"Oh shit, Johnny, there's a T in the road,” Randy Moffitt yells, beside me in the shotgun seat, l
39 years ago next week, the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees engaged in the first trade of $100,000 athletes in sports history. I don’t remember where I was when I heard the news. Pretty sure the reason I don’t recall the moment is because, well….
I knew it was coming.
* * * * * * * *
The best teams are very much like a rock band. You have your leaders, your loners, your followers, and in my experience*, there was never a band better than the Giants of the early ‘70s. You had Willie Mays, who was like our ageless, iconic lead singer; a phenomenal horns section of Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal; the sure-handed Willie “Stretch” McCovey on bass; the forgotten All-Star catcher Dick Dietz on drums keeping time for everyone, and an incredible young lead guitarist with one of the most fabulous sports names of all time.
Bobby had established himself as one of the up-and-coming superstars of the game at this point. He was fourth in the MVP voting in ’71, and the season before had joined the elusive 30-30 club. The talk was that Mays coined the phrase “30-30” (even though Ken Williams from the St. Louis Browns was the first to do it in 1922) and was all too happy to include Bobby in that group. Willie and Bobby had a true bond. Bobby was more than his protégé. In many ways, he was his son; in others, they were like brothers.
My personal recollection from Spring Training, 1971 & ’72 before the strike, they were inseparable. Always talking in the clubhouse, going out to eat together. They were the very best of friends. Again, my idol was Marichal and he taught me so many things in this game and McCovey was one of the coolest dudes in the clubhouse – he was the judge in our Kangaroo Court. It’s not a coincidence that Willie’s number was 24 and Bobby’s was 25. Everyone expected Bobby to be Willie. Sometimes Bobby expected Bobby to be Willie. A few of those years, he came real close, too.
One field general behind the plate, four players we knew were going to the Hall of Fame, and the one everybody was convinced was on his way. With a caring manager in Charlie Fox that watched over us all.
Quick story, it’s my first spring training and we’re playing the Cubs, I’m 20 years old. First inning of my spring debut, nerves are getting the best of me and I walk the first couple of batters. Glenn Beckert steals third. I’m a little rattled, Beckert’s dancing outside the base line – I end up balking him in. The Cubs dugout is laughing their ass off and pointing at me. I was pretty embarrassed. The laughter wouldn’t stop. “Muley” (Dick Dietz’ nickname) calls time and trots out to the mound.
“You all right, kid,” he asked me. I nod as the Cubs continue busting my chops from afar.
“I know what to do,” I say. Muley flashes a knowing smirk, he gets it, he knows what’s coming, slaps me on the rear and jogs back behind the plate. I do what I have to do.
My next pitch is a 95-MPH heater stuck right in the batter’s ear. He fell like a ton of bricks. Muley stands up above him, grinning as he tosses me back the ball. The laughter coming from the Cubs dugout stops. I fan the next two guys up, glaring across the field as I walk off the mound.
“Keep on laughing,” I yell over, “You guys got two innings of this crap!” I take my time heading to the bench as Mays comes up behind me, slapping me on the back running in from the outfield. Marichal chuckles knowingly as I step down into the dugout, reaching over, rubbing his hand over my cap like I was a little boy done good. Charlie Fox had no expression as he leans in, whispering, “Finally, I got a young pitcher like you.” I felt like a teenage gangster getting congratulated by the mob for my first caper. As I walk down the dugout to grab a drink of water, someone gently kicks my leg to get my attention. I turn to find Bobby Bonds winking his approval.
And the band played on.
The 1971 Giants were a team that didn’t take any crap, went to the post-season for the first time in nearly a decade, coming within two games of the World Series.
The Giants had finished in 2nd place for five straight seasons from 1965 to 1970. The only problem was the ballclub had attendance issues; tickets sales had dwindled from 7th in the league in 1967 to dead last by 1972. Longtime Giants owner Horace Stoneham was having serious financial difficulties – unlike other owners in baseball, the Giants were his sole source of income. Even before Free Agency, before Messersmith-McNally, how do you pay five potential Hall of Famers when you’re counting less than a million coming through the turnstiles?
The answer is you don’t.
