Bonds played 160 games in 1973, all but two as the Giants' right fielder, leading the National League in runs scored and total bases and earning the second of his three Gold Gloves. He batted .283 with a .370 on-base percentage. He had a .530 slugging average. He hit 34 doubles and four triples. He finished a solid, respectable third in the season's MVP voting.
But what older Giants fans remember about Bonds in '73 is what he came so close to doing but didn't. He didn't become the first player to reach a seemingly mythical milestone that combined power and speed. He didn't hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases. Well, he got the steals, 43 of them, to be exact. And he hit 39 homers.
What made such an outstanding season ultimately a frustrating one, both for Bonds and Giants fans? On Sept. 9 against Houston, Bonds hit his 38th homer of the season. There were 21 games remaining. His 39th didn't come until the third inning in the season finale, against Cincinnati's Jack Billingham.
He got three more at-bats. In the fourth inning, he singled. In the sixth, he struck out. And in the ninth he flied out to Cesar Geronimo in center, "to the warning track," according to one of Bonds' recollections some years later.
In 1978, talking about the 40-40 attempt of '73, Bonds told writer Mike Mandel, ". . .all the opportunity was there. I just didn't do it. What hurt me more than anything was that when I got to 37 (homers) I really went after it too hard. . . If I would have relaxed a little bit more and did what I was capable of doing, I think I would have made 40-40."
Mandel would include the quote in his 1979 book, "SF Giants, an Oral History," an overlooked treasure of insights into the team's first 20 years in San Francisco.
Of course, hitting 39 homers and stealing 43 bases in one season is still a mightily impressive combination of power and speed, a combination of totals no other player ever had reached. The 40-40 mark is after all arbitrary, numbers that constitute a milestone just as much for their alliterative qualities as for their mathematical importance. It would be another 15 seasons before Jose Canseco of the Oakland Athletics became the first to reach 40-40. Barry Bonds in 1996 became the second. Alex Rodriguez in 1998 and Alfonso Soriano in 2006 have also done it.
In the 1973 All-Star Game at Kansas City, Bobby Bonds hit a two-out, two-run homer in the fifth inning off the Angels' Bill Singer to give the National League a 5-1 lead, and in the seventh he doubled off of Nolan Ryan. A beaming Bonds graciously accepted the game's MVP trophy after the NL's 7-1 victory.