At 6:15 p.m., 39 years ago today, Bobby Bonds arrived at the ballpark for a night game in Pittsburgh.
It had been a long journey. Bonds, a three-time All-Star, had been released the previous winter by the St. Louis Cardinals, having hit .203 with just five home runs. He signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers for the 1981 season. "I didn't think I could take the minors," Bonds would say. "My one goal was to make the majors." His teammates in Wichita called him Gramps. He was 35. One day, the Rangers called him up, but Bonds happened to wake up that morning with a stiff neck that kept him from throwing. Call-up revoked.
While he was in Wichita, his son -- Barry -- was becoming a fixture in Bay Area sports pages. A couple weeks earlier, during the regional high school playoffs, he'd taken over the county home run lead. As a profile in a San Francisco Peninsula newspaper said that spring, "It may yet come to pass that San Carlos resident Bobby Bonds' role in sports history, as great as his own lengthy career has been, will be as Barry Bonds' father, not as a long-time major league star on his own."
So that was the trajectory: Bobby's career as Bobby Bonds was coming to an end. His career as Barry's dad was approaching. One day very soon, the son would be better than the father. They write Greek myths about this sort of thing.
On June 3, the Cubs purchased Bobby's contract. He woke up on June 4, 1981, and flew to Pittsburgh. He arrived at the park at 6:15 and was in the lineup for the 7:30 first pitch. And by 8 p.m., Bobby Bonds had played his way into the next day's papers: In the first inning, on the first ball hit in his direction, Bonds went for a shallow fly ball, stumbled on a seam in Pittsburgh's artificial turf, slid "about 20 feet," and broke his pinky.