During the baseball Winter Meetings of 1971, Stoneham made a move. He traded Perry along with shortstop Frank Duffy to the Cleveland Indians for southpaw Sam McDowell. Sudden Sam had a dream season as late as 1970, striking out over 300 batters, an all-star four years in a row – a player that simply needed a change of scenery, Stoneham thought. Sure, Perry and McDowell made the about same salary, but Perry was due for a big raise. Marichal was already making $125,000 per. One of them had to go.
It was during the 1972 campaign where turnover in the band really took shape. Dietz was our representative at the time of the Major League Baseball players’ strike that spring. He was also coming off two incredible seasons, OPS+ higher than 130 in each of those years. Muley made the mistake of crossing management during the labor negotiations. When the players’ returned to the field in April of 1972, Dietz was gone. Stoneham didn’t even trade poor Muley; he placed him on waivers. The hated Dodgers didn’t think twice, scooping Dietz off the waiver wire almost immediately. There was talk about some “clerical error” in the Giants’ front office, but we all knew the truth. Dietz was let go for his attitude during the players’ strike. First week in the season Dietz broke his finger and was done by June. Purchased by Atlanta the following spring, 1973 would be his final season. His OBP in 191 plate appearances was .474. His avg., .295. His OPS+ 145. After being released by the Braves in the spring of 1974, Dick Dietz couldn’t find a job. Such a smart, sure-handed receiver, made a fireballer like me look like a control pitcher. A shame what happened to him. Go through the ’74 rosters on baseball-reference.com – tell me you can’t find at least five teams that could’ve used 'ol Muley. He was 32 and out of baseball. Blackballed. One of the more reprehensible labor-related stories in league history.
One month later, Stoneham cut more payroll, albeit in the classiest manner possible. It’s an oft-told story, but basically Willie Mays wanted security and Stoneham’s financial situation was anything but. So by sending Mays, the face of the franchise, back to New York, Stoneham created a heartwarming Baseball tale AND cut over $150,000 from the payroll. This left a void where, even though Stretch and Marichal remained and were beloved, extremely respected men in the clubhouse, the Giants baseball band needed a lead singer.
Whether he liked it or not, Bobby Bonds had to fill this role.
* * * * * * * *
The clubhouse in '73 was for the most part harmonious, even if there were many groups. Bobby had his own group, usually playing cards on the team plane with “The Garys”, 2nd-year player Garry Maddox & rookie Gary Matthews. They were the "Young Giants," as we were now labeled. We were all respectful of one another, embracing each other’s cultures, tastes in food and drink, music especially. We didn’t have a state-of-the-art clubhouse, but there was a stereo in there. Sometimes we listened to Crosby, Stills & Nash, sometimes it was Jim Croce, sometimes Marvin Gaye, or The Temptations, the soundtrack of the room was this fabulous, multicultural mix tape. As our unofficial leader, Bonds played an enormous part in creating this environment.
We were in first place for all of May until the Dodgers had taken the division lead from us by the middle of June. Bobby and the Gary's carried the ballclub, all season, keeping us relevant in the race. Bobby took his hot first half right to the 1973 All-Star Game in Kansas City, representing the ballclub (along with starting shortstop Chris Speier.) Man, did he put on a show, too, going 2-for-2 with a long home run, receiving the game MVP award for his efforts.
The Dodgers held the lead all summer pretty comfortably until the Reds made a push in late August. We hung in there as well, and Bobby led the team the entire way. By the time I joined the club right before the September post-season eligibility cutoff, the first thing I noticed was that Bobby was always in the manager’s office with Charlie after the game, having drinks, dissecting the team’s performance. Bobby was in there with Charlie so often, you would’ve thought they shared a desk. He was truly becoming our spiritual leader, and he hated, I mean hated, the Dodgers, hated them this year especially for taking the division lead from us. Bobby wasn't at all a vengeful person from what I saw, but there was no doubt he wanted retribution.
I was so excited by the call up to the big club, I didn’t know what to do with myself. The music in the car on the way to the ballpark both in Phoenix and then San Francisco would really get my juices flowing. About a few days earlier, I had picked up the new Rolling Stones album, Goats Head Soup and one song in particular I played over and over. It was stuck in my head when we faced the Dodgers on Labor Day, 1973.
