Barry Bonds and a Family Legacy

Updated: May 6, 2021



Barry Bonds is one of the most tantalizing and polarizing players of all time. He had a great natural ability and could run just as easily as he could hit. When he came back home to San Francisco, he built a reputation as one of the most powerful sluggers in the game. As the years went by, his biceps and forehead got noticeably larger at an extraordinary rate. There was speculation of steroid use, which he has denied. Due to the rampant speculation, Barry Bonds has been left out of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Did he abuse steroids? We may never conclusively know. What is telling is his life leading up to his possible decision to take steroids and it all begins with his father. This is their story.


Bobby

Bobby Bonds was born in Riverside, California on March 15, 1946. After signing with the Giants right out of high school in 1964, he ventured on to the minor leagues. He experienced racism while traveling through the minor league ball parks of the Deep South. To cope he turned to the bottle. At first, drinking numbed the pain but eventually it caused all kinds of distress within his personal and professional lives.

From his first full season in 1969, he showed a natural ability to hit home runs. But as productive as he could be he was also reckless, twice leading the National League in strikeouts in his first two full seasons. Coincidentally, the first year he didn’t lead the NL in strikeouts was also his first All Star appearance. In that memorable 1971 campaign, he hit 32 home runs and 102 RBI while producing a .288 batting average. He would make another All Star appearance in 1973 while hitting a career best 39 home runs and 96 RBI. He also led the NL in strikeouts that year with 148.

His drinking persisted and it eventually cost him a roster spot in San Francisco following the 1974 season. He left the Giants and signed with the New York Yankees for the 1975 season. He made his third and final All Star Game that year, hitting 32 home runs and 85 RBI with a .270 batting average.


His drinking continued and New York was in the midst of building a miniature dynasty. That combination is almost never successful and he left for the California Angels. The Angels didn’t have the structure that he had enjoyed in New York and they were a below .500 ball club for the duration of Bonds’ time in Anaheim. He did manage to hit 37 home runs and a career best 115 RBI in 1977 but was not awarded with an All Star invitation.

He continued to hit home runs, albeit for different teams. 29 for the Texas Rangers in 1978 and 25 for the Cleveland Indians in 1979 proved to be the final good years of a solid yet alcohol riddled career. He finished his career in 1981 with the Chicago Cubs. Though his drinking diminished his play, he still managed to join the exclusive 30 home run and 30 stolen bases club in five separate seasons.

Despite his accomplishments, he continued to bring his family shame with his alcoholism. As his exploits were highlighted by the sportswriters on an almost weekly basis a little eye read through the lines. Barry saw the burden his father carried over the years, having to deal with the racism which was still very much prevalent in Major League cities. He knew that the alcoholism brought shame to the family and he was determined to bring honor to the Bonds family.



Barry’s Rise

Barry Bonds was born on July 24, 1964 in Riverside, California but spent the formative years of his youth in San Mateo, California. He starred on the baseball diamond at Serra High School where the Giants took notice. He was offered a contract out of high school but the Giants were $5,000 short of his price and Barry decided to play at Arizona State University.

As a freshman in 1984, Barry batted .360 and stole 30 bases. He was even better as a sophomore, batting .368 and hitting 23 home runs. After graduation in 1986, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates after being drafted sixth overall in 1985.

After spending very little time in the minors, Bonds went to Pittsburgh where he immediately made an impact. He hit 16 home runs in 1986, his rookie year, and batted a meager .223 average. The best was yet to come.




His batting percentage improved the following season but he didn’t reach .300 until 1990. That was also his first All Star appearance while he hit then career bests 33 home runs, 114 RBI and a .301 batting average. Barry made one more All Star Game with the Pirate, in 1992, and scored a career high 109 runs while being voted NL MVP for the second time in Pittsburgh, the first time was in 1990.

Bonds showed a great ability to steal bases, stealing 251 in seven years. The Giants were struggling to gain attendance and nearly left for greener pastures in Tampa Bay. However, a new ownership group led by Peter Magowan took over and they immediately began looking for a top notch free agent to draw public interest. In Barry Bonds the Giants saw a fleet-footed, hard hitting left fielder that could help them draw enough public interest to build a badly needed new stadium. They signed the free agent to a record deal and at long last Barry Bonds was a Giant.


Giant Days


His whole life, Barry Bonds had felt the weight of expectation, the expectation to be even better than his father ever was. What’s more, Barry expected to lift the stench of his father’s alcoholism and misdeeds off of his family’s legacy. The only place where he could truly accomplish that feat was in the city where it all began, San Francisco.

Barry Bonds started off his tenure in San Francisco in style, hitting 46 home runs and batting .336 while being named NL MVP. In the next five seasons, Bonds hit 189 home runs while stealing 165 bases. During this time his father, now sober for over four years, was a hitting coach for the Giants from 1993 to 1996, reuniting the father and son while mending old wounds. Following the 1998 season, Barry Bonds would never steal more than 15 bases again.



Part of the reason is due to age as he was 34 at the time. Another possible reason is due to possible steroid use. In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa fascinated the world with their incredible home run race. Bonds saw the adulation showered upon those players and he wanted that kind of stardom. He never forgot his dad’s career either. The feeling of being slighted by the media and the burden of his family’s legacy began to eat away at Bonds. That feeling would shape the final stage of his illustrious yet controversial career.


Beginning in the 2000 season, Barry Bonds would begin a historic home run streak unthinkable in the pre-steroid era. In 2000 he hit 49 home runs, in 2001 he hit 73, in 2002 he hit 46, in both 2003 and 2004 he hit 45. Incredibly, from 2001 to 2004 he was voted NL MVP bringing his total to seven. He also made his only World Series in 2002, losing in seven games to the Anaheim Angels.


His forearms and forehead became noticeably larger during this time of dominance and there was speculation that he used steroids. As what happens with many great sluggers, the former all-everything player was relegated to being a home run machine. Due to his advanced age, this was long expected as all players eventually lose speed and agility. Steroids could have been a factor as the added weight would have sped up the degradation process of his speed.


Late Career


The 2003 season was a rough year for Barry Bonds. Bobby Bonds died in August of that year and later that year it was reported that Barry had an association with BALCO, an athletic training company known to supply steroids to athletes. Through the years there have been many reports that stated Bonds’ associates within BALCO gave him steroids. People such as Greg Anderson and Victor Conte have been very close with Bonds in the past and have served time in prison for illegally supplying steroids. After the 2006 it was reported that Bonds had failed a drug test that year for amphetamine. Under MLB’s drug policy at the time he was not suspended. It is reportedly the only drug test he has ever failed.

The 2007 season was riddled with speculation of Bonds’ alleged steroid use. He was also chasing Hank Aaron’s all time record of 755 home runs. He broke that record on August 7, 2007 in San Francisco. The crowd roared it’s approval yet both Hank Aaron and commissioner Bud Selig chose not to attend the game due to the speculation of how he broke that record.



The Giants chose not to keep him following the season and Bonds couldn’t get any interest from any other team. His illustrious yet controversial career was over. While Barry Bonds’ initial mission to be the best player he could possibly be was accomplished he hardly lifted the stench of his father’s alcoholism from his family’s legacy. As embarrassing as his father was at times, Barry was just as controversial. His 762 home runs tells the story of a man willing to do anything to bring honor to his family by being the very best baseball player possible. By bringing honor to his family, he brought shame upon himself.


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