A sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer, Barry Bonds’ power and speed won him three MVP awards in the 1990s and recognition as the best all-around player of the decade. He became the second 40-40 player in 1996 and narrowly missed repeating the feat in 1997, falling three stolen bases short. In late April 1996, he became only the fourth member of the 300-homer, 300-stolen base club, in 1998 he became the first 400-400 payer in history and, by the time his career is over, he could become the only player to achieve the never-imagined 500-500 level.
Bonds’ combination of power, average and speed rivals even that of his godfather, Willie Mays. But where Mays was jovial, Bonds is stand-offish; where Mays was humble, Bonds is egotistical; where Mays was easy-going, Bonds is petulant. He was ejected in the game in which he reached the 300-HR, 300-steal level, and at one point during his 40-40 chase in 1996, the swaggering Bonds alienated just about everyone around him by announcing that his teammates weren’t doing enough to help him reach his personal goal. In 1998, he told Baseball Weekly that he would leave the game after he hit the 500-500 mark, saying “I hope I don’t do it early in the season, because I’ll be gone.” He later changed his mind after consulting his wife, but the comment, like many others Bonds made in his career, turned off many media members and fans. While Bonds may be respected and often feared — he led the NL in walks a record five times in six seasons between 1992 and 1997, including an NL record 151 in 1996 — his attitude often alienated the media and tempered fans’ enthusiasm for his play. Bonds also has also suffered well-documented failures in the post-season, hitting just .200 with one homer and five RBI in 23 games.
Bobby Bonds’ son came to the majors with talents similar to those of his father. Ironically, the junior Bonds was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the second round of the 1982 free-agent draft, but he chose to forego the pros for college. After a record-setting stay at Arizona State, he was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round (sixth pick overall) of the 1985 free-agent draft. He was brought up to the Pirates in only his second pro year. Shuttling between batting third and leadoff, Bonds led all 1986 NL rookies with 16 homers, 36 steals, 48 RBIs and 65 walks in only 113 games. The following season, Bonds became the second 20-homer, 20-steal Pirate ever. In 1989 he and Bobby took over the father-son home run title from the Berras (Yogi and Dale), and by the early 1990s, as the key player in the Pirates’ division-winning teams, was considered the best player in the game.
Bonds had his first great season in 1990, winning the first of his three MVP awards with 33 homers, 114 RBIs, 52 stolen bases and a league-leading .565 slugging average. His 1992 MVP stats were similar and included a league-leading 109 runs scored and .624 slugging average. His best season came in 1993, his first after signing a mega-deal with the Giants. He led the league with career highs in homers (46), RBI (123) and slugging average (.677), collected his fourth of five straight Gold Glove awards and was the leading vote getter for the All-Star game, during which he collected two doubles. In the off-season, Bonds honed his eyesight by swinging at tennis balls with numbers scrawled on them — that is, swinging at only the odd-numbered balls. It helped Bonds turn up his offense several notches during the final weeks of the strike-shortened 1994 season, beginning what would become an annual ritual. Bonds compiled his third 30-30 (33 homers-31steals) season in 1995 and once again placed amongst the top six in every major offensive category. His fourth 30-30 and the NL’s first 40-40 (42-40) season followed in 1996, again finishing near the top in every offensive category. His production fell off in 1997, relatively speaking. Although he hit 40 homers, drove in 101 and stole 37 bases, he finished far from the league leaders in each category. He once again led the league in walks with 145 and registered his fifth 30-30 season, tying his father’s major league record. He combined with Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow to become the first trio of Giants to drive in at least 100 runs since Johnny Mize, Walker Cooper and Willard Marshall did it for the 1947 New York Giants. Once again, Bonds boosted his final numbers with a late-season surge that carried the Giants into the postseason for the first time since 1989. Despite questions about his age, Bonds continued his hot hitting into 1998. Not only did he hit .303 with 37 homers, 122 RBIs and 28 stolen bases but along the way he set a National League record (matched a few days later by John Olerud) by reaching safely in 15 straight plate appearances. Bonds once again turned it up down the stretch, batting .364 with a .766 slugging percentage in August and September. But in a one-game playoff on the last day of the season, the Giants lost a wild-card spot to the Chicago Cubs. Age finally started to catch up with Bonds the next year. He had missed just 20 games in his first six seasons with San Francisco, but in 1999 elbow and wrist injuries forced Bonds to go on the disabled list for just the second time in twelve seasons. After missing nearly two months, Bonds limped to the finish line with a .262 average, 34 homers, 83 RBI, and a career-low 15 stolen bases in just 104 games. The team went just 25-22 in Bonds’ absence and missed the playoffs once again. Bonds required off-season surgery on his right knee, but he entered the 2000 season eager to attack the short right-field porch in San Francisco’s brand-new Pac Bell Park. Listening to his father, who had urged him to limit his weightlifting and focus instead on flexibility, the 36-year-old Bonds stayed healthy and quickly returned to form as one of the top hitters in the league. He set career highs in homers (49) and slugging percentage (.688), and finished second in the MVP race to his teammate Kent. When asked in the offseason how long he would play for, Bonds stated that he just wanted to surpass his godfather, Mays, on the home run charts. He got an early jump on catching that 660 mark the following year, when he blasted his 500th dinger off Terry Adams on April 17, 2001.