L.A. had lost three in a row to Houston and let the surging Reds come within a game of 1st place. This would be a pivotal win for them but we wanted to hand it to them something awful. Didn’t start out as we planned. The Dodgers had already been leading 3-1 when they busted the game open with five runs, chasing our starting pitcher Tom Bradley and reliever Donny Carrithers. We were down 8-1 by the sixth inning. A few minutes after my teammates piled into the dugout, I looked over to the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. Smoke was coming from behind the runway wall, floating onto the field. Whenever the team was behind, Bobby would go through a couple Winston cigarettes between innings down there, he was so wound up about losing. He couldn’t take it – it got him so frustrated. Today, he was especially tight. No, scratch that – he was pissed, marching through the dugout, declaring “We’re not losing today,” to all of us, “Not today.”
We went quietly in the bottom of the 5th and Bobby kept smoking. Tommy John really had our number early on. He punched out Bobby on a called strike three in the 6th; Bobby walked back to the dugout, calmly placed his bat in the rack and went for another smoke. He was furious. Soon small pockets of the tepid 15,000 some-odd fans in attendance started making their way for the exits.
TJ ran into trouble when he faced the middle of our order the following inning. Matthews and Stretch both reached base on singles. Speier hit a clutch double that plated Gary. TJ countered with back-to-back strikeouts. Dave Rader, who was a pretty good hitter himself, singled to center, bringing home McCovey and Speier. After giving up another single, Dodgers manager Walter Alston brought in Pete Richert to face Bonds. Bobby’s so jacked up, I’m expecting either a monster homer or a strikeout. Bonds sends Richert’s pitch into left for a ground rule double, scoring Rader, Now we’re back in it, only down by three runs. People stop leaving. A Tito Fuentes single brings home two more and it’s suddenly a one-run game.
Charlie brings in Don McMahon, who by the way, is 43 years old, our pitching coach we re-activated in June due to a bullpen crisis, and was pitching out of his mind. McMahon gets the Dodgers down 1-2-3. Richert strikes out the side in the bottom of the 8th. McMahon finishes the 9th without letting anyone get on base, a fantastic job of keeping us in the ballgame.
Going into the 9th, we’re very concerned no one’s touching Richert today. Bobby is in the runway cooling his heels with another cigarette, the smoke filling out the other side of the dugout. Then Richert starts off the inning with a walk to Gary Thomasson. Dave Rader goes up to bunt, squares, perfectly placed between home plate and mound, Richert races to the ball, fires it to second, but Thomasson just beats the throw. The smallish crowd’s demeanor begins to build into an optimistic cheering section. I look over, the smoke is gone, and Bobby moves through the dugout, toward the bat rack, bearing the determined grin of a man on a mission. Mike Sadek, the rookie catcher, pinch hits for McMahon, he bunts as well, a beauty down the third base line, Ken McMullen charges, turns and quickly throws to second. Dave Rader just beats the throw. Bases loaded – no outs. The fans are going absolutely batshit.
Alston appears totally shell-shocked at this chain of events; there’s a hint of mope in his walk to the mound to remove Richert, motioning for the left-hander, Jim Brewer, one of the five or six best relievers in the game. Nastiest screwball you ever saw. I watched Bobby in the on-deck circle swinging his bat slowly, staring, studying and sizing up Brewer. The 37 year-old reliever finishes his warm-ups, the crowd is screaming as the P.A. announcer calls Bobby's name and the human walk-up song struts to the plate. I felt like a fan just like everyone in the stands. It’s at this moment, in this time, when the tune from my new album plays in my head above the crazed cheer of the crowd.
Brewer, the southpaw, sets, winds up and comes with the screwball. Bobby swings right through it, as if expecting the gas. The crowd noise ignores strike one, the stadium hum stokes Bobby, while trying to distract Brewer as he catches the toss from Joe Ferguson behind the plate. Bobby isn’t deterred. As locked-in a dude at the plate as I’ve ever witnessed. This is his game, he has spent too much time in the dugout angry and pissed, too many days and months stewing about losing the division lead, to let this aging, all-star pitcher define the day. Brewer sets, Bonds squares, Brewer lets the ball go, Bonds guesses screwball this time…..
