Organizers hope the third annual Bobby Bonds Memorial Symposium will help reverse the declining number of Blacks playing baseball at all levels. They also know that the job gets more difficult with every negative headline involving Bobby’s son, Barry.
It’s hard to find a day when San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds isn’t dealing with his alleged involvement with steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. And that limits the younger Bonds’ impact as a role model for Black youths thinking of baseball, says former New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson.
“He is arguably the greatest baseball slugger. But right now, no one knows that. So, who are kids going to relate to?” says Wilson, best remembered for his role in game six of the 1986 World Series. First, Wilson skipped out of the way of Bob Stanley’s pitch that let New York tie Boston in the bottom of the 10th. Then Wilson hit the slow roller that Bill Buckner let get past him for a Mets victory, tying the series. Wilson and the Mets took game seven and the championship.
The event, titled the “Bobby Bonds Symposium on the Survival of Historical Black Colleges and Universities Baseball Programs,” will take place from July 27-30 at Benedict College. There will also be a youth baseball tournament sponsored by the Metropolitan Junior Baseball League (MJLB).
Wilson worries that Black participation in the game he loves has reached a critical low point and needs serious attention. The symposium comes just as Shaw University officials have decided to drop its intercollegiate baseball, golf and indoor track programs to save money and concentrate on football and basketball. The Division II school won the CIAA baseball title. But, the university’s decision leaves only five baseball teams in the historically Black conference.
Barry Bonds has been a polarizing force for much of his career, beloved by many for his skills but often trashed by critics. Bonds always contentious relationship with the media has made it difficult for young Blacks to latch on to Bonds the way Wilson looked up to Willie Mays and Hank Aaron while growing up.
Wilson doesn’t think the younger Bonds’troubles will deter grassroots efforts like those of the symposium. “What I think hurts the cause is the fact that Barry Bonds is the only African-American being publicized right now,” Wilson says. “That’s all of baseball. Show us something positive.”
William Forrester, the MJBL’s executive director, talked with Bobby Bonds about the efforts shortly before the elder Bonds fell ill with cancer. Bobby Bonds died in August 2003.
Forrester says Bobby Bonds shared his groups’ vision that more needed to be done to revive baseball for Blacks from youth leagues to colleges.
Forrester says people naturally hear about the Bonds symposium and think of Barry. “And they try and label Barry as a cheater. They haven’t come up with any conclusive evidence of anything,” says Forrester, whose organization is based in Richmond, Va.
“You can’t fault his father — regardless of what the son does — for having interest in trying to get Blacks back in baseball,” Forrester says.
But he admits to wondering “sometimes if people want to tie their names to this with everything being anti-Barry,” he says. “But we’re moving forward.”
Forrester and Wilson think the event can help raise awareness that it’s important that Blacks reconnect with baseball. They also hope the symposium will expose the tournament’s young players to historically Black colleges and their programs.
“It’s tough going out there to find those prospects,” says Derrick Johnson, Benedict’s head baseball coach.
Wilson saw that firsthand as a manager with the Mets’ farm club in Kingsport, Tenn. His first season, “we had three African-Americans. The next year, we had none,” he says.
Wilson says football and basketball have done much better jobs over time marketing to the Black community. “It’s time for us to get out there, too,” he says.
— Associated Press
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