August 24, 2003

Bobby Bonds

Ok, I'm doing this from memory, so if I get something wrong...

Bobby Bonds in left, Willie Mays in center, Jim Ray Hart in right field.

Willie McCovey at first (Orlando Cepeda had been traded to the Cardinals a couple of years before), Tito Fuentes playing his rookie season at second, Hal Lanier at shortstop, and Ron Hunt - king of hit-by-pitch - at third.

Dick Dietz behind the plate. He had one spectacular year, but this one isn't it. He's only an average catcher. On the mound is Juan Marachal, Gaylord Perry, and in relief is ancient Don McMahon. The 'closer' doesn't exist yet.

In those days, I live and breathe Giants baseball. I loathe the Dodgers. American league? Ha, might as well be double-A, for all I care about them. Except for a mild interest in the A's in Oakland. I'm an avid collector of baseball cards, and my uncle taught me a game he made up using dice and baseball cards, like an early low-tech rotisserie league. I'm a stat-junkie, back before every waking moment of a players life became statisticized. Imagine my surprise years later when I come back from overseas and discover that these little rectangles of cardboard are worth big money! "Hello mom? What did you ever do with my old baseball cards? Really? Would you send them to me? Thanks!" I went to just one card show, and the family had a very nice dinner one evening thanks to a Reggie Jackson rookie card in 'good' condition.

On my birthday, my uncle takes me to see the Giants or the A's, depending on who's in town. We usually go two or three times a year, and the ultimate was a double-header at Candlestick under the lights. Cold as hell, and eating ballpark hotdogs (before Candlestick concessionaires got weird with the menu's).

Closer to home, we usually saw one or two minor league games a year with the Cub Scouts. The local team is the San Jose Bees. Kansas City Royals single-A farm team I think. They used to hold promotions like the fastest guy on the team racing a horse or something.

Closest to home, we played baseball constantly in season. My hero - always and forever - is Willie Mays. I wasn't fast enough to play center. Hell, to be honest I sucked as an outfielder. Not enough arm for pitcher (good control, lousy velocity), but good enough at third or first base. So I usually played second base. I always thought playing catcher would be cool, except that catcher was where you put the kid who was picked last. Like right field, except if you didn't have enough players for two teams you played 'no right field' and you were out if you hit the ball into right.

As a hitter, I had no real power, but I could hit to the opposite field when the situation called for it. Which was usually good for extra bases because of the normal quality of our pickup-game right fielders. I was also the best bunter in the neighborhood, which did me no good at all because I was too slow to take advantage of it.

To my horror, it turned out that I was one helluva fast-pitch softball pitcher. Now in those days, softball was what you played in PE because they wouldn't let you play 'real' baseball. Girls played softball for chrissake!

Everyone had their own glove and bat, and the bats were wood. Your favorite bat was always owned by someone else. All was right in the world when dad would take you out to buy a new glove. You'd been griping for month that your old glove was shot. You'd been saving every cent you had to help pay for it, not because your limited income allowed you to contribute any real money, but to show your sincerity. And when you get to the store, the baseball glove aisle stretches for miles and you spent an hour in heaven trying on glove after glove. Finally you decided on two, the one you couldn't afford (hope springs eternal) and the glove you could settle for. You also bought a brand new baseball. Your old one would be ruined because you'd heavily oil your glove and then tuck the ball into the pocket and slip it between the mattresses on your bed. This is how you broke it in. Your hands ached all day from constantly massaging the stiff leather, and you'd sleep on and around this uncomfortable lump in your bed. You wore that glove everywhere, playing catch with yourself if no one else was around. Your friends all ooohd and aaahd over your new glove. Your hand smelled like sweat and leather and glove oil for weeks. Painstakingly, carefully writing your name on your new glove, so that no one would rip it off. Your name would become part of the glove forever, so getting it right was critical. Laughing your ass off when someone screwed up their name, like running out of room and having to squeeze the last 's' in all weird.

Baseballs. For some reason, our neighborhood tended towards rubber-coated baseballs. Which were ok, except when they got waterlogged (like from playing on a rain-wet field) became permanently rock-hard. I'm sorry, 'rock-hard' doesn't begin to convey the degree of hardness. If you needed diamond dust, and all you had was your wifes wedding ring, soak a rubber-coated baseball in the sink overnight, then use it to pulverize the diamond. I mean, these things were lethal hard. Regular baseballs were more expensive, but much more highly prized. And of course, your name was prominently written on it. Not some fancy players-autograph style either, you wrote your name in big block letters on the ball. On each leather panel too, so you could see the name no matter how you held it.

I hate what baseball has become. But I loved it then, and when I think of baseball today, I tend to remember it that way, back in the sixties. Watching Bobby Bonds and the Say Hey Kid. That impossibly high leg kick that Marachal did each and every windup - that none of us could ever duplicate, though lord knows we all tried. Taking your heavy windbreaker to Candlestick, because you knew that when the sun went down it would get cold.

Thank you Bobby Bonds for everything you gave to me as a kid. You had a rich but troubled life and I hope you've found peace. I hope you find also that you were fully and completely appreciated - if by nobody else than at least by a little white kid who so desperately wanted to be a big leaguer, but knew there was never ever a chance. You helped me love the game I could never be great at.

Posted by Ted at August 24, 2003 04:26 PM
Category: Boring Stories

Wow, thanks for that post. I remember Bobby Bonds very well, though I'm on the opposite coast.

Growing up in the early-mid '70's was much the same as you've described. We'd break in our gloves by putting a baseball in it and sitting on it. 10-15 6th-grade school kids learning about Roman emporers while sitting on gloves in class.
I can name the whole Mets line-up. John Milner, Felix Millan, Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub, Duffy Dyer, Wayne Garrett, Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson, Tom Seaver (or Jerry Koosman, or Jon Matlack...), then Tug McGraw to "close" when needed.

In the late '80's I found out that those baseball cards we used to trade and flip were actually sought after. I bought a price guide and discovered that a rookie 1975 George Brett was listed at $200. Perused my cards; I had five of 'em; including a "mini". (The Robin Younts were about the same price, but the rubberband damaged two or three of them.)

I don't remember seeing Marichal pitch (at the time) but I do remember how us up and comers used to imitate Joe Morgan's swagger-swing, Pete Rose's head-first slides, and Seaver's knee-to-the-dirt thrust. (over-hand pitching was banned in school games, but we did plenty of real Baseball after hours!)

Posted by: Tuning Spork at August 28, 2003 11:55 PM

Not just the "Dodgers", but the "hated Dodgers"!

Willie McCovey's first game in the majors. Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons. Yeah!!!

Posted by: Rob Wester at January 20, 2004 08:42 PM
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