- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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"I'm like a penny in a stack of nickels here," he said last week. "I got lost trying to find my way home last night. What kind of place is this where you can't even find your own house? My home in the Bay Area is in San Carlos, only about 20 miles from San Francisco. It's small and quiet. Here, you have to run across the street or get hit by a taxicab. I hope I don't lose my speed."
Both Bonds and Hunter were generously received by the crowd of 26,212 that paid to attend the home opener in Shea Stadium on a crisp afternoon. New York Governor Hugh Carey was there, and so were Mayor Abe Beame and former Mayor John Lindsay, as well as Toots Shor, Robert Merrill, Roy Cohn, some antiwar protesters and a white chicken that appeared on the screen behind home plate in the eighth inning, provoking an outbreak of bad gags and labored symbolism in the press box. Bonds was cheered by the fans as he emerged from the dugout, and Hunter received a standing ovation as he jogged in from the right-field bullpen.
Hunter struck out the first man he faced, Detroit Centerfielder Ron LeFlore, the fans acclaiming his every pitch. But the next hitter, Gary Sutherland, singled to left, and the next, Willie Horton, stroked a long home run into the left-field bullpen. Hunter is one of baseball's premier home-run pitchers. He sometimes speaks of homers as if he had hit them instead of pitched them. After he surrendered one in last year's World Series, he remarked afterward that there were probably a few people in the stands who had not seen him pitch a home run before, so he felt he owed them one. The crowd, then, was not distressed by such a common occurrence. Hunter was cheered again when he retired the side.
Bonds, too, was hailed when he first came to bat, even though he had gone hitless in four at bats and struck out twice in Cleveland. This time he doubled off the glove of Detroit Third Baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, scoring Alex Johnson from first. He himself scored the tying run when Bob Oliver hit a ball to left field that Dan Meyer lost in the sun. Bonds singled in the third inning, but was thrown out on his first American League stolen-base attempt.
It was downhill for both newcomers after that. Hunter pitched another homer in the sixth, a three-run cannon shot by Nate Colbert that won the game for Detroit; Bonds struck out with the bases loaded in the seventh and ended the game by forcing a base runner.
Bonds and Hunter were seemingly unmoved by these minor calamities. Bonds allowed as how the New York fans were so sophisticated they recognized he would have both good days and bad. Hunter was as unflappable as ever before press hordes of World Series magnitude, although he ruefully acknowledged that he was so eager to ingratiate himself with his new constituency that he pitched foolishly.
"I was a little nervous," he said. "I was trying to rush things, to put too much on my curveball, to throw too hard. It was just too much do or die."
Gabe Paul, meanwhile, repaired to the Yankee offices, which are across Roosevelt Avenue from Shea Stadium, occupying space in the Quonset-like New York City Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Administration Building. The offices are profoundly un-Yankeeish, although the walls leading to Paul's quarters are lined with photographs of Yankee championship teams, generations of identically attired, cross-armed, solemn athletic dignitaries—Ruth and Gehrig and Huggins, DiMaggio and Dickey and McCarthy, Mantle and Maris and Stengel. It is an impressive visual history, and one can almost see Bonds and Hunter and Virdon joining this royal procession.
Paul himself is an unregal presence, a pleasant, quiet, dough-faced man who, though a Yankee for little more than a year, is imbued with team tradition. He eagerly anticipates the 1976 opening of the new Yankee Stadium, an edifice that will preserve some of the old lore.
"We don't want to do away with tradition here," he said, measuring his words. "We know the Yankees stand for class. We think we have it now. We think we have a winning team. And the one tradition we are most anxious to reestablish is winning. You know, it's easy to have class when you are winning and you have the wherewithal."