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Obituaries

Bobby Bonds, 57; All-Star Baseball Player

August 24, 2003|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Bobby Bonds, one of the first major league baseball players to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season and father of one of the most prolific home-run hitters of all time, died Saturday. He was 57.

The father of Barry Bonds, who could surpass Henry Aaron as baseball's all-time home-run leader as soon as the 2005 season, died shortly before 9 a.m. after battling lung cancer and a brain tumor for nearly a year.

The three-time All-Star outfielder, who hit 332 homers and stole 461 bases with eight teams over a 14-year major league career, last watched his son play in person Wednesday at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco. Barry Bonds, who has hit a major league-leading 39 homers this season for the National League West-leading San Francisco Giants, has taken an indefinite leave.

Bobby Bonds, a native of Riverside, had been in declining health for months. He had surgery on his brain tumor in April and was hospitalized in June with pneumonia. Barry Bonds left the Giants for four days last week to be with his ailing father.

The Giants and their fans remembered Bonds on Saturday with a moment of silence before their game against the Florida Marlins at Pacific Bell Park as images of Bonds in his San Francisco playing days flashed on the scoreboard.

"It's a very sad day, but I want to remember him the way he used to be, having a good time and making jokes," said Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, Bonds' longtime friend.

Bonds, who possessed a graceful blend of speed and power, became the fourth member of baseball's "30-30 club" when he hit 32 homers and stole 45 bases in 1969, his first full major league season. Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays, one of the players to accomplish the feat before Bonds, could be credited with Bonds' foray into baseball.

Bonds had developed world-class skills as a sprinter and long jumper at Riverside Poly High, where he was a four-sport standout. But he decided to pass on a chance at Olympic glory when he signed with the Giants out of high school in 1964, in the hope that he could roam the outfield alongside Mays, his childhood idol.

Bonds appeared destined for greatness even from his beginning with the Giants, when he became the only player in the modern era to hit a grand slam in his first major league game on June 25, 1968.

While Bonds' highs were noteworthy -- he was a member of the "30-30 club" five times (he and his son Barry are the only players to accomplish the feat that many times) and narrowly missed becoming the first member of the "40-40 club" when he hit 39 homers and stole 43 bases in 1973 -- so were his lows. He led the majors in strikeouts three times in his first six seasons, setting the single-season record with 189 in 1970.

Bonds played for the Angels for two seasons in 1976-77 before being sent to the Chicago White Sox in a multiplayer deal that brought catcher Brian Downing, starting pitcher Chris Knapp and reliever Dave Frost to the Angels. Downing eventually became the Angels' all-time hits leader before being surpassed last week by Garret Anderson.

Bonds, once labeled "the best player in baseball" by legendary manager Sparky Anderson, retired with a .268 batting average, 1,258 runs scored and 1,024 runs batted in. He won three Gold Glove awards.

Bonds, who most recently had been a special assistant to Giants General Manager Brian Sabean, spent 23 seasons with the Giants as a player, coach, scout or front-office employee. He played with the organization for the first seven years of his career and later served as the club's hitting coach from 1993 to 1996.

Bonds remained close to Mays even after his playing days were over, naming his former teammate godfather of his son, Barry.

"I was like a younger brother," Bonds once said of Mays. "He's always been in my corner. He taught me a lot. I believe I pleased him more than I disappointed him.

"When I got a hit, I made the wide turn around first -- I was always thinking of a double. I got it from him. I would watch the way he played the game. I thought he was playing it right. Everything he did, I tried to do just as good."

Barry Bonds, who at 39 is 104 homers short of eclipsing Aaron's all-time mark of 755, became his father's biggest source of pride during his final years.

"He told me, 'My son is going to be the best ever,' " said Cepeda, recalling a conversation with the elder Bonds at a golf tournament several years ago. "I said, 'Bobby, that's what everybody thinks about their son!' He was so proud. Sometimes he wouldn't show any emotions, but he was very proud."

Bonds is survived by his wife, Pat; a daughter, Cheryl Dugan; and two other sons, Ricky and Bobby Jr. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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