Pitchers Tell All: How Mike Bacsik, Will Ohman viewed Barry Bonds' record-breaking home runs
- Ten years after Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record, the pitchers who faced Bonds as he approached (and eventually broke) the record discuss their vantage point on history.
For two weeks in the summer of 2007, something unusual happened to Barry Bonds: He stopped hitting home runs. After going deep on July 3 in Cincinnati off the Reds’ Aaron Harang, Bonds endured a two-week homerless drought that was his longest in more than three years. For 61 consecutive plate appearances, his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s career home run record remained stalled at 751.
Perhaps it was his age. Bonds would turn 43 that month and play in only 126 of the Giants’ 162 games. Perhaps he was feeling the pressure of a historic pursuit that had been years in the making; each of his at-bats at San Francisco’s AT&T Park was met with ecstatic cheers, while each at-bat on the road came to the tune of thunderous boos. And perhaps it had something to do with the men who stared at him from the pitcher’s mound. None of those men wanted to have their name attached to history as the one who gave up a home run to Bonds as he chased down Aaron.
Bonds, of course, would eventually do just that. He broke out of his slump with two homers on July 19 and on Aug. 7 he hit No. 756, passing Aaron. In that final sprint to the record he hit five home runs in 16 games off four different pitchers. SI.com spoke to two of them to get their memories of the memorable home runs they gave up 10 years ago:
Bonds HR: 753
Date: July 19, 2007
What struck Will Ohman was the inevitability of it all.
"It was just a foregone conclusion,” said the then- Cubs reliever. “Everybody knew this was going to happen."
Everybody also knew it wouldn’t happen that day, but it was the day that Bonds turned the power back on. He led off the second inning with a high line drive off Cubs starter Ted Lilly that cleared the rightfield bleachers and landed on Sheffield Avenue. In the seventh inning, with the Cubs up 9–5 and two runners on, the lefthanded Ohman was brought into the game to face the lefty-hitting Bonds. Ohman had struck him out the day before and hadn’t given up a hit in five career face-offs against the seven-time NL MVP.
Coming into the series, Ohman had told himself he wouldn’t shy away from Bonds, and when he got ahead in the count 1–2, he threw a fastball low and away that froze Bonds—a perfect pitch, Ohman says—but it was called a ball.
Ohman, then in his fifth major league season, said he can count on one hand the number of times he felt like a missed call potentially ended up changing the at-bat. This was one of them.
The count went to 3–2. Bonds lofted the next pitch to deep left-centerfield. With the winds gusting in, Ohman says he initially thought there was a chance for either leftfielder Alfonso Soriano or centerfielder Jacque Jones to catch it.
“There's one spot at Wrigley Field—it's right over the 368 sign in left-centerfield—where the ball just finds a way out,” he said. “In what felt like gale-force wind blowing in, it just calmly drifted and dropped right into the basket."
Ohman promptly turned and screamed at home plate umpire Larry Young, something he says he thinks happened just twice in his career.
Since retiring, the 40-year-old Ohman has started a company, the Arizona-based ACE Baseball, to share what he knows about the game—both the physical pitching and the mental side. He said he doesn’t necessarily look back at this moment with awe.
“I remember Tom Glavine getting his 300th win against us at Wrigley Field,” he said. “I remember pitching in the same game that Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux pitched in. When it came to facing specific hitters and at-bats—and this is not to minimize it or act that I was better than I was—it was a job. I didn't get my job done."
Eight days later, Bonds hit No. 754 in San Francisco off the Marlins’ Rick van den Hurk and on Aug. 4 he caught Aaron with No. 755 in San Diego off Clay Hensley. The pitchers he victimized had their own ironic connections to the chase. Van den Hurk, who also gave up No. 760 later that year, would be traded to Baltimore for Ohman three years later. And while reports of Bonds’ use of performance-enhancing drugs had dogged him for years and turned him into a villain everywhere outside San Francisco, he never actually failed a test or served a suspension. Hensley, however, was banned for 15 games in 2005 after failing a steroid test as a minor leaguer. Like Ohman, van den Hurk and Hensley played their last major league games in 2012.
