Bonds displayed immense talents in 1973

Bonds displayed immense talents in '73 All-Star Game

Bonds displayed immense talents in 1973
KANSAS CITY -- Chances were, if Major Leaguers in 1973 had decided to gather for one big, huge, old-fashioned "pickup" game where they'd choose sides, Bobby Bonds would have been the first player selected.

Bonds simply was the most breathtaking player of the early 1970s. Maybe he wasn't the "next Willie Mays," an unfair label some overexpectant sportswriters pinned on him. But he provided a reasonable facsimile. None of his contemporaries possessed the time-honored five tools (hitting for average, hitting for power, running, fielding and throwing) in greater abundance. Bonds' one shortcoming was hitting for average, largely because he struck out excessively. He hit .268 lifetime and exceeded .300 in only one of his 14 big league seasons. Yet he was fully capable of taking over a game by collecting multiple hits -- much as he did on July 24, 1973, when the All-Star Game was last played in Kansas City.

Bonds was the first player to reach or exceed 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a season more than twice. He ultimately achieved that combination five times, a record matched by his son, Barry -- who proceeded to set the all-time home run mark. But long before Barry came along, Bobby made the Bonds name synonymous with baseball skill.


"He was a guy who could lead off and he was a guy who could hit cleanup," said San Francisco Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper, a 1979 teammate of Bonds in Cleveland. "You could probably say that about Mays. Some days you could say that about Rickey Henderson. But there aren't many guys who could do that."

Bonds prompted amazement with more than just his statistics. He swung a 36- or 38-ounce bat, depending on who's telling the story. Either way, it was a darned heavy bat.

"He buggy-whipped that thing," said Mike Krukow, Kuiper's broadcast partner and Bonds' teammate with the Chicago Cubs in 1981.

By comparison, today's players tend to use 31- or 32-ounce bats.

"If people picked up his bat now, they'd think it was the bat they use in the on-deck circle to get loose," Kuiper said. "To watch him wield that thing was extraordinary. He held his hands low, which means he had to get the hands up to hit a high fastball, and he could do it. That's what I really enjoyed watching."

Bonds, who died in 2003 at age 57, played for eight teams. He harnessed his ability most with his first club, the Giants. He hit .302 in 1970, his second full season, despite striking out 189 times -- a record that survived until 2004. That year, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .387.

"Which is unbelievable," said Jim Davenport, the popular Giants third baseman from 1958-70 who was Bonds' close friend.

Bonds delivered a multifaceted performance in 1971, helping lead San Francisco to the National League West title. Though his average dropped to .288, he homered 33 times, drove in 102 runs and won his first of three Gold Gloves for fielding excellence.

Bonds outdid himself in 1973. He nearly became the Majors' first 40-40 player, amassing 39 homers and stealing 43 bases. He led the NL with 131 runs and 341 total bases. And he showcased his talents impressively on that midsummer night at Kauffman Stadium, then known as Royals Stadium.

Bonds entered the game in the fourth inning, replacing right fielder Billy Williams of the Cubs. One inning later, with two outs and Joe Morgan aboard via a leadoff double, Bonds faced Bill Singer, a former National Leaguer who had migrated to the Angels. Having hit a grand slam in his Major League debut against the Dodgers on June 25, 1968, Bonds added another milestone homer to his list. His drive left the ballpark with remarkable, yet typical, propulsion and gave the NL a 5-1 lead.

For emphasis, in his only other plate appearance, Bonds doubled in the seventh inning off Nolan Ryan. That was enough to earn Bonds the game's Most Valuable Player Award.

"I don't think it was a surprise to anybody," Davenport said. "He could do anything."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.