San Francisco Giants: Bonds’ success all about confidence and plate discipline
By Stephen Ruderman
Yesterday, Barry Bonds became the 49th San Francisco Giant to have been enshrined on the SF Giants’ wall of fame on the King St. side of AT&T Park in what will be the first significant ceremony celebrating Bonds since his departure at the end of the 2007 season.
Bonds signed with the team in December 1992, right after an investment group headed by Peter Magowan and Larry Baer saved the team from moving to St. Petersburg, Florida. Bonds was fresh off his second National League Most Valuable Player Award in three years, and in 1993, his first season as a SF Giant, he hit 46 home runs on his way to his third MVP.
Bonds was of course known for his record 762 home runs, but he was all around one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game. Bonds walked what was then a record 177 times in 2001.
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Bonds broke his own record the next season with 198 walks, and then he broke his own record again in 2004 with 232 walks. While a lot of them were intentional walks, Bonds was the most disciplined hitter a lot of people ever saw. It was rare that he would chase a pitch out of the zone.
Bonds was also the most confident hitter a lot of people ever saw. I had the great honor of being a bat boy for the Giants in a spring training game on March 9, 2006. The Giants were playing the Angels in Tempe, and five minutes after I got set up, Bonds walked into the dugout. I asked him, “How do you hit all those home runs?” “You have to believe in yourself and whack it,” he answered.
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His confidence was indeed something nobody ever saw. The look on his face, alone, completely scared pitchers. It was the look of “you give me that pitch, and I’m going to hit it out.” It was the greatest swagger in the history of the game. He took the close ones, and once he got that pitch to hit, he hit it a mile.
His confidence and discipline were intertwined. There was no better at-bat in which it was displayed than his at-bat against Eric Gagne on April 16, 2004, in which Bonds hit a 100-mile-per-hour fastball out of the ballpark into right-centerfield. It was mano a mano, and Bonds was determined. He was not going to be beat. He hung in there and pulled Gagne’s fastballs foul until he hit the home run.
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Whether you loved Bonds or you hated Bonds, you had to respect the way he stepped up to the plate. His confidence and plate discipline had nothing to do with performance-enhancing drugs. It had to do with how he was taught the game, and he was taught it by his godfather Willie Mays, arguably the greatest player of all time.