Bonds guesses right.
Monster shot to deep left. The joyous buzz of the crowd escalates as the ball travels further across the dusky San Francisco sky. Dodgers’ outfielder Bill Buckner goes back, looks up…..
Giants win 11-8.
It was the most badass display I have ever experienced in Baseball. Fans celebrating with pitchers in the bullpen, throwing popcorn, cracker jacks, seat cushions across the stands, light debris flying onto the field. Bonds circles the bases with a rhythmic jog, the triumphant hero. It was glorious pandemonium.
The 1973 Dodgers never recovered, went on to lose another five straight, as the Reds blew right past them.
After the game, Bobby emerges from Charlie’s office into the clubhouse celebration, raising his glass to all of us, telling everyone he could find, players, coaches, beat reporters, “We’re still in this, too. Don’t count out The Giants.” We’re all engaging in bravado and smack talk about us making the playoffs ourselves, overtaking both the Dodgers and the Reds, but that was just joyous chatter on the back of an implausible victory, and Bobby was the loudest voice in the room. After this day, there was no doubt Bobby Bonds was the spiritual core of the team. Ultimately, Bobby won his second Gold Glove and came in third in the MVP voting. Meanwhile, Stoneham continued dismantling the band. Marichal was sold off to the Boston Red Sox and Stretch was sent to San Diego for money and a young Mike Caldwell. With Gary Matthews winning the Rookie of the Year in 1973 and Garry Maddox continuing to improve, Bobby was ready to make the band in his own image, although it took on more of the form of a headliner than anything else. As every TV promotional teaser for the 1974 season would say, we were now Bobby Bonds and the San Francisco Giants.
* * * * * * * *
1974 came and my most cherished memories of the season have nothing to do with wins, losses or rookie awards. I was shagging fly balls in right field before a home game in early April when this spunky, excitable 11-year old kid first came out to join me with his glove. He didn’t ask to play; just stood there watching me. I finally turned to him and said, “Barry, would you like to catch a few?” He just nodded, stepped over like it was nothing and started flagging down flies. We would do this together at least once a week for the entire season. By the end of the year, Barry envisioned himself as our center fielder, running down flies with me, precocious positioning through the afternoon glare, catching, stepping and throwing, pretending he was nailing Lou Brock at the plate.
Barry was at the ballpark all the time. He sat in the dugout with us during games. He wasn’t the bat boy, he wasn’t the mascot, either. He was part of the team. In a time where white players and black players still sat separately on the bench, Barry would talk and mingle with everyone. We all loved having him around, playing tag with the Garys in the outfield before games, celebrating in the clubhouse with us after victories. See, that’s the thing people who aren’t from the Bay Area fail to understand about why local fans defend Barry Bonds so feverishly. We watched Barry grow up, watched him run around the ‘Stick with his other brother, Bobby Jr. The crowds were so small, they felt intimate. The Giants drew barely 510,000, easily the worst in baseball. There was no one at the ballpark so everyone who was there pretty much knew each other. You saw the same fans again and again.They all would see Barry roaming the field. Barry knew all the vendors’ names. Fans would walk by Barry and Pat, his Mom, Bobby’s wonderful wife, eating ice cream and hot dogs at the concession stands, game after game after game. Barry Bonds wasn’t just the son of a Giant icon, not just a Giant icon himself.
Barry’s family. And right or wrong, regardless of everything that has come to pass, you defend family to the death.
This 8mm film was shot by Robert Janover, an 11-year old boy at the time who is now a Bay Area photographer. The pictures from this wonderful video are like childhood home movies to me, blurry and yet vivid all at once. I watch this and the images of little Barry Bonds are unlocked from the recesses of my mind, of Barry getting chased jokingly by random players around the warning track, of Bobby’s face observing his beautiful boys dash across the Astroturf during batting practice, of Bobby leaning into the stands, receiving a good-luck kiss from Pat before a game.
These are my favorite scenes from 1974. The offstage drama was another story altogether.
