In May 1986, a profile of Barry Bonds found the recent Arizona State player in Hawaii, playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple A affiliate. Barry said:
“I’ve finally convinced myself not to feel any more pressure than if I were the son of a successful plumber or a successful doctor. I just love to play sports and it just so happened that I chose the same sport my father did. I didn’t choose to play baseball because of the money or my dad, but because I love the sport. It used to bother me that I was known as Bobby Bonds’ son, but I don’t let that affect me any more.
“Hey, I know a lot is expected of me, but I’ve been hammering it in my brain that that has nothing to do with my dad. Now, I’ve learned to expect a lot from myself, too.”
Then, on May 30, 1986, Bonds made his big league debut as a starter:
Barry Bonds, who hit .299 for the 1985 Prince William Pirates as a first-round June draftee out of Arizona State, went zero for five with three strikeouts in his debut Friday for Pittsburgh against Los Angeles. Bobby Bonds also broke in against the Dodgers, hitting a grand slam for the Giants off John Purdin, June 25, 1968; he struck out 84 times that year, a major league record 187 times in 1969 and a record 189 times in 1970. Now Cleveland’s hitting instructor after a career featuring 332 homers and 461 steals, Bonds made Saturday night’s Dodgers-Pirates game, but because of the Indians’ afternoon game, arrived late. He missed his son Barry’s first major league hit, a first-inning double.”
On June 4 came Bonds’s first homer: “Pirates 12, Braves 3: Rookie Barry Bonds, playing in his sixth major league game, drove in four runs with a pair of singles and his first big league home run as Pittsburgh won in Atlanta. He also doubled.”
In July 1986, with Bonds making his first trip back to the Bay Area as a big leaguer, the S.F. Chronicle’s Ray Ratto wrote a profile of Barry, considering his relationship to father Bobby and his future prospects:
The first thing Barry Bonds said when he settled down in front of his locker in the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse yesterday was, “Please, no questions about my dad.”For a moment, his questioners were taken aback. They had gathered around his locker in part to scratch their own nostalgic itches for his father, the redoubtable Giant Bobby Bonds.
But Barry’s reticence is easily understood. Since his talents as a baseball player first surfaced in his sophomore year at Serra High School in San Mateo, he became his father’s son, and escaping that lengthy shadow has meant winning battles here and there until his own persona becomes self-sufficient.
“He’ll always be my dad, and I’ll always love him,” Barry said of Bobby, now the first base coach for the Cleveland Indians. “But those aren’t my questions. They’re his questions. They’re questions I can’t answer. We’re two different people, and the only ones who know it are us.”
He is, however, a rookie, with a rookie’s usual fitful progress. Since being called up from Pittsburgh’s Triple-A farm in Hawaii, he is hitting only .238, but 21 of his 35 hits are for extra bases, including seven home runs in 147 at-bats. He also has struck out 44 times in 39 games. That’s similar to the strikeout rate of his father when he set the major league record of 189.
“Oh no, he won’t strike out as much as his father did,” said Pirates hitting and outfield instructor Bill Virdon, who managed Bobby in New York in 1975. “He has a lot of strikeouts now because he tends to overswing a little bit. When he sees the ball, he wants to hit it 500 feet instead of 390. But the thing is, he can hit it 500 feet without trying.”
Virdon holds Barry’s future in the highest esteem, even letting his excitement get the better of his judgment at times.
“I kind of hesitate to put a tag on a guy,” Virdon said, “but if I had to say, I’d say he could be a Hall of Famer, and that’s as far as you can go. Of course, that’s if everything goes well, and that depends on a lot of things.
“They have similar talent. He runs well, he has good power. Of course, he’s left-handed and his dad is right-handed. And I’m not so sure he’s not a better outfielder than his dad. That’s not a knock at his dad, mind you. I just think Barry might be a little smoother out there, and his arm might be a little better. You can tell he’s had good schooling. It’s helped him, being around his dad’s influence. But you wouldn’t make the connection if you didn’t know he was Bobby’s son.”
A few days before his debut, the New York Times had reported:
Although they announced on Sunday that they were sending Trench Davis, an outfielder who is hitting .136, to the Hawaii Islanders of the Pacific Coast League and purchasing the contract of Barry Bonds from the Islanders, the Pittsburgh Pirates learned that Davis is out of minor league options and must clear waivers before he can join Hawaii. Yesterday the team announced that it would take three days for Davis to clear waivers and that Bonds would work out with the Pirates until he can be activated on Friday. Bonds, the 21-year-old son of the former major league outfielder, Bobby Bonds, and Pittsburgh’s No. 1 choice in the free agent draft last June, was batting .311 with seven home runs and 37 runs batted in in 44 games for Hawaii. Jim Leyland, the Pittsburgh manager, said: ”I’m going to play him in center field almost every day and lead him off. Somebody here is going to have to sit, and I don’t care.”