Bonds HR: 756
Date: Aug. 7, 2007
Place: San Francisco
Mike Bacsik’s brief career included none of the fame or fortune that Bonds had achieved but they nonetheless had something in common: both were the sons of major leaguers. Bonds’s father, Bobby, had been a three-time All-Star. Bacsik’s father, also named Mike, pitched for five seasons from 1975 to ’80. They faced each other twice, with the elder Bonds going 1-for-2 against the elder Bacsik.
The younger Bonds entered the game on Aug. 7 0-for-2 against the younger Bacsik, who was just happy to be getting another start in the major leagues. He had appeared in just 22 games with three teams in his first four seasons and had spent all of the 2005 and ’06 seasons in the minors before making it back to the bigs with the Nationals in 2007. He started the night, his first against the Giants that year, with a 5-6 record and a 4.19 ERA.
With Bonds on the cusp of history and playing at home, Bacsik said the environment was one of the most electric he got to experience in a career in which he never pitched in the postseason. Every time he threw a ball, the crowd would shower him with boos. Every time Bonds made contact, the crowd would explode.
Despite pitching well against Bonds with the Mets in 2002—he induced a pop out and a groundout and hit him (unintentionally, he says)—Bacsik gave up singles to Bonds in each of their first two matchups that night.
“I didn't make very good pitches to him,” he says. “I remember falling behind in the count in the last at-bat I faced him, and I worked it to 3–2. I threw a breaking ball and he hit it just down the first-base line … and it was barely foul. We didn't want to repeat pitches to Barry because he was still that good, so I threw a fastball away. As it was traveling about halfway through I could tell it wasn't going to get away, it was probably going to leak back to the middle of the plate. And it did. And once he hit it, I knew it. He knew it."
The ball soared deep toward right-centerfield, eventually landing several rows deep in the seats. Bacsik says he immediately felt horrible, like he’d done something really bad. Mostly, he says, it was the weight of history crashing down on him. As he would say in a press conference later that night, he had always dreamed of that kind of moment, but never as the one throwing the pitch.
After the game, as he prepared to leave the stadium with a childhood friend who lived in the area and had come to watch, Bacsik was surprised when the friend asked how he planned to get out. “We’ll just walk out to the street and take a cab,” Bacsik told him.
As soon as they stepped outside the ballpark, however, the two were promptly swarmed by hundreds of people. The next day, juggling his cell phone and a hotel phone, Bacsik embarked on four hours of interviews.
That was Bacsik’s final season in the major leagues. His last professional game came in 2011, and though he is remembered by the general public only for giving up the record-breaking homer, he remembers other moments. Like the standing ovation he got at Shea Stadium in 2002 for throwing a complete game as a 24-year-old Mets rookie. Or the seven shutout innings he pitched for the Rangers, the team he grew up loving as a boy in Texas, when he debuted for them on Aug. 4, 2004.
In the ensuing decade, though, his outlook about being a part of history has changed.
“I don't want to say I felt good, but I didn't feel as bad,” he said. “I was like, ‘Well, I gave up the home run, but it's not the end of the world.’ We didn't lose a playoff series or the World Series.”
Bacsik, who does radio in Dallas for 105.3 The Fan and with pre- and post-game shows on Fox Sports Southwest for the Rangers, sometimes tires of the questions about the home run. In the end, he says, “it’s Barry’s moment.”
Still, he acknowledges that being part of history is special. His hat from that game is in the Hall of Fame, where it sits next to Bonds’s helmet.
As for fans who write Bonds out of history, Bacsik is fine with that. But that’s not how he’ll remember the man who made him famous.
"He is the greatest baseball player of my era,” Bacsik says. “I don't think there's an argument about that, and he’s in the conversation for the greatest baseball players of all time. I've followed his situation, but there's no denying how great he was during his career.”