Major League Baseball had stepped in and provided financing for the Giants as Stoneham's money situation worsened. Charlie and Bobby were not getting along. Charlie was under pressure to build off our third place finish. Bobby felt the Young Giants were his team, his responsibility. As Willie once basically had a voice in running the ballclub, Bobby felt he was next in queue, that this was his baseball birthright.
All of this was a huge legacy for Bobby to uphold. He was the superstar puzzle on the back of every All-Star baseball card in 1974. Much like the kids who collected in vain but couldn't find all the pieces, Bobby was almost complete, but something was off, something not quite in place. I would see Bobby outside the clubhouse door kissing his kids goodbye in the hallway, leaving ahead of him for home, the look of contentment vanishing the moment they walked around the corner. His inner peace came from Pat and his children. I joked with him once about how Barry said he’s gonna be the best player in history, better than everyone else, even his Dad. Bobby would crack up, laughing as he puffed through another Winston. “Yeah,” he chuckled, his eyes wide with pride for his son, “I love that boy.” Affectionate father and husband, great leader, great teammate, still I could never uncover that missing piece that would make Bobby Bonds the person whole.
Toward the end of May, I hit a rough patch, losing five straight starts after winning my first two. The Dodgers came to town, and lit up Ron Bryant with six runs in the first inning. By the time the middle of the 2nd rolled around, Charlie, staring at a 6-0 deficit, nudged me on the shoulder and nodded to the bullpen in right field.
“Johnny, go get some work in,” Charlie said, “I may be throwing you in this game soon.”
“You got it, Skip,” I replied, grabbing my glove. I ran out to warm up and next thing I know I’m on the mound with runners on 1st and 2nd, down 8-0. Over the course of 3 2/3, I struck out eight and gave up a lone hit. I did my part to give us a chance to get back in this thing. After striking out the side in the top of the 5th, Bobby emerged from the runaway, dashed out his Winston with his spikes on the dugout ground, walked over, threw his arm around my neck, and gathered the ball club. “Enough of this shit, guys,” Bobby said, “This kid’s pitchin’ his heart out and we’re lettin’ them come into our yard and treat us like this? We need to win this game. We did this last year, we can do it again.” We made a valiant comeback, but ’74 wasn’t ’73. We ended up losing 9-5. No more heartbreakers.
The team was hovering around .500, but not making much traction in the division. Charlie had always been a players’ manager, but now he was constantly feuding with Bobby. Finally, on June 27th, I went up against my buddy Randy Jones down in San Diego. Pitched one of my best games of the year, complete game, gave up six hits, two runs, struck out five, walked one. Bobby played great, 3 for 5, including a triple and a 3-run homer. He seemed like his old self. Later after the game, I looked around for Charlie, as we always talked at length after my starts. Couldn’t find him. I passed by Bobby, who was enjoying a cigarette and a beer in the clubhouse at his locker. Bobby extended his hand.
“Good game, kid,” Bobby said, slapping five.
“You too, man.” Bobby nodded, agreeing somewhat.
“Yeah, I felt relaxed tonight.” It just hit me that I hadn’t seen a beer can in Bobby’s hand in the clubhouse in the longest time.
“I’m gonna go find Charlie,” I said walking away. Bobby’s words stopped me. “Yeah,” he remarked, sort of rolling his eyes.
That’s all Bobby needed to say. Not an agreeing “Yeah,” not an accepting “Yeah,” but a “Yeah” that sounded more like a “Yeah, you’ll see.”
“What's that,” I asked, turning around. I didn’t like where this was going.
“Charlie’s out,” Bobby replied, with a polite coldness.
“Out? Fired?” Bobby stared me in the eye, nodding, offering me a beer.
“It was time for a change. There was nothing I could do.” Just like that, my mentor, my father figure in Baseball was gone. It felt like a professional hit to my heart. I truly loved Charlie Fox. No one looked after me in baseball like Charlie, and Bobby was like an older brother, so I knew not to get involved. It wasn’t like Bobby was this petulant employee disobeying his owner. Bobby was a very powerful voice in the organization. You could almost consider him head salesman for the company, and sometimes in the corporate world when a standoff comes down to an upper-level executive and a revenue-generating employee, sales wins. And I know that Bobby respected Charlie. This was only business.
