|A Giant Trinity|
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2
Sad day at The Cooler, dwellers.
When a good baseball man dies at the young age of 57, it's never good. Hell, wasn't Minnie Minoso stroking pinch-hit doubles at age 57?
And when that good baseball man happens to be Bobby Bonds, father of Barry Bonds and true San Francisco Giant, the sadness doubles.
Here he is, with 652 home runs, riding a crest of greatness heretofore unseen by ball fans in the post-Ruth era. He's chasing Willie Mays' 660 home runs. He's chasing Mays as the greatest Giant ever. He's chasing Mays the way his father was always supposed to. Except, it turns out, putting the burden of Chasing Mays on Bobby Bonds was probably always too much to ask, while Mays was still playing and his memory was still fresh.
So Bobby Bonds, with 332 home runs and 461 stolen bases, was considered a player who fell short of expectations. Look at those numbers. And we consider Bobby Bonds to have fallen short?
So Bobby Bonds carried that reputation, and handled it in his retirement with what appeared to be tremendous grace. Along comes his son. His son handles little in the way of public relations gracefully, but handles the task of Chasing Mays like a champion.
He steals more than 500 bags. He hits more than 600 home runs. He is, in short, the full-fledged force his father was always expected to be, and justs as he bears down on Mays' home run mark, his father dies. Adding to it all, it is Mays who phones Bonds on the night of his father's death, to assure him that he will be there for him.
The criss-crossing storylines, the trinity of baseball greatness, the backdrop of the city of San Francisco, the sight of all three men in the black-and-orange -- what we have here is a layered, searing drama, playing out before our very eyes.
Think, then, on Bonds' last week for his dying father.
On Tuesday night, a home run in the bottom of the ninth, into the black night, into the gray-green water, against a pitcher off whom he had never had a hit, to beat the best team in baseball.
On Thursday night, a home run into the bleachers, when everyone in the park stood and roared in anticipation, expecting him to do it again, to beat the best team in baseball in the 10th inning.
On Saturday morning, those images burning in his brain, perhaps his son's finest moments ever, given the weight he was carrying, the father of Barry Bonds died.
Willie ... Bobby ... Barry ... these are intense times in the history of the Giants franchise, intense times in the history of baseball.
And sad days at The Cooler, where we mourn the fact that Bobby Bonds will never see his son pass his good friend Willie Mays on the all-time home run list.
Somewhere, though, he knows.
On, then, to the Weekend List of Five, where we try to move it to the brighter side of sports:
1. The Little League World Series
Six years have passed since a team from Taiwan won the 12-year-old world championship, and I gotta ask at this point: Are heads rolling on the China Sea?
Who is the Gene Bartow/Gary Cunningham figure in Taiwan who screwed up the John Wooden-styled dynasty in the Far East?
I mean, congratulations to Tokyo, Japan, for winning this year, but something is rotten in the state of Williamsport, and it's the bizarre absence of those 6-foot 12-year-olds from Taipei who shaved twice a day and drove courtesy cars to the Williamsport parking lot.
The numbers back me up. From 1969 to 1981, teams from Taipei won 10 of the 12 Little League World Series. From 1986 to 1991, they won five out of six. And then, in a last gasp for the dynasty, they won in 1995 and 1996 -- and have never been heard from again. Tumbleweed city. No life.
It could be the Curse of Cody Webster.
Remember that chunky, curly-haired blonde kid who dominated for the Kirkland, Wash., squad in '82? He was the Terminator, man. Taiwan had won five straight from 1977 to 1981 and were looking like they'd never lose again. You had the feeling Fleetwood Mac was going to dedicate their next album, "Rumours, II" to the rumor that Taiwan was artificially breeding kids who could hit 80 mph from 45 feet away.
And then came Kirkland, Wash., and Cody Webster, sort of like the guy in "Red Dawn" who shouts "WOLVERINES!" in the face of the Soviet invasion.
Taiwan was never the same since.
Now? Hell, Taiwan might as well be the Netherlands Antilles.
Give me Saugus, Mass., or Boynton Beach, Fla., over those poseurs from Taiwan any day.
The Cooler really must raise the Dixie cup of Sparkletts to the Tokyo kids, who hammered young Michael Broad from Boynton Beach, Fla., a pitcher whom I had placed on the same pedestal now occupied by Bob Feller and Walter Johnson.
I saw this kid throw against Chandler, Ariz., one night last week and had to hide behind the couch pillow. All the memories of the flame-throwing Little League pitchers came rushing back, when you had to start your swing in his windup and hope for the best.
The worst, of course, would be to be hit by the pitch.
We know now, in our older years, that any way to reach base against a heat-seeking right-hander is the right way, even if it means closing your eyes and leaning into a heater. The Rudy Stein Theory. It's a rally-starter.
Try telling a 12-year-old to lean into a Michael Broad pitch. He'd rather admit that he likes Justin Timberlake videos.
How those Japanese kids hit Blazing Broad, I'll never know. Maybe they were the Taiwan team in disguise.
3. No. 49
So Ron Guidry had his number retired. That guy was to the big leagues in 1978 as Taiwanese hurlers were to Americans at Williamsport.
Cogitate on these digits, dweller, from Guidry's '78 campaign:
Twenty-five wins, three losses.
187 hits, 72 walks, for a Walks-Hits/Innings Pitched of less than 1.0.
16 complete games.
ERA of 1.72.
Quick, somebody check Ron Guidry's old hat and uniform pants for Vasoline deposits. Who could hit Ron Guidry? In 1978, he may have been the Single Most Unhittable Man Ever.
Nolan Ryan? Tom Seaver? J.R. Richard?
Confession: As a kid in Mill Valley, Calif., my favorite American League team was the Boston Red Sox, a franchise crushed by Guidry. And when I bought a glove for Babe Ruth ball? It was a Ron Guidry autographed glove. I always doubted myself for signing off on a Guidry glove, knowing what he had done to the Bosox.
But, hey -- my parents were paying and all, so who was I to bitch?
Louisiana Lightning -- The Cooler salutes you, but only because the prism of time has made our feelings change from defeatist rage to total admiration.
It's beyond official: The NFL exhibition season sucks. Big-time.
We've now lost Mike Vick, Chad Pennington and Jeremy Shockey.
Yo, Tags: Let's go whole hog and take out LaDainian Tomlinson, Tom Brady and Jon Gruden in a sideline collision, just for good measure.
All this carnage ... for what, Tags? So you can charge $80 a head for camp bodies to go at it?
Proposal from The Cooler: All NFL exhibition games are two-hand touch, or flag football, from here on in.
Tackling begins in September. End of story.
5. Pete, We Salute You
He gave an interview on Bob Costas' excellent HBO show recently, lamenting that he's a "'50s guy" in the 21st-century era of showmanship, marketing and hype. He's right, you know. Never in the past decade has an athlete so dominant passed so low under the radar, unless you count Lance Armstrong. But even Armstrong got mountains of due in the past two years -- Sports Illustrated covers, Water Cooler buzz (note all caps, dweller). Sampras simply won majors, handled himself with uncommon grace and then won more majors.
What did he get for it? Immense satisfaction at entering the pantheon of the game's alltime greats, a Hollywood babe wife, a beautiful baby boy and a gorgeous home in his native Southern California.
Not a bad deal. Way to go, Pete. Congratulations on a game well played.
Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.