I’ll always hate Barry Bonds. Not because he broke the most hallowed record in sports – Hank Aaron’s career home run total – by taking steroids, and then told a grand jury he didn’t know he was on steroids. Not because he left the Pirates. I’ll always hate Barry Bonds because he’s a liar and egomaniac. And because of his bad playoff performances with Pittsburgh. In 20 postseason games with the Pirates, Bonds had one home run and three RBI, and the Pirates lost each series he played in. Most memorable is the ball that dropped in front of Bonds on the final play of Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves, scoring the Braves’ Sid Bream and keeping the Pirates from reaching their first World Series since 1979.
It was the bottom of the ninth. Unknown pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera was at bat for the Braves. I was 12 years old and watching the game with my parents in Bethel Park, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Bream, the long-time Pirate who had signed with Atlanta before the 1992 season, came around to score on Cabrera’s base hit, which fell right in front of Bonds, whose weak throw couldn’t get the slow-footed Bream at home.
It was the last time Bonds would ever wear a Pittsburgh uniform. It was also the last time the Pirates finished a season with a winning record. Yes, it’s been 19 years, an American professional sports record.
But recent quotes from an old teammate of Bonds shed light on that fateful game-losing throw like never before. The words are from Pirates great Andy Van Slyke, the perennial Gold Glove center fielder who was standing to Bonds’ left when Bonds threw wide and short of the plate to end the 1992 season for Pittsburgh and take the Braves to the World Series.
According to Van Slyke, Bonds responded to fielding advice just before the game-winning hit by giving his teammate the middle finger.
“He gave me the international peace sign,” Van Slyke told MLB Network. Van Slyke, at that time the winner of five consecutive Gold Gloves, had seen Bonds situated too deep in left field and yelled at him, “Move in! Move in!”
“I didn’t want to lose the game on a base hit,” Van Slyke explained to the Oakland Press in another interview. “I was totally devastated.”
Here is the actual footage, which still gives me nightmares. It is clear that if Bonds had made the adjustment Van Slyke suggested (moving just a few steps to his left), Bream would’ve been out by a few steps.