I left Bobby’s other beer hanging and went to my Mom’s house, which is where I stayed when I was in town to play the Padres. I loved my team, loved my manager to tears, loved the guys, but it was so obvious that the ballclub I dreamed of playing for was all but dismantled. Bobby was left, Speier, Kingman & Jim Barr. Ron Bryant looked like he was never gonna recover from his off-season swimming accident. Tito Fuentes was still around, but was having a bad season. I had never been through a manager firing. The cherry had been popped.
* * * * * * * * *
While not having the best year to begin with, Bobby was hitting .261 in the first half. With Charlie out of the picture and off his back, Bobby still barely batted .250 in the second half of the season, hitting .247 in August and then falling to .222 in September. As word began to leak out that the team still had yet to nail down new ownership, Bobby’s performance continued to erode. Whispers around the team were that interim management in place would try to move Bobby. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The club finished the season 72-90, the teams' worst record in nearly 30 years. But still, how could they trade Bobby?
1974, to me, seemed like the year in Baseball when the last collection of players from the “Black & White TV" era were changing teams for a final big-league hurrah or leaving the game altogether. In that winter, Aaron would return to Milwaukee. Billy Williams went to Oakland chasing post-season glory. The Tigers' Norm Cash and Al Kaline retired. Minnesota Twin icon Harmon Killebrew was politely released by the team. This is also pre-free agency, the Catfish Hunter/Finley controversy barely getting warmed up.
It was close to a week after the 1974 World Series had ended when the news hit the papers. I’d like to say where I was when I found out the Giants traded Bonds to the Yankees on October 22nd, 1974, but the fact is I can’t and the reason for that is it wasn’t the shock to me that it was to everyone else. The rumors were persistent in the clubhouse for weeks. I could have been driving in the car and heard it on the radio, maybe heard a day later or read it in the paper. News traveled a lot slower back then. Remember, there was only the Today Show on in the mornings back then, no real local morning TV news like today. What shocked me, if anything, was the All-Star who came back in the deal.
In some way, Bobby Murcer and Bobby Bonds were kindred spirits, both dragging legacies attached to their backs that they couldn’t possibly uphold. What bothered me more about Bobby being traded was that – jeez, we traded the most talented player in the game – everyone's on the table now. Me, Barr, Kingman, Tito, Speier, Maddox – everyone has a price on their head. Maybe I was being naïve, but again, I’m only 22 at this point. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road indeed.
I wasn’t wrong, either, over the course of the next six months; Dave Kingman was sold to the Mets, on the advice of Willie Mays for $150,000. Tito Fuentes was sent to San Diego for Derrel Thomas. Ron Bryant would be shipped to St. Louis for Larry Herndon, which actually turned out to be a fantastic little swap. Garry Maddox was sent to Philly for Willie Montanez. Ed Goodson, a former #1 draft pick, owner of one of the sweetest swings you would ever see before his career-killing injury, was quietly sent to Atlanta.
The card tells you almost everything you need to know. Yes, the Giants’ insignia and colors are airbrushed all over him, but this could not be a better metaphor describing Murcer’s reaction to coming to San Fran. Murcer wrapped himself up in the legacy of Pinstripes. You see it in his face on this card. Now, look at the background. Sure, he's wearing the Giants orange and black, but his spirit would always be located in the house that Ruth built. His heart was broken. I almost wonder if the TOPPS card designers back on the East Coast at the time were making a statement of some sort with their choice of photo.
This isn’t just opinion, either. After the team bus stopped at the hotel in Los Angeles for the Giants’ first true road trip in 1975, most of the young guys went out on the town. As I stepped off the bus, Bobby gently grabbed my arm and said, “C’mon, Johnny, let’s get dinner.” We enjoyed a couple of steaks, a bottle of wine and then finished up at a nearby bar for a nightcap. Bobby went into all the pressures he had to deal with following Mickey Mantle. “Mickey was the most terrific athlete I ever saw, “Bobby told me that night, “And that’s in the mid ‘60’s. I never saw him with Yogi and those fellas. If he didn’t go out and about as much as he did, he could’ve been the greatest player of all time.”
