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Bobby Bonds

February 13, 2007

“For six long years I’ve been in trouble
No pleasure here on earth I’ve found
For in this world I’m bound to travel
I have no friends to help me now”
— “Man of Constant Sorrow” (traditional)

On October 22, 1974, the San Francisco Giants sent the greatest of all the Next Willie Mayses to the New York Yankees for the greatest of all the Next Mickey Mantles. Beyond being perhaps the most even high-profile trade in baseball history (the players involved have been ranked by Bill James as the 15th and 17th best players ever to play their position), it also put an end once and for all to the hopes of each team’s hometown fans that the hype might actually come true. Most overinflated expectations of this kind fizzle quickly, laughably, but in each of these cases they had persisted for years, their lofty realization seeming many times to be just around the next bend. Each player kept verging on greatness. The greatest of all the Next Willie Mayses was fast and strong, the most exciting mix of power and speed to come into the game since the First Willie Mays, and the graceful, explosive batting swing of the greatest of all the Next Mickey Mantles made it too easy to dream that the Mick had yet to limp off the field for the last time. But by 1974, with neither team winning, I guess each franchise just decided they had waited long enough for immortal lightning to strike twice.

The trade broke the spell. Though Bobby Murcer and Bobby Bonds both continued to be among the best players in the game for a few more years, nobody persisted in thinking they were on the brink of becoming iconic, inimitable superstars. Murcer’s post-trade career had a slight air of ennobled melancholy to it, Murcer the Yankee-at-heart in cold, windy exile in San Francisco and Chicago, Murcer the aging part-time slugger returning home to the Yankees in 1979, once again too late for a recent string of championships, just as he had been when his first tour with the Yankees had begun in 1965. As for Bobby Bonds, his post-trade career can be summarized by the collage of cards shown here. In this world he’s bound to travel.
He lasted in New York for one season, many Yankee fans belittling him not because he wasn’t Willie Mays but because he wasn’t Bobby Murcer. In 1975 he was traded to the California Angels, who then traded him to the Chicago White Sox, who then traded him to the Texas Rangers, who then traded him to the Cleveland Indians, who then traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals, who released him, allowing him to sign with the Texas Rangers, who then sold him to the Chicago Cubs, who released him, which allowed him to sign with the New York Yankees, who released him a month later, on July 21, 1982, without using him once, the wayfaring slugger’s ninth and last major upheaval in seven and a half years since the sad and beautiful trade of the two Almost Greats.

3 comments

  1. 1.  4 comments from the old CG site:

    Gus and Fer said…
    Sparky Lyle writes at some length about Bobby Bonds in THE BRONX ZOO, describing him as the classic player that always looks better playing for someone else… and then your team trades for him. Something about eventually having to bat Bonds lead-off because he struck out so much? I don’t have the book in front of me, but Sparky’s grasp of sabermetric principles may have been a bit off. Or maybe not.

    11:38 AM

    Josh Wilker said…
    I laughed more at The Bronx Zoo than at any book I’ve ever read, with the possible exception of Bruce Jay Friedman’s A Mother’s Kisses. I don’t recall the Bobby Bonds stuff (I read the book when I was 11), but I remember a lot of birthday cakes in the clubhouse ruined by Lyle’s altar ego, the Mad Bare-Assed Cake-Sitter.

    1:00 PM

    Gus and Fer said…
    Josh, we were roughly the same age when we read (and enjoyed) that book. I knew all the Yankees from NBC’s Game of the Week and all the other players from Topps, like yourself and most young Americans in the sweet harmless days before ESPN and the inter-web. I feel sure 11-year-old boys were the target audience for the book, then and now; reading it as an adult, I get a mixture of resentment (jackasses like the ones that tormented me all throughout school were multi-millionaires in their 20s and still doing the same stupid shit?!?) and revulsion (did I really want Sparky Lyle to be my best friend?!?). Growing old ain’t all bad.

    But yes, reading about cake frosting sliding up one’s asscrack is still triumphant literature. I recommend THE BRONX ZOO to all 11-year-olds and those still 11 at heart.

    2:20 PM

    El Person said…
    Talk about Yankee-at-Heart—in this great book (SF Giants: An Oral History — Mike Mandel), Murcer denied ever being a Giant.


  2. 2.  The back drop for the Rangers photo is once again the OACC.


  3. 3.  When the trade was announced, all Yankee fans were excited because Bonds had more gaudy numbers than Murcer — Bonds had potential to lead the league in homers; he could hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases, and had a rifle arm and would hit .285 too, which in the seventies was good. He was a 5-tool player.

    Everyone except my friend Letizia, who told anyone who would listen that Murcer was the better hitter. And he turned out to be right. Bonds hit 32 homeruns that first and only year in NY, and stole 33 bases, and batted .270 and threw out a lot of runners with that rifle arm. IT WAS THE WORST 32 HOMER 33 SB .270 YEAR I’D EVER SEEN.

    Bonds struck out A TON. He was a pure guess hitter — homerun, popup, or strikeout. If he came up with a runner on third and less than two outs, he would never, ever get that runner it. It was a guaranteed popup or strikeout. In this way, he was very, very much like Alex Rodriguez is today, and that is why so many people who watch Rodriquez everyday can’t stand him despite his gaudy numbers.

    So you had to bat Bonds leadoff to get him out of the middle of the lineup, where he killed you. But now you’re wasting your 32 homeruns in the leadoff spot, where they are often hit with noone on base, and you’re paying top dollar for a power hitter who’s batting leadoff. And thus Bonds kept getting traded.

    Murcer on the other hand, was a terrific hitter. His numbers don’t shine as much in retrospect because we’ve been spoiled by the gaudy numbers of the steroids/small ballpark/tight-strike-zone nineties and 2000’s. Murcer was a legitimate triple-crown threat in ’71 and ’72. He hit the ball where it was pitched, and so was a more lethal hitter in tight situations. He was a ‘situational hitter’. Aka a ‘good hitter’. And a great baserunner too — very heads up. He didn’t have Bonds’ arm (although he did lead the league in assists one year as a centerfielder). I could go into more detail; see my article on Bobby Murcer at http://www.paperbacknovel.com/sports/bobbymurcer.htm

    In the end though, this trade of Murcer for Bonds ended up being a great trade for the Yankees. They turned around and traded Bonds to the California Angels for Ed Figueroa (who had just won 7 games in his rookie year) and Mickey Rivers (also very young at the time) which became the cornerstone move in the 3 pennants and 2 world championships the Yankees would win in the next 3 years.



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