July 27, 2021

A Composite Portrait of Barry Bonds Before He Reached the Majors

March 5, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

These items are pulled together from various articles in newspapers from 1974 to early 1986. They’re presented here to shed some light on Bonds’ early personality and the talent and power he displayed before reaching the majors, many years before the steroids talk began.

In 1974, Barry Bonds’ father, Bobby, left the Giants for the Yankees in a trade. A newspaper asked Barry, who was 10 and living in San Carlos (which is a few miles south of San Francisco), what he thought of the deal: “I don’t want to go anywhere,” said Barry, “because I’m playing Little League baseball.”

Bonds, who was still living south of San Francisco in June 1982, when he graduated from Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, was drafted 39th in the regular phase of the amateur draft that year by the Giants, as an outfielder. Reportedly he and the Giants were less than $10,000 apart on a contract, but couldn’t get to an agreement. Bonds later said of going pro in 1982: “I wasn’t ready yet.”

In March 1986, Giants assistant general manager Ralph Nelson looked back on the missed opportunity: “We didn’t do our homework on that draft. Besides a player’s talent, a scout has to know whether he can be signed. It doesn’t do any good to draft somebody out of high school if he plans to go to college.”

At Arizona State, on February 25, 1983, freshman left fielder Bonds was leading ASU in homers (4) and RBI (24), hitting .353 in his first 18 college games. He tailed off, but still led the team with 11 home runs, a .568 slugging percentage, and 54 RBI in 1983.

On June 9, 1984, Augie Garrido, the coach of Cal State-Fullerton, said of facing ASU in the College World Series: “We wanted to go with the left-handers to try to neutralize Oddibe McDowell and Barry Bonds. McDowell makes their offense go and Bonds is always a threat to kill an animal in the zoo (beyond right field in Wichita).”

Garrido had heard about the game a few days earlier in which Arizona State defeated Oklahoma State, 23-12, with Bonds getting five hits and the game setting six offensive records for the College World Series. But, Garrido’s team beat the Sun Devils to knock them out of the series, and Fullerton won the championship.

In a foreshadowing of his major league career, Bonds was left lamenting the failure of his highly touted team to win a title: ASU had seven future major leaguers on its 1984 squad. He said: “It doesn’t matter if we were ranked one, three or four. We didn’t win. That’s what matters. We didn’t hit; we didn’t score. We just couldn’t get things right. We just came out flat. We couldn’t get things together.”

Before he left Omaha, Barry talked to the Omaha World-Herald about father Bobby: “He’s my best friend, he’s my father, he’s my coach. He’s like all three in one. If I do something wrong, he’s a coach. . . . I told him I’d hit 40 – 40 [homers and steals] some time. He says, ‘No way.’ I told him I will. That’s my big goal.”

In late 1985, a newspaper quoted his father saying: “Too many things can happen, so I don’t like to predict, but there’s a B. Bonds in the future. My son is 21, out of Arizona State with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization now, and he can hit the ball as far as anyone in baseball today. Remember his name, Barry Bonds.”

At about the same time, Pirates hitting and outfield instructor Bill Virdon said of the son: “Oh no, he won’t strike out as much as his father did. He has a lot of strikeouts now because he tends to overswing a little bit. When he sees the ball, he wants to hit it 500 feet instead of 390. But the thing is, he can hit it 500 feet without trying.

“I kind of hesitate to put a tag on a guy, but if I had to say, I’d say he could be a Hall of Famer, and that’s as far as you can go. Of course, that’s if everything goes well, and that depends on a lot of things.

“They have similar talent. He runs well, he has good power. Of course, he’s left-handed and his dad is right-handed. And I’m not so sure he’s not a better outfielder than his dad. That’s not a knock at his dad, mind you. I just think Barry might be a little smoother out there, and his arm might be a little better. You can tell he’s had good schooling. It’s helped him, being around his dad’s influence. But you wouldn’t make the connection if you didn’t know he was Bobby’s son.”

In spring training 1986, Bonds said that in 1985, the Pirates’ minor league coaches “wanted me to drag-bunt more. But like most hitters, I want to go up there and hit, swing the bat. Sometimes, coaches and managers forget that each player has his own style. They may be showing you a style that helped them, but each person is different.”

And: “I just love to play sports, and I just happened to choose the same sport my father did. I didn’t choose to play baseball because of the money or my dad, but because I loved the sport.”

If you want to read more on Bonds before he was a Pirate, a retrospective narrative of Bonds’ time at Arizona State in Jeff Pearlman’s book on him gives a resoundingly negative picture of his character there. And, ASU has a page on Bonds listing his offensive stats as a Sun Devil.

Arne Christensen runs a baseball history blog called Misc. Baseball and the 1995 Mariners website.


3 Responses to “A Composite Portrait of Barry Bonds Before He Reached the Majors”
  1. Barry Bonds did not become the all-time home run king by a lack of great eye-hand coordination. His natural ability propelled him to accomplish a feat no other man has ever done.

    I am of the opinion steroids or the use or non use therof has never been documented as a medical break through to improve one eye sight and improve natural eye-hand coordiantion which are the key element for being a baseball hitter.

    How about those apples: Batter Up—- Let’s Play Ball

    Major Wiley b. Channell USMC (ret)

  2. Mike Lynch says:

    With all due respect, are we supposed to believe that Bonds went from averaging 32 homers per year and 37 per 162 games from age 21 to age 34, then naturally progressed to a 52 per year and 59 per 162 games hitter from ages 35-39? Even when you include the last three years of his career when he hit only 5, 26 and 28, you get a guy who averaged 40 homers per year and 52 per 162 games from age 35 to age 42. I don’t have any more evidence about steroids or PEDs than you do, but I highly doubt Bonds just happened to improve exponentially at such a late stage of his career. There are only three players in history who hit 200 or more homers past the age of 35 and only one, Hank Aaron, played prior to the steroid era. The other two are Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro. Bonds hit 351 homers past age 35. Aaron hit “only” 245. I find it nearly impossible to believe that Bonds was that much better than Aaron or any other hitter in history without the aid of a foreign substance. There’s certainly a good chance Bonds would have hit more than 200 homers past the age of 35 were he clean (and I doubt he was) but it would have been closer to 200 than 350, IMHO.

  3. Deron says:

    We all know he used, but he may have been justified by McGwire and Sosa’s behavior.


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