I remember it as clearly as yesterday -- June 4, 1986, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Pirates vs. Braves, fifth inning. Against the Braves' Craig McMurtry, Barry Bonds hit his first major league homer in just his sixth game.
I turned to my wife at the time -- Jodi or Judy or Juliet or something like that -- and said, "This kid's going to hit 500 homers, just like his daddy." "His father didn't hit 500 homers," she said. "He hit 332." "Whatever," I responded, and handed her a $10 bill to go buy me a dog and a beer.
She took the money and didn't come back.
I always knew a sure thing when I saw it, at least on the baseball field.
Bonds, 40, has vaulted past 700 home runs. If he stays healthy, he'll surpass Babe Ruth's 714 next season and Hank Aaron's 755 the season after.
His numbers are Strat-o-Matic scary the last four seasons. Homers by season: 73, 46, 45, 45. Batting average: .328, .370, .341, .372. On-base percentage: .515, .582, .529, .614. Slugging percentage: .863, .799, .749, .839.
In fact, his last four years in our national pastime look a good deal better on paper than President Bush's last four years as our national leader. Then again, Bonds makes $18 million annually and the president only earns $400,000.
(This calls to mind Babe Ruth's response, in 1930, to his salary being $80,000 compared to President Hoover's $75,000. "I know," the Bambino famously said, "but I had a better year than Hoover.")
For all his good years, Bonds still is regarded as an aloof, brooding superstar by much of the public. Few baseball fans embrace him outside of San Francisco, he has no national endorsement deal on TV and, of course, nobody wants to pitch to him these days.
Bonds has more bases on balls this season, 222, than anyone else has base hits -- well, with the exception of the Mariners' exceptional Ichiro Suzuki.
(How about Ichiro? What Sir Isaac Newton was to the law of gravitation, Ichiro is to the law of singles hitting. He could hit his way out of a paper bag, a phone booth or a Tom Daschle dinner party. Plus, Ichiro's so fast, when he travels on team flights, he hits the ground before the plane does. Of course, if Ichiro had any less power, he'd be Calista Flockhart.)
Bonds has won six of the last 14 National League most valuable player awards; if he were more well-liked, he probably would've won one or two others. But Bonds has never been that popular -- to this day, his own obstetrician denies delivering him.
Still, outside of Ruth, Bonds may be the best player of all time.
(TV Timeout: So I happened to graze upon USC-Stanford on TBS Saturday during the Chili's Halftime Report and my main man Ernie Johnson said, "Back in a minute as the Alabama State drum line takes us to break." Back in a minute? Back in a minute? They showed commercials for "Friday Night Lights," the U.S. Army, Pioneer Plasma TV, T Mobile, Yamaha, Nicoderm, PlayStation 2, the U.S. Postal Service, Allstate, Nicoderm again, Dodge Durango and something called the Gazelle workout machine, plus there was a promo for "Men at Work" following the game that included another T Mobile spot. After nine minutes of ads, they returned to football. I'll never trust Ernie Johnson again.)