Bill Bonham – 1978 Topps

January 18, 2011

“So All I Gotta Do Is Stand Here, And I Get $20?”

I am fully convinced that Topps, in a panic, found some random dude off the street and said it was “Bill Bonham”, letting the airbrushers do their work no matter where he wound up.

Bonham was featured in one of the first minor league games I saw. I had already been to a few major league games when my dad and I went to Indianapolis to see a doubleheader in 1981. Bonham was struggling with injuries, and was rehabbing down there. He didn’t impress. In fact, he was released at the end of 1981 without throwing a pitch in the majors.

I remember Bonham coming up as a Cub. The Baseball Reference Bullpen says that he could have been one of the top righties in Cubs history had he not been hurt. Of course, that reference is what gave me the faulty info on Japanese-American players. What was interesting is that Bonham was drafted three times, but after his senior year at UCLA he wasn’t drafted and the Cubs signed him. The rules were different then, and I think Bonham was eligible only for the short secondary phase in June 1970.

I don’t buy the arm-injury thing for the Cubs is that he seemingly didn’t miss a start until he went to the Reds in 1978. Whitey Lockman and Jim Marshall really rode him hard in 1974 and 1975 but he made over 30 starts in 1976 and 1977. His strikeout rate was down, yes, but he took the ball.

His 1974 campaign stands out. He went 11-22 for a bad team that gave up a lot of runs. Everyone and their first cousin from Rockford started a game, and Bonham made eight relief appearances along with 36 starts. He shouldn’t have been 11-22, his ERA+ was 99. But those Cubs were heinous on defense. I mean, heinous. -139 runs heinous. The hit parade:

Vic Harris – 16 runs in 56 games at 2B.

Rob Dunn -8 runs in 21 games at 2B.

Bill Madlock – 10 runs as the regular 3B.

Don Kessinger, looking old at 31 and a -15 runs at SS.

Dave Rosello, -12 runs in 61 games at 2B and SS.

Jerry Morales, -22 runs at all three outfield positions.

Rick Monday, -27 runs as the regular CF.

They made errors, yes, but they played grounders into singles and fly balls into doubles. Defense may not be as important as offense but you can’t give the other team extra outs and baserunners.

The Cubs improved in all facets in 1975, except their bullpen. Well, that, and Monday was still a -23 runs in CF. (Couldn’t the Cubs coaches and management see that? What were they doing – waiting to see whose hat would be featured on Arnie’s cam?) Bonham’ ERA was higher (4.71) than in 1974 but it was better than most of the bullpen.

After a couple more so-so seasons it was off to Cincy and while he pitched better and won,  he wound up missing a lot of time with injuries and didn’t play in the 1979 NLCS.

Maybe the homeless guy stole his rotator cuff?



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