End of Story
With interest inhis march to 715 waning, Barry Bonds finally finishes the job in front of theonly fans who revere him
Andrew Morbitzer,a 38-year-old marketing director from San Francisco, stood in line for beer andpeanuts at a centerfield concession stand at AT&T Park on Sunday as BarryBonds took another shot at becoming only the second man in major league historyto hit more home runs than Babe Ruth. This was four days after ESPN pulled theplug on its show Bonds on Bonds, largely because Bonds had been hitting homeruns too infrequently for enough people to care. And it was just moments beforethe microphone of KNBR radio play-by-play man Dave Flemming mysteriouslymalfunctioned.
Bonds, with onehome run in his previous 66 plate appearances, could no longer keep people intheir seats or in front of the TV or tuned in to a broadcast the way he usedto, but he proved with one more flash of that familiar swing that he still hasa sense of timing. In the final game of a Giants home stand before a trip toFlorida and New York, where more ambivalence and hostility would await, Bondsgave his loyal fans in San Francisco just what they wanted: career home runnumber 715.
June 4, 2006
It was 2:14 p.m.PDT when Bonds connected on a 90-mph fastball from righthander Byung-Hyun Kimof the Colorado Rockies (entry number 421 in Bonds's book of victimizedpitchers, for those of you scoring at home). The baseball glanced off a fan'shands about 15 rows up in a section of centerfield seats and fell onto aplatform beyond the centerfield wall, eventually rolling off and into the handsof the thirsty Morbitzer. For the first time since June 20, 1921, Ruth wasthird on the alltime home run list.
KNBR listenersdid not hear Flemming's entire call of the historic blast, his mike having cutout with the ball in midair. Bonds's teammates did not pour from the dugout togreet him as Hank Aaron's Atlanta Braves teammates had done when Aaron passedRuth in 1974. Giants principal owner Peter Magowan, who was out of the country,was not at the ballpark to shake his slugger's hand. But the applause andcheers of 42,935 brought Bonds out of the dugout for two curtain calls, and inthe clubhouse after the game the Giants did give Bonds a champagne toast andposed for pictures with him.
"With alltheir support behind me and the fans of San Francisco, it can't get any betterthan this," Bonds said. "And I want to thank all of them, too, forsupporting me even though I made them wait longer than I have in thepast."
Bonds, 41,entered this season needing only seven home runs to pass Ruth. In the four mostrecent seasons that he began on the active roster (2001 through '04), Bondsreached seven homers in the 14th, 11th, 26th and 12th games on the Giants'schedule; this season he took until game 50. The home run on Sunday pulledBonds into a tie for 71st among major leaguers this year.
Bonds's pursuitof 715 was marked more by tedium than anticipation, largely because of thefallout from revelations of his alleged steroid use (Bonds has denied knowinglytaking steroids) and because his home run rate (one every 16.3 at bats) wasdouble what it had been in his glory years of 1999 through 2003--the yearswhen, according to the book Game of Shadows, he engaged in a massive dopingregimen. Said Giants manager Felipe Alou, "It looked like there was a lackof interest for 715. Even here, we didn't feel the same way. There was a lot ofstuff going on that disappeared after 714."
The spotlightretracts further now that the only person left for Bonds to chase, Aaron, is 40homers ahead of him. At his current rate Bonds would end this season with 731home runs and the '07 season with 754, one behind Aaron. "If you keepplaying long enough, anything is possible," Bonds said of futureachievements. "I'd like to win a World Series and be home run king. I'dlike to do both."
Long on Arms,Short on Bats
A lack ofsurefire talent and teams' reluctance to shell out big bucks to unprovenyoungsters have major league insiders calling the June 6--7 draft one of themost unpredictable in the last 10 years. The uncertainty starts at the top,where at week's end the Royals had yet to decide what to do with the No. 1pick; the club seemed disinclined to pay a lucrative signing bonus to NorthCarolina junior lefthander Andrew Miller (11--2, 2.07 ERA), the top player onmost boards. "Teams are expected to pay the same rate as they did lastyear, even if the talent doesn't measure up," says a National League teamexecutive. "There are players with good potential; there are just no surebets."
The biggestcriticism of this year's crop is the dearth of polished hitters. Last year thefirst five prospects taken--and 11 of the first 14--were position players, butthis year only Long Beach State infielder Evan Longoria, Texas outfielder DrewStubbs and Wake Forest third baseman Matt Antonelli, all juniors are definitefirst-rounders.
Longoria is theconsensus top position player; his stock has been rising since his MVPperformance in the Cape Cod League last summer. Undrafted out of high schooland junior college, the 6'2", 185-pound slick fielder has grown two inchesand added 25 pounds over the last two years. "[He has] impressive batspeed, he hits the ball to all fields, he's going to hit for high average,"says an NL advance scout. "But is he a future star? I wouldn't saythat."
On the Block
Although the A's were only three games out of firstplace in the underwhelming American League West at week's end, the chances ofgeneral manager Billy Beane's trading away his ace, lefthander Barry Zito, areincreasing. With virtually no hope of re-signing the 2002 Cy Young winner afterhe becomes a free agent this fall, the club will consider all the offers thatare sure to come in as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. After performinginconsistently over the last two years, Zito (above) is now pitching at a levelthat would net Oakland the kind of value befitting a No. 1 starter; last monthhe went 3--1 with a 1.32 ERA. "His curveball looks as good as ever, butit's his changeup that is the difference," says an AL team executive.Zito's likeliest suitors are, naturally, the contenders with fat wallets, suchas the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets--all teams that could afford to re-sign himthis winter. --A.C.
After hitting home run number 713 on May 7, Bonds needed another 67 plateappearances to tie and then pass Ruth.