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Archive for Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Bonds reaches incredible 500-500 milestone

June 25, 2003

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— For just a moment, the muscle-bound slugger was a wiry, speedy kid again. Barry Bonds checked out Eric Gagne's deliberate delivery, saw an opening and sprinted to second base, stealing the bag without a throw.

The educated crowd Monday at Pacific Bell Park immediately rose in cheers. The San Francisco die-hards had stuck around in the chill until the 11th inning, hoping for just such a moment.

Only then did Bonds realize his latest feat: He had just become the first player in baseball history to steal 500 bases and hit 500 homers.

"I think it's great, something I hope is going to be around a long time," said Bonds, who claimed he wasn't aware of it. "You never know."

But if Bonds spent any time contemplating his milestones, he'd see the true magic of his latest achievement: There might not be another member of the 500-500 club in his lifetime.

With the stolen base mired in irrelevance during this homer-happy era, most experts believe Bonds' 500 homers and 500 steals could stand for decades as an unmatchable feat.

"It's something that will be very difficult to accomplish, especially since people don't run very much any more," Giants manager Felipe Alou said. "There might be another time, another era of baseball where that will come back -- but you've also got to play for a long, long time."

The statistics prove Bonds has more versatility than any player of his generation, and perhaps anyone in history. There's no other player with even 400 homers and 400 steals; Bonds' godfather, Willie Mays, had just 338 steals along with his 660 homers, while Bonds' father, Bobby, hit 332 homers and stole 461 bases.

"I don't see anybody ever doing it," said Giants outfielder Jose Cruz Jr., who once had a 30-30 season. "It's unbelievable. To get 500 of each would take a really special player who was on a team that let him run all the time for a lot of years. It's hard to imagine."

San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds keeps his 500th career stolen
base. Bonds reached the mark Monday in San Francisco.

San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds keeps his 500th career stolen base. Bonds reached the mark Monday in San Francisco.

Such an achievement might require the next candidate to transform his game and his body the same way

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Bonds did. These days, Bonds bears only a facial resemblance to the slim contact hitter who once stole 52 bases in a season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The next potential 500-500 man also will need the freedom to run -- a rare quantity in today's game. Bonds' formidable talent makes him pretty much above direction from his managers.

"I believe Barry has had the green light 500 times," Alou said with a grin. "He was on his own (on the 500th steal). He's always on his own."

Longevity will be another determining factor. Bobby Bonds had 30 homers and 30 steals during five different seasons, but he only played 14 years in the majors.

Barry had five 30-30 seasons between 1990 and 1997, but base-stealing has become a novelty for the 18-year veteran. With a chronically sore back, he detests running anywhere these days, let alone to second base ahead of a throw.

"I think it's a huge accomplishment," Bonds said earlier in the season. "Most of the time it's usually one or the other -- home runs or stolen bases. To be able to do both of them is pretty special."

So who are the candidates for 500-500? Not counting Rickey Henderson, who's still soldiering on in Newark, baseball's active steals leader is Kenny Lofton, Bonds' friend and teammate last season.

Lofton has 522 stolen bases, but he's also 522 homers behind Bonds, who has 633.

The next seven active players on the career steals list are Roberto Alomar, Delino DeShields, Eric Young, Marquis Grissom, Chuck Knoblauch, Craig Biggio and Barry Larkin -- and none has even an outside shot at 400 homers, let alone 500.

Ken Griffey Jr. has never stolen more than 24 bases in a season, while Larry Walker has stolen 220 bases -- but only 40 in the last four seasons. Ichiro Suzuki already has stolen 105 bases in 2 1/2 major-league seasons, but he doesn't have the power stroke.

Here's another measure of just how hard it is: Jose Canseco, once lauded for the majors' first 40-40 season in 1988, finished his career with 462 homers and just 200 steals.

The best candidates are years away from contention. Montreal's Vladimir Guerrero, usually considered the most likely to achieve Bonds' blend of power and speed, has 217 homers and 119 stolen bases midway through his seventh full major-league season.

"When I managed Vladimir, I knew he would have a chance," Alou said of the 27-year-old. "We won't know if he has a shot for a long time, though."

Alex Rodriguez probably has the best shot of all. With 316 homers and 167 steals in his eighth full season, the Texas shortstop -- who will turn 28 next month -- is primed to make a run with continued good health.

Bonds, who turns 39 July 24, hasn't paid much attention to the historical achievements looming for him this season, and with good reason. His father is fighting lung cancer, and the struggle is painful for both father and son.

Bobby Bonds visited the locker room before Monday night's game, chatting with Mays and Willie McCovey in clubhouse manager Mike Murphy's office -- but by the 11th inning, Barry was on his own.

"My dad probably wasn't here to see it," Bonds said "He hasn't stayed a whole game for a long time."

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