Leyland, Baker reflect on Bonds Print
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Tuesday, 31 July 2007 11:12
MLB Headline News

 For The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) -Jim Leyland saw Barry Bonds hit home run No. 1, Dusty Baker watched the slugger zoom up the career chart.
The San Francisco star spent most of his career playing for either Baker or Leyland. And when Bonds tries to break Hank Aaron's record this week at Dodger Stadium, his former managers will be in California, too, monitoring the chase.
``I would have to think that being on the verge of breaking the all-time home run record, you've got to be enjoying it,'' Leyland said. ``I'm sure he doesn't like some of the other stuff that's going along with it, but I hope he's enjoying it. He should.''
Bonds went into Tuesday night's game at Los Angeles with 754 home runs, one behind Aaron.
Leyland now guides the Detroit Tigers, who are playing at Oakland. His first season as a big league manager was 1986, when Bonds was a rookie. They were together for seven years in Pittsburgh.
Bonds moved to San Francisco in 1993, the same year Baker took over the Giants. They were on the same side for 10 seasons.
Baker is in Sacramento, preparing for a family move. He knows quite about home run history - he was in the on-deck circle in Atlanta when Aaron hit No. 715 in 1974 to break Babe Ruth's record.
Baker is glad the mark is about to be surpassed, as much for Aaron's sake as for his former player.
``When one guy breaks a record, it actually glorifies another guy and brings everybody to the forefront - not just the person who's breaking the record,'' Baker said. ``That's what's happening to Hank, and that's what's happening with me.''
``They're asking me questions they would never ask me before, all because of Hank and Barry. So it's like a trickle-down effect whenever a guy is about to do something. It's just like when Mark McGwire was about to break Roger Maris' record and Roger's family was there every day,'' he said.
Baker and Leyland got to visit last Sunday in Anaheim. Baker was working the Tigers-Angels game as an analyst for ESPN.
Baker hopes Bonds can get to No. 756 in a hurry.
``For his sake, I'd like to see him get it over with because it can drain you. I saw it with Hank Aaron,'' Baker said. ``It's very exciting, but it's all encompassing. Everywhere you go, every day, all day and night - I mean, no matter what you say, it's still on your mind until you get it over with. And it'll be a tremendous load off of Barry.''
Baker anticipates Bonds will get a mixed reaction at Dodger Stadium. Baker played eight years in Los Angeles and when he patrolled left field there, that patch of ground was dubbed ``Bakersfield.''
``There are people who love and understand and appreciate the game,'' Baker said, ``and others who don't have much sense. Know what I mean?''
When Aaron approached Ruth's record, he was besieged by hate mail from bigots. Most of the flak directed at Bonds is a result of the ongoing steroids investigation and his often-surly demeanor.
``Barry had some racial stuff, too. I'm sure he did,'' Baker said. ``But the apples-and-oranges come because of a difference in history and time. Hank's homers came at probably the most visible nonconformity period of our country - the Civil Rights movement, post-Vietnam, Woodstock, peace and love, religion, what part of the racial equation are you on. I mean, Hank's time crossed many areas of our society.''
Leyland believes that Bonds' posture with the press has damaged his image along the way - although not enough to keep him from waiting more than the required five years to get into the Hall of Fame after he retires.
``I don't get into that `best of all time' stuff, but one thing I do think is that if Barry had a great relationship with the media and a pretty good relationship with the fans throughout baseball, I think most people would arguably be saying they probably saw the greatest player of all time,'' Leyland said.
``I don't want to get into that argument with old-timers about who was the greatest and who was better, because I really don't know. But I do know this: There's no player in the history of the game that's had the impact on the opposing managers that Barry Bonds has had in the last several years, as far as do you walk him? Do you not walk him? Do you pitch to him? Do you not pitch to him? I mean nobody. They can take them all.''
Bonds hit 176 of his 754 career homers while Leyland was his manager. He averaged 111 RBIs over their last three years together (1990-92), winning two NL MVP awards and helping the Pirates win three straight division titles. He left Pittsburgh as a free agent at age 28 and signed a then-record $43.75 million, six-year contract with the Giants on Dec. 8, 1992.
``We were trying to scrape together about $25 million over five years, I think, and he got about $42 million. So I didn't blame him one bit for leaving Pittsburgh,'' Leyland recalled. ``We had a great time together. He was on some real good teams there, and he was obviously a big part of it.
``I think the only thing that probably wasn't in the best interests of him was the fact that, instead of just saying, `Hey, I enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh, it was great, but this is my first shot at the pot of gold and I'm going to get it,' it was almost like he tried to justify leaving by not being real respectful with the Pittsburgh fans,'' he said. ``That was probably a mistake. I think he regrets that because I think he loved Pittsburgh. In fact, I know he did.''
Bonds spent the next 10 seasons playing for Baker, hitting 437 homers during that span - including a major league-record 73 in 2001. The following year, Baker's last as Giants manager, Bonds helped lead the team to its first NL pennant since 1962.
Bonds hit eight home runs in the postseason before the Angels beat them in a seven-game World Series.
``To me, it's very difficult to compare greatness - but Barry's got to be near or at the top,'' Baker said.
``I remember when they had that argument about who's the greatest heavyweight, and they made up those computerized fights between Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis. I'll just say that Barry's the greatest of his era, and that Hank, Willie Mays and those guys were the greatest of that era.''
 

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