For $5,000, Giants let Bonds get away

KEN ROSENTHAL

March 16, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- You want crazy? Here's crazy. The San Francisco Giants refused to sign Barry Bonds for $75,000 in 1982. A decade later, under different ownership, they gave him 583 times that much -- $43.75 million.

Those poor Giants, they could have had Bonds a lot sooner, if only they had listened to Frank Robinson. Bonds, then a high school senior in San Mateo, Calif., was their second-round pick in '82. Talks broke down over a difference of $5,000.

Robinson, then the Giants manager, was so eager for the club to sign Bonds he offered to take the $5,000 out of his own pocket. But Giants officials balked, and Bonds wound up going to Arizona State and then to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It's a classic example of how baseball executives can be stubborn and just plain dumb. Bonds, 28, developed into the best player in the game, not to mention the richest, once the Giants corrected their earlier blunder.

Robinson remembers meeting with Bonds, his father, Bobby, and Giants scout Hank Sauer after the negotiations reached an impasse. After all this time, he still can't believe how Bonds slipped away.

"I asked Barry, 'Why $75,000? Why the number 75?' " Robinson recalled. "He said, 'Because I think it's a good number where I can buy some things for myself and put some money in the bank.' I said, 'Well, that makes sense.'

"What I admired about this kid is that he put a number there and never moved. I said to [former general manager] Tom Haller and [owner] Bob Lurie: 'This is the kind of guy we need in our organization. He has speed, and he can hit.'

"I said, 'Give him $5,000 of my money.' I was serious. They said: 'No, he's going to school. He's going to school, and in a year or so, he won't make it.' They let him go. They stopped at $70,000."

Bonds said he wasn't aware of Robinson's offer -- he told a reporter Sunday, "That's the first I heard about it, just now." Evidently, the stars weren't aligned properly for Barry to exert his memory. His father, Bobby, confirmed Robinson's every word.

Bobby, the Giants' new hitting instructor, said he arrived at the $75,000 figure by calculating the approximate worth of the Arizona State scholarship. Bobby was a star for the Giants from 1968 to '74, but that apparently made no difference.

"Their first offer was $25,000, and I hung up the phone," Bobby said. "Then they called back and said $35,000, and I hung up the phone again. They said, 'If you can get more, good luck to you. He'll never get it.' I laughed at those words, too.

"Barry wasn't going to sign for $74,999.99 -- he was going to sign for $75,000. They were told that. They were going to have to meet what the scholarship was worth. But they only got up to $70,000."

And Robinson's offer?

"He's telling the exact truth," Bobby said. "If it was left to Frank Robinson, Barry would have signed with the Giants in '82. But Frank didn't make the final decision."

So, Bonds went to Arizona State, where he played in the same outfield with Mike Devereaux and Oddibe McDowell. The Pirates made him the sixth overall pick in the 1985 draft, and the rest is history.

Actually, this gets better: The Giants' first-round pick the year they drafted Bonds was Steve Stanicek, the older brother of former Oriole Pete Stanicek. The Giants gave Steve $80,000. He played a grand total of 13 major-league games.

Meanwhile, Bonds has won two of the past three National League MVP awards, becoming the first player to average 30 homers, 100 RBI and 40 stolen bases over a three-year period, according to the Elias Baseball Analyst.

Robinson recalled Giants scouts telling him that Bonds had a "left fielder's arm," but that hasn't stopped him from winning three straight Gold Gloves. Simply put, he's a dream player, even if he's not exactly Prince Charming in the clubhouse.

Who knows what would have happened if he signed with the Giants out of high school? He probably would have reached the majors at the same time -- in 1986, the same year as Will Clark. The Giants might not have traded for Kevin Mitchell. The Pirates might never have won three straight NL East titles.

Of course, Bonds surely would have hated Candlestick Park, where his lifetime average is .223. He would have grated on people the way he did in Pittsburgh and probably left the same way, as a free agent.

Still, the Giants would have had him.

For $75,000, not $43.75 million.

"Every day I look at this guy who was never going to make it," Bobby Bonds said, sarcastically. "I told him in the long run, if he didn't sign, things would work out.

"Evidently," Bobby said, "they have."

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