Bonds not only gives the Yankees home runs, he gives them stolen bases—his 41 steals were only a dozen fewer than the entire Yankee team had in 1974—and he brings a right-hand bat into a lineup previously overbalanced with lefty swingers.
"The other teams won't be so eager to start lefthanders against us this year," says Coach Howard. "Last year we saw them all, even second-liners up from Triple A."
With Bonds there to scare off the southpaws, Manager Bill Virdon will be able to make freer use of Ron Blomberg, his left-hand hitting DH, who has averaged .329 and .311 the past two seasons playing almost exclusively against right-handers. "I gotta, be selfish about it," says Blomberg of the Bonds acquisition. "I'm gonna play more."
For his part, Hunter fleshes out a pitching staff that already includes 19-game winners George (Doc) Medich and Pat Dobson. No matter that all three were shellacked in their first starts of 1975. They are proven talent.
"If you want to start building a ball club, you do it with pitching and catching, and that's where we have the pluses," says Virdon, a tactician who looks as primly responsible as a junior high school principal. "You have another plus when you can add a man like Hunter to your staff without giving up anything." By "anything" it is assumed he meant human beings, the Yankees having given up a considerable something beyond the corporeal for the A's 25-game winner.
Hunter was held out of the season's opener in Cleveland, ostensibly because Medich had earned the pitching honors, but actually because Hunter would be the superior drawing card at home. The Indians did not require the Catfish to lure 56,204 spectators into their creaking stadium; they had Manager Robinson. He did not fail them, hitting a homer off Medich in his first at bat. Medich, not Hunter, will be the footnote to that moment of history.
The Yankees were idle for two days before they opened at home. On Wednesday they practiced at Shea Stadium; on Thursday they rested. Bonds and Hunter, meanwhile, were privileged to familiarize themselves with the Big Apple. Hunter is a relatively uncomplicated, agreeably straightforward individual who savors the unusual prospect of playing before spectators in such abundance that he is not on a first-name basis with all of them. At Oakland he was scarcely seen, except during the World Series. He had remarked to one writer that he could stand blindfolded in the middle of the Oakland Coliseum and identify every spectator by the sound of his voice.
He was also pleased that someone other than Charles O. Finley would be managing him. "It will be nice," he said after the Wednesday workout, "to know that the lineup will be made out three hours before a game instead of three minutes," a reference to Finley's penchant for telephonically inserting last-minute changes in his manager's batting order.
Though he does not always publicly exult in his legal triumph over his old master, he is not exactly shy about discussing it. A baseball arbitrator and the courts ruled that Finley failed to meet his contractual obligations to Hunter, which freed the pitcher to negotiate baseball's richest contract. "The man just didn't pay me, that's all," says Hunter. "And there's nothing he can do about it, though he's gonna try everything. Can't blame him for that." The New York press has made much of the paradox of a North Carolina farm boy becoming the recipient of so much big-city largesse, but Hunter has steadfastly resisted all efforts to undersophisticate him. He is not the down-home anecdotist the New York media might wish him to be, responding to even the silliest inquiries with almost grave dignity, tempered only slightly by country wit. The mythmakers will be obliged to look elsewhere for their Park Avenue hillbilly.
Bonds may have more potential as a media darling. He is a complex person, a garrulous charmer much of the time, whose reputation in San Francisco as a Sybarite was at least partially unmerited. Now that he is a New Yorker of sorts, he prefers to regard himself as a small-town lad rendered vertiginous by the Manhattan merry-go-round.