By Stephen Whyno
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON — When pitchers were intentionally walking Barry Bonds more than anyone else in baseball history, his father had a simple message for him.
“It’s your fault,” Bobby Bonds told his son. “You didn’t have to be this good.”
That’s what Barry Bonds thinks when he sees Bryce Harper getting so many free passes to first base. But he also believes the Washington Nationals outfielder and reigning National League MVP needs to diversity his game if opposing teams are going to take the bat out of his hands.
“He’s going to need to learn to steal bases and get to second base and make his teammates’ job easier,” Bonds recently told The Associated Press.
The Chicago Cubs walked Harper 15 times during a four-game series earlier this month, including four times intentionally, and he scored only three runs. Bonds, baseball’s intentional walk king, said too much was being made of Ryan Zimmerman’s struggles batting behind Harper as the Cubs swept the Nationals.
Teammates had bad series hitting behind Bonds, too, when he was intentionally walked. But Bonds remembers what he said to his children during his playing days.
“My kids used to tell me, ‘Daddy, I’m sorry they walk you all the time,’” said Bonds, who led baseball in intentional walks 12 times and tops the all-time list with 688. “I said, ‘Yeah, but my job’s now to steal.’ I could run then, so I had to steal bases and my job’s to score runs and keep the pressure on the team regardless of what happened. But I had a different game than him.”
Bonds stole 514 bases during his 22-year major league career. Harper has 43, and it’s an element that Bonds says would make the 23-year-old a five-tool player.
That doesn’t mean that Bonds believes Harper is doing anything wrong.
“Bryce Harper can only do what his job is,” Bonds said. “If they walk him, his job is to go to first base and then run bases. His teammates’ job is to drive him in. Bryce Harper can only do what he’s capable of doing and what he’s given the opportunity to do.”
After the final game of the walk-this-way series against the Cubs, Harper said he was walked a lot during high school and that he can’t get frustrated if the treatment continues.
“You’re getting on base, and that’s what your team asks you to do,” Harper said. “If I can get on base every time I get up there, I’m doing it the right way. If it’s a hit, a walk, I get drilled or whatever. Get on base. Maybe steal second, steal third and get it done.”
Dusty Baker is the common thread between the two superstars, as he managed the San Francisco Giants during Bonds’ heyday and is now managing Harper with the Nationals. Baker said the onus is on Harper’s teammates to make opponents pay for all the walks.
When Bonds was playing, Baker didn’t have to give him any advice because he could lean on his father’s and godfather Willie Mays’ experiences.
“I knew how to deal with it,” said Bonds, now the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins. “I had my own father in me. I had my dad and Willie. I had enough pressure with those two that I didn’t need to add more with Dusty.”
Harper has plenty of pressure on him as the face of the franchise and one of the best players in baseball, but he can only hit what he’s thrown. Bonds became baseball’s home run king with 762 despite walking a major league-leading 2,558 times.
Bonds estimates that he lost four or five years of at-bats from walks. Still, if he were pitching to Harper, he wouldn’t give him much to hit.
“If I was a pitcher and I need to leave it in the ballpark, I’m going to pick somebody who’s going to leave it in the ballpark more than someone who has a chance to hit it out of the ballpark,” he said. “Not every time, but there will be a situation. Even me as a pitcher, he’s going to have to walk if it’s the game on the line.”