06/02/2002 10:41 pm ET
Bonds gets another slice of history
Slugger ties Robinson on homer list
By Josh Rawitch / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds grew up idolizing Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson and the greats from the Negro Leagues. But when baseball's single-season home run king launched career home run No. 586 to put him into a fourth-place tie with Frank Robinson on the all-time list Sunday, he took a quick curtain call and retreated hastily to the clubhouse.
But unlike home run No. 71 last season, Bonds was not looking for a phone to call his father, Bobby. The elder Bonds was in the ballpark to watch his son match Robinson. This time, Barry was looking for a television to catch the final minutes of his favorite basketball team, the Lakers, as they wrapped up a Game 7 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Bonds admitted that he had been checking the score of the game all night, something made easier by the Giants' lead that eventually ended in a 9-2 victory at Pacific Bell Park.
After the game, Bonds paid homage to Frank Robinson and the black baseball stars who came before him.
"They're at the forefront of what we are today, and I really appreciate what they've done for the game of baseball," aid Bonds, who smacked a 3-2 pitch from Rockies rookie Brian Fuentes in the seventh inning Sunday for No. 586.
"I'm just grateful now to be in the same sort of crowd that they're in. ... Hopefully us now, as African-American athletes, are representing the rest of us the way we're supposed to."
In fact, that's what Bonds discussed with Robinson, who is in his first year as the manager of the Expos, when they chatted at length in Montreal in early May. Bonds thanked his predecessor for "giving him the opportunity to do what we're able to do."
"I played against and I played with Frank," said manager Dusty Baker. "Frank was a great ballplayer. I don't think people realize how great a ballplayer Frank Robinson was. Most people remember Frank Robinson as a manager. Very few people from this era remember Frank Robinson the player and what a tough guy he was."
Turns out, Robinson was not only tough on the field. He's one of the few people who has publicly admitted that seeing his name move down a notch on the all-time list is not something he looks forward to.
"I like being there, sure," said Robinson earlier in the month, adding recently that he planned to congratulate Bonds through the media once he was surpassed. "I wish nobody would pass it.
"Sooner or later somebody's going to pass you. He's just in a heck of a streak right now. He'll not only pass me, but he'll pass some other people, too."
Bonds will likely move into fourth place by himself on this upcoming road trip, which means stories of Robinson, the only man to win an MVP in both the American and National League, will be told and retold all across the nation. That suits him just fine.
"A lot of young players don't know the last generation of players," said Robinson. "They only know the current players. Grandfathers and fathers always stood around and talked baseball with their sons. ... The veteran players used to talk about players and pass along stories of an era and incidents and information to younger players. Now they don't want to hear it."
But Bonds understands the history of the game because he lived through it. He admits he did not know Robinson well when he was a kid hanging around clubhouses because Robinson was in the American League at the time. But the two got to know one another when Bonds was drafted by the Giants in 1982 and Robinson was managing the big-league club.
Now, Bonds' name will not only be linked with Robinson's in the history books, he'll also be joined by Fuentes, who gave up the home run. He did not even know that Bonds' home run had the significance that it did when he gave up the solo shot, but that's because Fuentes is just a rookie, trying to make a name for himself in the big leagues.
"I wasn't trying to really doing anything different," said Fuentes, who becomes the 350th pitcher to give up a home run to Bonds. "It was an 8-1 game and a full count; I'm not going to try to pitch around him. I know I have a good fastball, so I threw him one and it caught too much of the plate."
Fuentes' teammate, Larry Walker, has played with Bonds in All-Star games for the last decade yet never ceases to be amazed by what he sees.
"He's capable of doing pretty much all he wants at the plate, and he can swing the bat as good as anybody ever has," said Walker. "As he gets older, he keeps getting better and you wonder when he's going to get too old."
Baker hopes that time never comes, and Sunday night, he was left trying to determine Bonds' place in history.
"Don Baylor was supposed to be the next Frank Robinson in Baltimore," he said. "I was supposed to be the next Hank Aaron. Bobby [Bonds] was supposed to be the next Willie Mays, and Reggie Smith was the next Carl Yastrzemski. There's always the next, so you always kept an eye on the first one."
Next up for Bonds on the home run list?
Oh, just his godfather, Willie Mays.
Josh Rawitch covers the Giants for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.