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RUBINO: Bobby Bonds took aim at the 40-40 club 40 years ago

  • San Francisco Giants' Bobby Bonds, right, and Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn pose with the All Star Game Most Valuable Player trophy after it was presented to Bonds at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on July 24, 1973. (Associated Press)

Long before Barry Bonds was a twinkle in the eyes of Giants fans, his father electrified the baseball world. For a time, Bobby Bonds was compared to Willie Mays. Sure, it was an unfair, burdensome comparison. But still, the similarities were, for a brief time, remarkable.

And 1973, 40 years ago, was the best season in Bobby Bonds' often brilliant, puzzlingly uneven and ultimately abbreviated big-league career.

So, with this year's All-Star Game approaching, it seems like an appropriate time to honor Bobby Bonds with a brief retrospective. After all, in the middle of that '73 season Bonds was the All-Star Game MVP. He'd be the only Giant to win the award for the next 39 years — until Melky Cabrera last year.

Bobby Bonds played 160 games in 1973, all but two as the Giants' right fielder, leading the National League in runs scored and total bases and earning the second of his three Gold Gloves. He batted .283 with a .370 on-base percentage. He had a .530 slugging average. He hit 34 doubles and four triples. He finished a solid, respectable third in the season's MVP voting.

But what older Giants fans remember about Bonds in '73 is what he came so close to doing but didn't. He didn't become the first player to reach a seemingly mythical milestone that combined power and speed. He didn't hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases. Well, he got the steals, 43 of them, to be exact. And he hit 39 homers.

What made such an outstanding season ultimately a frustrating one, both for Bonds and Giants fans? On Sept. 9 against Houston, Bonds hit his 38th homer of the season. There were 21 games remaining. His 39th didn't come until the third inning in the season finale, against Cincinnati's Jack Billingham.

He got three more at-bats. In the fourth inning, he singled. In the sixth, he struck out. And in the ninth he flied out to Cesar Geronimo in center, “to the warning track,” according to one of Bonds' recollections some years later.

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