Fortunately, Bonds arrived in camp without any physical problems, although a few weeks ago he was nabbed by Riverside, Calif. cops for allegedly driving while drunk. In fact, a month of working out with some of the Giants at Candlestick Park has sharpened his batting eye. "I've never done that before," he says, "but I just felt like I wanted to hit." There may lie the secret to the success of the rent-a-star system. Veeck thinks—and the fence-busting performances of Zisk and Gamble last season would seem to prove him right—that an accomplished player in the final year of his contract will want to hit and field and run more vigorously than ever, because he knows he will be rewarded with big bucks and other long-term goodies when he signs his new contract.
Bonds' biggest difficulty in Sarasota was adjusting to his new uniform. He has played with three other teams the last four years, but neither San Francisco, New York nor California had anything like the loose-fitting, wide-collared ensemble that the White Sox wear. "I'll give it one thing, it's different," he says, "but I hope none of my friends come to see me in it."
Bonds is worth watching no matter what he wears. Excluding the 1976 season, when he injured his right hand and missed 63 games, he has averaged 31 home runs, 90 RBIs and 40 stolen bases in eight complete seasons. He has also won three Gold Gloves. In fact, it was Bonds' defensive excellence that prompted several Chicago pitchers to thank Veeck after the trade (Bonds, Pitcher Dick Dotson and Outfielder Thad Bosley for Catcher Brian Downing and Pitchers Chris Knapp and Dave Frost) in December. Committing 159 errors, the Sox were 12th in the league in fielding in 1977. Another asset Bonds will bring to Chicago is speed; his 41 steals last season were one less than the White Sox team total.
Bonds was accompanied to Florida by his agent-lawyer, Rod Wright. "I'd like to be able to sign a long-term contract so I won't have to move around anymore," Bonds says. Veeck will probably be unwilling to pay Bonds' price—$2 million—but Veeck did score some points that may pay off when negotiations begin by giving Bonds a good-faith raise over the $178,000 he made last season instead of cutting him the 20% an owner is allowed to dock an unsigned player. "If he had cut me, I wouldn't have reported," Bonds says. "I'm glad he didn't do that. DiMaggio and Mays both spoke very highly of him, and from what I've seen so far, I'd have to agree."
Once the season begins, Bonds will concentrate on baseball and his four favorite soap operas and leave the negotiations to his agent. "He knows what I want, and I don't want him to call me unless it's time for me to sign," Bonds says.
Although Blomberg has signed, no one can guess how much he will return on the dollar. Because of injuries, he did not play last year and appeared in only one game in 1976 and 34 in 1975, when he and Bonds were teammates with the Yankees. He built his $600,000 reputation by batting better than .300 in 1971, '73 and '74, but his speed, power and defense are average, if that. Only six teams even drafted the 29-year-old outfielder-first baseman, and Blomberg says he accepted the White Sox offer "because of Veeck's sincerity."
As Blomberg worked out last week it was obvious he has not fully recovered from the knee surgery he underwent last April. He limped when he ran, and his timing was off at the plate. "The others are ahead of me now, but I think I'll be ready," he says. "If I wasn't hurt, there aren't many who could outdo me. The only thing I want is an injury-free year."
Blomberg might have it if he follows the example—and advice—of Soderholm, who recovered from a knee injury to win the 1977 Comeback Player of the Year Award. Soderholm, who has a book coming out in August entitled Conditioning for Baseball, believes Blomberg should be pushing himself harder. "I want to get you on those Nautilus machines," Soderholm told him during a downpour that forced cancellation of last Friday's practice. "I'm going to work your tail off. If you're going to lead us to the pennant, you've got to be in shape."
While Blomberg labors to get in condition, others in Sarasota are working to gain a spot on the 25-man major league roster. Competition is fierce, making the White Sox camp one of the busiest enterprises in Florida. Twenty-six pitchers are seeking to fill nine or 10 jobs, and 22 of them have major league experience. One is former Cub Reliever Ken Frailing, who lives in Sarasota and dropped by the Sox camp, though he had not pitched in two seasons. "I told him to, come on in," says Veeck. "One more didn't matter."
Among the other players, seven batted .300 or better in the minors last year. "The competition is bringing out the best in everybody," says Cleo Smith, a candidate for an outfield spot. "Guys are walking around with positive attitudes because they think they've got a shot."