Bonds believes, and with good reason, that his uncommon natural ability is as much a curse as a gift because people have always expected so much of him. He was an extraordinary all-round athlete—9.5 sprinter and 25'3" long jumper, football, basketball and baseball star, California High School Athlete of the Year in 1964—at Riverside Polytechnic High in Southern California. He was touted by the Giants, almost from the day of his signing in 1964, as a "new Willie Mays." Unfortunately for him, the old Willie Mays was still very much around when Bonds was called up, midway through the 1968 season, from San Francisco's farm team in Phoenix, where he had hit .370 in 60 games. He broke in as if he were indeed a new Mays, hitting a grand slam in his first game.
Far from being jealous of Mays, Bonds was dependent on him almost to a fault. When the Giants traded Mays to the Mets in 1972, Bonds, outraged by the callousness of it all, lapsed into a season-long depression that caused his batting average to decline from .288 the year before to .259. Even with this bad year, he averaged 31 doubles, 31 homers, 41 stolen bases, 122 runs scored and 89 RBIs in his first five full major league seasons. By then, comparisons with Mays weren't the only accolades Bonds was receiving. After being named MVP in the 1973 All-Star Game, no less than Sparky Anderson said of him, "As of today, Bobby Bonds is the best ballplayer in America."
But the troubles that would fix Bonds's reputation in many minds were already beginning. He was arrested for drunk driving near his home in the San Francisco suburb of San Carlos on Aug. 13, 1973. Three months later he was arrested again for interfering with a police officer, who was citing Bonds's brother, Robert V. Jr., for speeding. That same year, his sister, Rosie, a former holder of the U.S. women's record for the 80-meter hurdles and a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic team, was arrested and held on suspicion of the murder of a tavern owner. The charges were dropped after a man confessed to the killing.
Misadventures such as these can unhinge the sturdiest among us, and Bonds is an unusually sensitive man. While with the Giants, he thought he was doing everything right. He was playing every day, he was kinder than most athletes to fans and he was a hard worker, virtues that were suddenly overshadowed by his off-field troubles. San Francisco traded him to the Yankees for Bobby Murcer following the '74 season—and he hasn't stopped traveling since.