- 1B, CF, LF, OF, RF, 3B, DH, P
- February 23, 1963
- 6' 3"
- 210 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-09-1986 with CHA
- Allstar Selections:
- 1988 SS, 1990 SS, 1991 SS
Bobby Bonilla was a mixture of various emotions. On one hand, he could be very engaging, positive and enthusiastic while other times, he could turn out to be sullen and caught in questionable situations, such as when he was rumored to be playing cards with teammate Rickey Henderson in 1999 as the Mets were in the middle of an exciting 11 inning game in game six of the NLCS which they eventually unfortunately lost. No matter what people thought of Bonilla personally, no one could ever dispute the fact that he was one of the greatest sluggers in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Bobby Bo, as he is known, was not drafted when he finished his high school career, so the Bronx native instead went on a tour of Europe with a US amateur team in 1981. Then scout, soon to be GM, Syd Thrift, discovered Bobby and signed him to a contract in the Pirate system. Bonilla went along until 1985 when he ran into Bip Roberts in spring training, breaking his leg. Bobby went on the DL from March 25th to July 19th. Because of the injury, the team left the switch hitter unprotected in the minor league draft and was taken by the White Sox.
Having to stay on the roster or risk losing him, Bonilla split time between left field and first base for the ChiSox in 1986 hitting .269 in 234 at bats. Wanting to make up for losing him, Thrift, by now the Pirates General Manager, made one of his best moves by trading his troubled former rookie phenom pitcher, Jose DeLeon to Chicago for Bobby Bo. While Bonilla didn’t exactly set the world on fire, hitting .240 the rest of 1986, he would take over the starting reigns at third the next season when the club traded Jim Morrison to the Tigers for Darnell Coles and Morris Madden.
The young player responded with a solid first season as a regular hitting .300, 10th in the National League, while becoming the first Pirate ever to hit homers from both sides of the plate in a game. He also showcased his power that season by parking only the seventh ball ever in the upper deck at Three Rivers Stadium.
He followed up his impressive 1987 season by knocking in 100 runs for the first time in 1988, while not only being selected to his first All-Star game, but was elected by the fans as the starter at third, beating Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. Bonilla was awarded the Hillerich and Bradsby Silver Slugger award after the season, in honor of his immense offensive skills. Unfortunately his defensive skills at third were not up to the same superstar caliber. Although he was tops in the senior circuit in both assists and putouts by a third baseman, he was erratic in the field as he committed an NL high 32 errors.
Bobby tied a Pirate record in 1989, playing in 164 games and was selected to a second all-star game, raising his average to .281 while hitting 24 homers. His fielding at third did not improve as he once again topped the league in miscues with 35.
After committing 67 errors in two seasons, Pirate manager Jim Leyland decided to move the New York native to Right Field in 1990 and Bonilla responded with his best season ever, helping lead the Pirates to a surprising National League eastern division championship. Bobby hit 32 homers, which was part of a senior circuit high 78 extra base hits, while knocking in 120 runs with a .518 slugging percentage. Bonilla would also set the all-time Bucco record for sacrifice flies in a season with 15. During the year, Bobby had a 17 game hit streak in which he hit .420. For his efforts, Bobby Bo finished runner-up to teammate Barry Bonds in the MVP race and won his second Silver Slugger Award.
Ironically, in the NLCS in 1990, Bonilla’s most remembered moment was not for his bat, but for his oft-assailed glove. In the top of the ninth of game 5 with the Pirates in trouble with one out and the bases loaded, clinging to a 3-2 lead and trying stave off elimination, Bobby, who was starting at third for the injured Jeff King, made a spectacular grab of a hard grounder and turned it into a game ending double play.
1991 saw the Pirates win their second consecutive division championship and Bonilla continued to be a big part of the process. He knocked in 100 runs on the dot, the third time he four years he hit the century mark in RBI’s while eclipsing the .300 mark with a .302 average, leading the NL in doubles with 44. His 18 homers made him only the 18th switch-hitter in major league history to hit 100 career homers. Although the Bucs lost a heart wrenching 7 game series to the Braves in the NLCS, Bonilla was one of the few Bucs to provide the team with some offense as he hit .304 in the series. Again Bobby won the Silver Slugger Award and finished third in the MVP vote.
Early in the season, Bobby turned down a contract offer from the team and after the season was over, chose to exercise his option and sign with his hometown club, the New York Mets for what was then a mammoth 27.5 million over 5 years. Everything looked rosy early on, hitting 2 homers in his first game, but both Bonilla and the Mets ended up having disappointing campaigns and despite the fact he had a couple decent seasons in the big apple, was traded to Baltimore in 1995, where he helped lead the Orioles to the ALCS with 28 homers, 116 RBI’s and a .287 average.
Bobby Bo did not get along with Baltimore manager Davey Johnson, who felt he might be a defensive liability and wanted to use him at DH, a move which Bobby was strongly against, and he signed another free agent contract after the season, this time with his old manager Jim Leyland and the Florida Marlins. Bonilla had a fine year hitting .295 with 96 RBI’s in the Marlins run to the World Championship. Bobby had a big hand in winning the title as he hit a solo shot inn the seventh inning of game 7, before starting the winning rally in the 11th with a single.
When Florida had to disassemble its champions due to financial problems, Bonilla went to LA and then was traded back to the Mets in 1999 when Johnson took over the reigns of the Dodgers. After his substandard second stint with the Mets in which he hit .160, was involved in the Henderson situation and didn’t get along with manager Bobby Valentine, Bonilla was released and went to Atlanta. He ended his career after the 2001 season when he played in a reserve roll with the Cardinals.
- Bobby Bonilla