Giants

How Dave Stewart would have pitched to Barry Bonds in his playing days

Giants

Dave Stewart faced the Giants 14 times over his 16-year big league career. He never had the chance of pitching against Barry Bonds, not even during Bonds' days with the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

But what if he had? The three-time World Series champion, and 1989 World Series MVP for his efforts dominating the Giants, is known for his iconic stare down from the mound. The former A's star pitcher, and Oakland native, was about as intimidating as they come. When he gives you that same stare down, truthfully, it's still as intimidating today.

No hitter ever has been more intimidating than Bonds when stepping to the plate, though. Stewart certainly would have welcomed a chance to battle with the Home Run King, and he knows it would have been a tall task. 

"Barry, from at-bat to at-bat is a guy that you had to make adjustments on," Stewart told me recently over Zoom. "You couldn’t pitch him the same way every at-bat. Maybe in the first at-bat I’d make him inside conscious, crowd him with fastballs in. Get him to open up a little bit or try to be quick on that inside pitch. And then ultimately get him out away with my offspeed pitch, the forkball, or with the fastball away. The next time up, maybe start him off with something offspeed, drop a breaking ball in first pitch. Then, fastballs away to get him out to then get him on a fastball inside.

"To me, it’s just varying in what you do from at-bat to at-bat, because he’s such a smart hitter."

 

Stewart never faced Bonds, but he still knew the secret to him. Sure, there are some obvious traits that made Bonds great. Make one mistake and he made you pay. Some coaches (see Showalter, Buck) would rather walk a run in and put Bonds on base than let him hit with the bases loaded. 

What made Bonds so great, as Stewart could see from afar, was that a pitcher could never get him out the same way two times in a row. Beat him with velocity once, you better not try it again. The same goes for if you were able to get him out with a plethora of offspeed pitches one at-bat. 

"What’s crazy about Barry, what made him such a great hitter, is most hitters have the same weakness all the time," Stewart said. "Barry was different from that. You pitch him one way one at-bat, you pitch him another the next at-bat, you pitch him another the last at-bat. You hope by the fourth at-bat, you’ve got enough weapons and you’ve done enough different things, that you keep him guessing.

"The key to getting Barry out is not pitching him the same way for every at-bat, doing something different each at-bat."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Bonds hit his first home run against the A's in what is now Oracle Park on July 13, 2000. It came off lefty Mark Mulder, a solo shot to center field in the fourth inning of a 4-2 win over Oakland. His last long ball in San Francisco against his Bay Area rival was on June 24, 2006, when he hit a two-run blast off Dan Haren in his second-to-last MLB season. If the NL adopted the DH back then, there's a good chance Bonds could have kept launching balls over the wall for years to come. 

The all-time home run leader was 43 years old when he played his last game. He still was jogging out to left field, nine years after his last Gold Glove award. The NL hadn't yet added the DH, a rule that still feels like a one-year experiment this season. Bonds served as the Giants' DH 39 times over his career, six times in his last season.

If the rule had been put in place during Bonds' playing days, Stewart believes he could have played well into his mid or late 40s.

"Barry could have played, no doubt," Stewart said. "Reggie Jackson played well into his 40s. And was a great DH, by the way. So Barry, I’m sure could have played into his 40s just as easily and still have done a great job as a designated hitter.

 

"There’s no doubt in my mind about that."

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Don't get it wrong, though. Stewart, who pitched 13 seasons for AL teams, is not a fan of the DH joining that other league.

"I mean, I’m a traditionalist," Stewart said. "I like that the two leagues are separated by one league having the DH and one league having the pitcher hit. I’m a fan of the DH in the American League, because that’s where it started.

"I am not a fan of it in the National League, because now the two leagues, there’s no real separation."

There will be a Giants DH on Friday when they welcome the A's to San Francisco for a three-game series. There won't be a Barry Bonds, though, or a Dave Stewart. Instead, we'll have to settle for Mr. Great Story, aka Mike Yastrzemski, against ace Frankie Montas and rookie phenom Jesús Luzardo.

In any rivalry, however, it's fun to play the hypothetical game. Stewart knows just how he would have battled Bonds in this battle of intimidation, and he knows just how great the challenge would have been.