Murcer talked about New York all night, its many attractions and many more distractions. “To Mickey’s credit,” Bobby continued, “As much as he went out, he always did what he had to do to get on that field. He was a true ballplayer.” Bobby wasn’t a heavy drinker at all but tonight it really hit him where he was. Nursing a whiskey, Bobby opened his heart to me. All this talk of Mickey, the Bronx and the Yankees really got to Bobby.
“John, I still can’t believe I’m not in New York,” Murcer said between sips of our final drink that night, “And I’ll give you everything I have in me. But make no mistake, I don’t wanna be here. I am a New York Yankee. I’ll will always be a New York Yankee.” And it’s not even that he hated San Francisco – he got along great with the fans, reporters – everyone loved Murcer, one of the classiest men I ever met in Baseball. He just never saw himself as anything but a Yankee. And what a gamer he was on the field for us. Bobby certainly held up his end of the bargain. He always hit with men on base. Turns out the deep numbers prove this as well. Murcer drove in 20% of his inherited runners in 1975, not only the best mark of his career, which included his three or four brilliant seasons with the Yankees, but was also the best in Baseball in ’75, slight better than Fred Lynn in his amazing rookie year, slightly better than Jim Rice, better than Reggie, Boomer Scott, Rusty Staub, Schmidt, Bull Luzinski, everyone. Murcer got the runners home.
Murcer was the Giants' lone representative at the 1975 All-Star Game and also his final appearance as a player. Ironically, it was to be Bonds’ final midsummer classic as well, in his only season as a Yankee. And it was a good one for Bonds, too. Remember, the Yankees played at the home of the Mets’, Shea Stadium in ‘75, for the second of two seasons while Yankee Stadium was being refurbished. Word was that Bobby spent a lot of time with Willie Mays (who was a coach for the Mets at the time) while he played for the Yankees. They continued to be the best of friends up until his death in 2003. Bonds ended up hitting 32 homers for the Yanks, which was quite an accomplishment in spacious Shea – no Mets player had ever hit more than 26 with calling Shea Stadium home. Funny thing was, Kingman hit 36 for the Mets at the same ballpark in ’75. The best home run hitters of all time to that point in Shea Stadium came from the Giants. How’s that for amazing?
Murcer had told me Steinbrenner had promised to bring him back to the Bronx at some point. I could see the desperate hope in Bobby’s eyes when he spoke those words, but I had to think, with an outfield of Elliot Maddox, who was hitting about .330 at the time, Sweet Lou Pinella and Bobby Bonds, the electric ballplayer made for the grand stage of New York, the cover boy of at least four or five magazines that spring, I wasn’t sure this would ever happen. I mean, think about it, who’s gonna trade Bobby Bonds again?
* * * * * * * * *
I dropped Murcer off at the hotel and stayed out just a bit longer. My elbow was bothering me all through dinner, but the crisp May evening air kept me from returning to my room. I passed a nightclub with young people in suits and gold chains walking in and out. The days of flower children and casual dress on Saturday Night was all but coming to an end. I ended up returning to the hotel literally thirty minutes later, but not before poking my curious head inside. It was the first time I had heard KC & the Sunshine Band.
We were in the 2nd half of the ‘70’s now, my innocence long lost, everything’s about to change, the supergroup of my Baseball youth disbanded and boy, does my arm hurt.
* * * * * * * * *
*The Giants of the mid-1960s were among only a handful of teams in Baseball history with six Hall of Famers on the same roster. That was 1965 - Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Cepeda, Perry & Warren Spahn’s final season. Cepeda was hurt most of the season. The previous season there were five excluding Spahn, but Perry had yet to establish himself as a pitching star. Still, what a collection of guys I played with in Spring Training, ’71.
You can find more of Robert Janover's wonderful photography at www.robertjanover.com
Card Art designed provided by Andrew Woolley, creator of the www.dickallen15.com website.
You can read more about the Bobby Murcer card and many others from that set @ Night Owl's '75 TOPPS blog: http://75topps.blogspot.com/2010/10/350-bobby-murcer.html
Of course, thanks are in order to the guys @ www.baseball-reference.com for providing the deep-dive numbers on Murcer's 1975 season.
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