Swapping Stories: The Bobby Bonds Trade of 1978
May 16, 1978: Texas trades outfielder Claudell Washington and outfielder Rusty Torres to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Bobby Bonds.
Long before he was known as Barry Bonds’s Father, Bobby Bonds was a household name himself, baseball’s Jose Canseco a decade before Canseco arrived on the scene. In his prime there was no more complete player, no comparable combination of power and speed and defense in the game.
Also not unlike Canseco, Bonds was a player who went from being a seemingly untouchable core player on a contending team to a baseball vagabond, bouncing around the league on a number of one- and two-year stints before trying to hang on at the end in minor league uniforms, auditioning for one last shot in the big leagues.
The embarking of Canseco’s trek around the league began in Texas, after eight seasons in Oakland. Bonds spent seven seasons on the other side of the Bay, starring for San Francisco before the start of his baseball odyssey, which made a brief stop in Texas.
In 1969, the 23-year-old Bonds spent his first full season in the Major Leagues, hitting 32 home runs, driving in 90 runs, scoring a league-leading 120 times, and stealing 45 bases in 49 tries on a 90-win Giants club. His season was overshadowed by teammate Willie McCovey’s MVP campaign and a solid year from 38-year-old Willie Mays, whose decline had not yet begun.
From 1969 to 1974, Bonds averaged 34 homers and 41 steals, very nearly achieving the first 40-40 season in baseball history in 1973, when he went into September with 34 home runs, but hit only five more in the season’s final month. He was MVP of the All-Star Game that year, won his second of three Gold Gloves, and led the National League in total bases.
Bonds suffered a statistical dropoff in 1974 and, after the season, the Giants traded him to the Yankees for outfielder Bobby Murcer, who like Bonds finished in the top ten of his league’s MVP vote in 1973 but regressed in 1974. After a solid season for New York, Bonds was traded to the Angels for outfielder Mickey Rivers and righthander Ed Figueroa.
Bonds played two years for California before being shipped to the White Sox in December 1977, ostensibly because the Angels knew he would have left via free agency after one more season. Chicago figured the same thing out a month into the 1978 season and called Texas.
The Rangers were coming off of a 94-win season in 1977, easily the franchise’s best, when they got off to a mediocre start in 1978, sitting at 15-14 on May 15. When the White Sox offered Bonds to Texas for young outfielder Claudell Washington (who had come over from Oakland in 1977 and had a very good season at age 23, but was hitting just .167 in part-time duty over the first month in 1978) and journeyman outfielder Rusty Torres, co-general managers Dan O’Brien, Sr. and Eddie Robinson jumped. Bonds was 32 but still productive, and the Rangers thought they had a chance to win.
Bonds did his part. In 130 games, alternating primarily between the leadoff and number five slots in the order and settling into a right field/left field/DH rotation that included Richie Zisk and Al Oliver, he hit .265 with 29 home runs, 82 RBI, and 37 steals, stepping up in July with a standout .312/.403/.569 month (eight homers, 24 RBI, 10 steals). But that month was also the club’s undoing, as Texas went 10-20 and slipped from a tie atop the AL West to fourth place, 10 games back. Bonds finished the season in the AL top ten in home runs, total bases, runs, walks, stolen bases, and (as usual) strikeouts.
Immediately after the 1978 season ended, Rangers owner Brad Corbett decided he couldn’t afford to keep Bonds another year and commissioned O’Brien and Robinson to trade the slugger, less than five months after the club had acquired him. Texas traded Bonds to Cleveland on October 3, 1978, packaging him with young righthander Len Barker in exchange for closer Jim Kern and infielder Larvell Blanks.
After the Indians, Bonds would go on to play for St. Louis and the Cubs, actually spending a couple months back in the Rangers organization in 1981 and with the Yankees in 1982 but not appearing in the big leagues in either of those stints. His final Major League appearance was on October 4, 1981, a game in which he led off for the Cubs and drew the club’s only two walks in a 2-1 loss to the Phillies.
Bonds’s son Barry was a high school senior at the time, eight months away from turning his hometown Giants down as the club’s second-round pick in the amateur draft. Barry would instead take his game to Arizona State, where he raised his stock to the point that he was taken sixth overall in the 1985 draft by Pittsburgh. The Giants, drafting second, chose Will Clark. Texas, choosing third, selected Bobby Witt.
Bobby Bonds joined the Giants’ coaching staff in 1993, the same season that his son signed with the club as a free agent. Four years later, Barry would join his father as the only two players in Major League history to have five seasons of at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. The father and son duo are also two of only six players with 300 lifetime homers and 300 steals. Bobby Bonds was the second-youngest to achieve the milestone, next to his former teammate and close friend Mays, who is Barry’s godfather.
Bobby Bonds, who passed away in 2003, spent less than a full season with Texas, and for that reason he is almost never mentioned among the great players to play for the franchise, unlike Canseco, who appeared in only 63 more games as a Ranger than Bonds did. But among the sad parts of Bonds’s legacy is that there are half a dozen teams he played for so briefly that he’s not part of those organization’s legacies either, even though he was undoubtedly one of the most unique players of his generation.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.