In Memory of Walt Bond

Walter Bond, 29, ex-First Baseman
The New York Times, obituary
September 16, 1967

(c) Houston Astros
HOUSTON, Sept. 15 (AP) - Walter Bond, a former major league first baseman, died of leukemia yesterday in Methodist Hospital. He was 29 years old.

Bond, 6-foot-6-inch, 215-pounder, had his best major league season in 1964 when he drove in 85 runs for the Houston Astros and hit 20 home runs. He also had 7 triples, 16 doubles and finished the year with a .254 average.

The 85 runs batted in was a Houston club record until it was broken this year by Jimmy Wynn.

Bond was traded by the Astros to the Minnesota Twins organization early in 1966. He was sent to Denver, where he had a good year as a pinchhitter and part-time outfielder and first baseman. He was called up by the Twins and remained about a month and was released.

The Astros had purchased Bond from the Cleveland organization in 1963. He had played the previous season at Jacksonville in the International League. Bond played briefly with the Cleveland Indians in 1960, 1961, and 1962.

He is survived by his widow, Lynette.

Take away the 's' and you've got a hero
by John McGrath
Tacoma News Tribune
March 12, 2006

I was checking on a Barry Bonds stat in my Baseball Encyclopedia the other day when I noticed the name directly preceding him on page 67.

Walt Bond.

If the evidence against him is as overwhelming as it appears, Bonds, with 708 homers, does more than present an untoward threat to Babe Ruth (714) and Henry Aaron (755) on the career home run list. If the evidence against him is as overwhelming as it appears, the science-lab Hercules has betrayed the opportunity -- indeed, the privilege -- that made him a Hall of Fame candidate before he ever popped a pill or took an injection.

Bonds can't be denied the single-minded determination that distinguished his path from All-American outfielder at Arizona State to All-Star in Pittsburgh to superstar in San Francisco. But he also needed some luck -- more specifically, the avoidance of bad luck -- to achieve greatness.

Which brings us to Walt Bond, a 6-foot-7, left-handed-hitting first baseman from Denmark, Tenn. Bond broke in with the 1960 Cleveland Indians, played two years in Houston and got 16 at-bats with the 1967 Minnesota Twins. His big-league career consisted of 365 games.

Among the last alums of the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs, Bond wasn't an overt victim of discrimination, but feel free to read between the lines: As a September minor league call-up for Cleveland in 1962, Bond hit .380, with six homers and 17 RBI, in 12 games.

Granted, 12 games isn't much of a sample size, but you'd assume a 25-year-old first baseman who'd destroyed big-league pitching in September would merit some attention the following spring. The Indians had another idea. They swapped three prospects to the Braves for 35-year-old Joe Adcock, delegating Bond to another season in the minor leagues.

Traded to Houston, Bond responded with a breakout season in 1964, hitting 20 homers with 85 RBI and -- get this -- seven triples. On the surface, the numbers were impressive. Beneath the surface, they were heroic: Bond was a leukemia patient in remission.

After a disappointing 1965 season in Houston's new Astrodome, Bond was dealt to Minnesota, which assigned him to its Class AAA affiliate in Denver. He put up some decent numbers, got promoted and played in 10 games with the 1967 Twins before health became an issue. Bond had been demoted to Jacksonville, in the International League, when he returned to Houston for hospitalization. On Sept. 14, 1967, three months after his last at-bat in the big leagues, Bond died.

His tombstone at Houston National Cemetery reads:

Walter F. Bond

Nobody would suggest Bond's Hall of Fame career was denied by fatal disease. But he got no breaks, either. Impeded by some knuckleheads in the Cleveland front office, he wasted a year of his prime in Class AAA finishing school, then went to the Houston Colt .45s, who played in a gussied-up minor league park with inferior lighting, a 420-foot fence to deep center and a stiff wind from right field that virtually silenced left-handed hitters.

When the Colt .45s were renamed the Astros and became tenants of the dome touted as the "Eighth Wonder of the World," Bond found himself moving from a bad hitter's park into the very worst hitter's park in a pitching-dominant era. (It'd be 30 years before power alleys were routinely reconfigured from a par-5 to a par-3.)

Walt Bond was not unlike a thousand other coulda-beens. He got handed some terrible cards, and he did his best with them. He had no choice.

Barry Bonds, by contrast, was blessed with every gift a baseball player could want: health, wealth, talent, fawning fans in San Francisco and a manager who left him alone. He even had a charming smile -- not often displayed without a TV camera to engage the masses -- but a charming smile just the same.

And then he got jealous. According to San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, Bonds was motivated to put on 30 pounds of artificially enhanced muscle mass not because he had lost his pop, or was wary of getting hurt, or was in the throes of a late-career confidence crisis.

Bonds was motivated because he envied the adulation Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa enjoyed during their home run duel of 1998.

He had it all, and he wanted more. And because of his yearning for more, Bonds might be shown the door. Commissioner Bud Selig, who two years ago reportedly offered the single-season home run king amnesty in exchange for a here-is-what-I-did-and-when-I-did-it confession, is said to be furious.

Everything's on hold: the pursuit of Ruth's 714 and Aaron's 755, the once-certain ticket to the Hall of Fame, everything.

And yet, the most profound condemnation of Bonds is his place on page 67 of the Baseball Encyclopedia. There are thousands of names in the book, but it is Bonds' destiny to occupy the entry directly below Walt Bond.

Somebody who'd have given anything for a chance to play regularly, to make an All-Star team, to be cheered, to be revered

He went 0-for-4. And then he died, a few weeks before he turned 30.