YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

700 ... and Counting

Bonds joins exclusive home run club and continues march on baseball history

September 18, 2004|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Baseball's 700 Club became a trinity of revered sluggers Friday night when Barry Bonds hit an opposite-field home run through a light breeze, a swirl of steroid rumors and the thunderous cheers of an adoring home crowd.

The history-making swing produced a slicing drive into the second row of the left-field bleachers and came on an 89-mph breaking ball from San Diego Padre right-hander Jake Peavy in the third inning of the Giants' 4-1 victory at SBC Park.

Bonds, 40, joined the select company of slugging legends Hank Aaron, who hit 755 home runs, and Babe Ruth (714). Streamers poured from the stadium rafters, Bonds emerged from the dugout for a curtain call, and as he walked to his position in left field the next inning, a mural that honored his achievement was unveiled on the wall.

The words "A Giant Among Legends" was written across images of Bonds, Aaron, Ruth and the No. 4 man on the homer list, Willie Mays, a former Giant great and Bonds' godfather.

"I get to sleep now and stop having nightmares about it," Bonds said. "It was really hard not to think about it."

The only folks feeling the least bit disappointed -- besides the Padres -- were those in kayaks and small boats crowding McCovey Cove beyond the right-field stands for a chance at catching the ball. Instead, it was retrieved by Steven Williams, 25, of Pacifica, who said he would sell it.

Few were surprised that the milestone was reached at home. Bonds caught and passed Mays early this season with home runs Nos. 660 and 661 in SBC Park and had hit Nos. 500 and 600 at home as well. Bonds' last homer came in Phoenix on Sunday, and he did not hit any in three games this week at Milwaukee.

Padre infielder Rich Aurilia, a former Giant, had warned his teammates that "Barry wasn't going to hit 700 in Milwaukee. He always does these things at home."

Bonds, in his 12th season with the Giants after playing his first seven with the Pittsburgh Pirates, is signed for next year and the Giants hold an option for 2006. Bonds and team President Peter Magowan will discuss an extension after the season.

Bonds is moving this off-season from San Carlos to the Los Angeles area, where he is building a home, but few close to him believe he will finish his career with any team but the Giants.

His primary goal has nothing to do with home runs. He would like to win a World Series before he retires after falling six outs short of a championship in 2002. The Giants have won six in a row, lead the wild-card race and trail the Dodgers by only 2 1/2 games in the NL West.

"We've been playing good baseball," he said. "It's a good race."

Bonds' accelerated production the last three years has convinced many that he is the greatest player ever. He is a six-time NL most valuable player, a 13-time All-Star and with 506 stolen bases is the only player with 500 home runs and 400 steals. He set the single-season home run record in 2001 with 73 and won a batting title in 2002 by hitting .370.

There has been no drop-off. His current batting average of .373 and on-base percentage of .612 are the best of his career. The home run was his 42nd this season.

"You really can't put into words what it means to be put in a class with Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth," Bonds said. "It's like you are dreaming, but it's not a dream."

Bonds has a greater appreciation of baseball history than most players because his father, Bobby, was an accomplished major leaguer and a contemporary of Aaron. Mays has been something of a surrogate father since Bobby Bonds died of cancer at 57 in 2003.

Sitting in the visiting team's clubhouse in Houston the first week of the season, Bonds was riveted to an ESPN special on Aaron's pursuit of Ruth's record. Bonds likes to say that his interest in the game's lore does not extend to Ruth, who played long before African Americans were allowed in the major leagues.

Yet he also has said passing Ruth is more important to him than passing Aaron. Assuming he can continue the 40-plus homers pace of the last three seasons -- he has 133 home runs in 406 games since opening day 2002 -- Bonds would pass Ruth early next season and Aaron early in 2006.

History, however, suggests a power outage could be on the horizon. The home run production of nearly all of the game's top sluggers dropped dramatically after they turned 40. Aaron hit 20 home runs at 40, and added only 22 more before retiring at 42. Ruth hit only six after his 40th birthday.

Bonds sat in a recliner with his eyes closed while his teammates warmed up Friday. And in a rare show of vulnerability, he admitted after hitting No. 699 in the ninth inning of a game at Phoenix that he is wearing down.

"Forty is hard, sitting out there all night," he said. "It starts wearing on you in the fifth or sixth inning. You can't keep that energy level up. You have to really dig deep."

He came as close as he ever has to apologizing for his frosty clubhouse demeanor, saying, "That's why I isolate myself before games -- to keep my energy level up."

Los Angeles Times Articles