SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds has completed the family circle. And now it's on to the Babe.
More history was made April 13 at SBC Park when Bonds passed his godfather, Willie Mays, by hitting home run No. 661. He's now all alone in third place on Major League Baseball's all-time homer list, closing in on the legendary Babe Ruth, who has 714. Hank Aaron, at 755, is a seemingly distant first.
The big blow, coming in the eighth game of the 2004 season, his 18th in the big leagues, came at home just one day after he hit No. 660 in the Giants' home opener.
Bonds, who turns 40 this July and is showing no signs of slowing down, made it clear after the homer that No. 661 paled in comparison to No. 660, even if it put him ahead of a man who is not only his mentor but also was the same role model for his late father, Bobby.
At this point, nothing can really compare to what will always be remembered as Willie's number -- 660.
"It just kind of binded us all together, my dad and Willie and myself, and kind of completed the circle of our family," Bonds said of No. 660, relaxed and thoughtful during a 15-minute session with the media the night he hit No. 661. "You know, everybody said my dad was the next Willie Mays. They just got the name wrong, from Bobby to Barry."
And now Barry's the first name on the extended Bonds family tree's all-time homers list.
No. 661 came in the seventh inning on a hanging slider from right-hander Ben Ford on a 1-and-2 count. Once again, it wound up getting wet, becoming the 29th Splash Hit off the bat of Bonds, the 33rd overall at SBC Park. The 468-foot shot was plucked out of McCovey Cove by Giants fan and part-time Arnold Schwarzenegger-impersonating kayaker Larry Ellison, who gave No. 660 to Bonds but will keep this one with Bonds' unequivocal blessing.
Unlike No. 660, there was no ceremony or on-field hug from Mays, and no torch being passed. It was just Bonds' normal routine seen literally hundreds of times, ending with his two-handed point to the sky and, of course, a rousing ovation from the 42,040 fans in attendance.
Compared to the relief of hitting 660, hitting 661 seemed almost mundane for Bonds. His first thought was that he gave his team an insurance run in what turned into a 4-2 victory over the Brewers, not that he'd taken a step up from Mays' milestone.
"It was a little more stressful going for 660, because Willie was traveling with me and with me every minute and walking down to the dugout every at-bat," Bonds said. "It's great to know that he's there, but it's a little more pressure when you know that he's waiting right there for you."
Mays, 72, indeed was in attendance for No. 661, but in a more low-profile mode than the day before, when he took the field after the milestone homer and passed a torch studded with $18,000 of diamonds forming the numbers 660, 25 (Bonds' number) and 1 (one more to pass Mays).
That one came one day later, and Mays was there for the big moment.
"He came today, sure," Bonds said. "I thought he was going to take a day off after yesterday and all the traveling, but Willie was right here today. He just told me to go out and be yourself."
For Bonds, being himself means, among other things, catching and passing milestones.
Barry Bonds / LF
Weight: 230 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: L
With Bonds still chugging up the charts, the family circle outfield of the two Bonds men and Mays would have combined to hit 1,653 home runs, and counting.
Bobby Bonds hit 332 homers in 14 seasons, the first seven in San Francisco. He also played for the Yankees, Angels, White Sox, Rangers, Indians and Cardinals, before finishing up in 1981 playing one season for the Chicago Cubs.
Barry Bonds is certain to join Mays someday in the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. He is also almost certain to have a statue of his likeness placed outside SBC Park near the already existing bronze figure of Mays, the man who became his godfather and mentor when he was a 5-year-old.
Bonds' father joined the Giants in 1968 when he was 22 years old and Mays, then 37, was in the twilight of his 22-year career.
The tyke Barry quickly latched onto Mays, who became like a grandfather, taking him to center field during batting practice at Candlestick Park, throwing him pitches and playing catch.
"I couldn't catch the ball, but Willie made me hang with it," said Bonds, who recalled hiding above Mays' locker at the Giants' former ballpark. "I'd stick my head down from there and try to scare him."
Bobby, who would ultimately add 461 stolen bases to his career statistics, was trying to make it big in the Major Leagues and asked Mays if he would be the godfather to his young son.
"There wasn't any doubt in my mind about that one," Mays said. "It was an honor to me. The answer to that question was yes."
Mays and the elder Bonds parted ways when Mays was traded to the Mets early in the 1973 season. Mays began his career in 1951 when the Giants were still in New York. He played his first seven years starring at the old Polo Grounds and the New York fans never got over the loss when the Giants moved to San Francisco and Seals Stadium in 1958.
Joan Payson, the Mets' original owner, had a soft spot for Mays and wanted him to end his career in the city where it began. The Mets, after all, were created in 1962, only five years after the Dodgers and Giants broke so many hearts and moved to California.
The Mets, in fact, played their first two seasons in the Polo Grounds and Mays returned there again to make basket catches and hit home runs at the strange horseshoe-shaped yard in Manhattan across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
But by the time Mays returned to New York for good, his career was petering out. He hit his 600th homer late in the 1969 season as a pinch-hitter in what was then called San Diego Stadium, the ballpark in Mission Valley vacated last year by the Padres.
The last homer of his career came on Aug. 17, 1973. It was a solo shot leading off the fourth inning against Cincinnati right-hander Don Gullet at Shea Stadium in the borough of Queens.
Unlike Mays, Barry Bonds' greatest power surge has come at a time in his career when most baseball players are winding down. He broke Mark McGwire's three-year-old record with 73 homers in 2001. He and McGwire, who hit 70 homers in 1998, are the only two players in baseball history to reach the 70-homer plateau.
Bonds, a six-time NL Most Valuable Player, followed the single-season record with 46 homers in 2002 and 45 in 2003, the latter figure coming in only 130 games. He missed 32 games last season, primarily because his father was sick and ultimately succumbed to cancer.
A .297 lifetime hitter, Bonds radically changed his style of hitting at the same time he began smacking more home runs. He led the National League with a .370 average in 2002, a year after setting the home run record. He batted .341 last season. Prior to 2002, Bonds' highest batting average was .336 in 1993, the year after he left the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent to sign with the Giants.
Prior to 2000, when he hit 49 homers, Bonds had had hit more than 40 only three times. His highest previous homer output of 46 came for the Giants, also in 1993. Bonds never hit more than 34 homers in a single season during his first seven years playing for the Pirates.
Barely more than a week into the 2004 season, Bonds had hit 216 homers since the start of 2000 and now stands on the doorstep of even holier ground for baseball fans, within shouting distance of 700, which could come as early as this season, and as the only name directly below Ruth and his 714 homers, which stood as the all-time record for 38 years.
Bonds says he isn't thinking about Ruth just yet, or 700 or 755.
"Right now, I'm just working on 662," Bonds said.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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