Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Card #99: Barry Bonnell

After a weekend away and a busy day yesterday, the 1982 Topps Blog is back!

Who Can It Be Now?
Robert Barry Bonnell was born on October 27, 1953, in Mariemont, Ohio. He grew up in Ohio and attended Milford High School in the Cincinnati area. He was an excellent high school baseball player -- indeed, in 2011, the Cincinnati Enquirer called him the 43rd best baseball player of all time from Cincinnati -- and he was also a star on the high school basketball team.  

Based on his high school prowess, Bonnell was drafted in the eighth round of the 1971 June Draft by the Chicago White Sox. He did not sign and instead matriculated at "THE" Ohio State University. His play at OSU was excellent, and it led to him being the first pick overall by the Philadelphia Phillies in the January Secondary Draft in 1975

Bonnell skipped his senior year at Ohio State and signed with the Phillies. The Phillies assigned him to Spartanburg (SC) in the Western Carolina League in 1975. He played a grand total of 23 games over a month and a week in the Phillies system before he was traded for the first time. The Phillies sent Bonnell and catcher Jim Essian to the Atlanta Braves along with $150,000 in exchange for Dick Allen and catcher Johnny Oates.  

The deeper story here revolves around Allen.  The Braves made this trade because Allen refused to report to play for the team after the Braves had traded for Allen in the 1974 offseason. Wanting to get something to show for their work, Atlanta finally admitted defeat and traded for Bonnell (with Essian being sent to the White Sox as part of the original deal to get Allen).  

I'm not even sure that Bonnell had to move apartments after the trade -- Spartanburg is just over an hour away from Greenwood, where the Braves assigned him, and both are fairly close to Greenville. Bonnell hit well that season, so the Braves pushed him up their chain quickly. Bonnell spent a half season at Double-A and, despite a .223/.288/.372 line at Savannah, he moved up and spent a half season at Triple-A Richmond in 1976. Then, after 14 games and one month in Triple-A in 1977, he was called up to the Braves and never again played minor league baseball.

Bonnell's three years in Atlanta were fairly decent. His best season was his first season -- perhaps before the scouting reports made the rounds -- as he hit .300/.368/.339 in 404 plate appearances with just one homer and 11 doubles. The Braves toyed with putting him at third base for a while during that season and in 1978 as well -- he was not good at third, though, so they kept him as a center fielder. One hyperbolic story compared Bonnell in center to Joe DiMaggio -- as a fielder, I'm guessing -- but it took going to winter ball in the offseason to get his bat back in shape after the 1978 season.

After the 1979 season, however, the Braves decided that Barry Bonnell was not the answer to their outfield questions. Despite his ability to play any of the three outfield positions, the Braves determined that Dale Murphy could do the same thing and provide a bigger power threat. So, Bonnell was traded for the second time in his career -- this time, going to the Toronto Blue Jays with pitcher Joey McLaughlin and shortstop Pat Rockett in exchange for first baseman Chris Chambliss (whom then-Braves manager Bobby Cox had worked with in New York).

Bonnell's time in Canada provided some of his best seasons. While 1981 was a terrible year for him, both 1983 and 1983 were fine mid-career seasons.  In 1982, for example, Bonnell hit .293/.342/.407 with 14 SB (2 CS) and 6 homers.  In 1983, he hit .318/.369/.469 with 10 HR and 10 SB (though he was caught 7 times). Perhaps in a bit of irony, Bonnell's these two seasons in Toronto came with Bobby Cox as the manager. That 1983 team was also Toronto's first winning season as a franchise.  

As is often the case, however, teams that improve to become contenders for the first time in a while based off building from their farm system also see weaknesses in their existing team that need to be improved. In Toronto's case, the same situation faced it in the offseason after the 1983 season as did the Braves in 1979. While Bonnell was a very good player who produced offensive seasons worth two wins (measured by WAR), the Blue Jays wanted more. 

Toronto decided turned to its farm system where George Bell was ready to take over in right field or left field from Bonnell and Dave Collins (who was traded after the 1984 season). As a result, Bonnell found himself being traded one more time -- this time to the other 1977 expansion team, the Seattle Mariners, in exchange for pitcher Bryan Clark.

Bonnell was 30 years old when the 1984 season dawned. He played in 110 games that season, but his career was on the downside at this point. This "down side" in large part could be traced to his first spring training with the Mariners. He got sick in 1983 and struggled through them before finally going to a doctor. A chest x-ray showed that he had all kinds of blockages in his lungs -- he described it in 2003 as looking "like spider webs in there" -- and he was diagnosed with Valley Fever and pneumonia. 

The maladies he contracted in 1983 limited his ability to play for the rest of his career. It did not help that the Mariners of 1986 were in full rebuild mode. By mid-July, the Mariners had released high-priced veterans such as Gorman Thomas, Milt Wilcox, and Al Cowens. Bonnell saw the writing on the wall. He came up with an unusual offer to the Mariners' then-owner, George Argyros: let me earn the rest of my salary by serving as the pilot for your private jet. I'm not sure if Argyros took Bonnell up on that offer, but the Mariners did release Bonnell on July 16, 1986. His last game was against Milwaukee -- and he went 1-for-2.

Mustache Check: It's an LDS thing to be clean shaven, so it should be no surprise that Bonnell is without a mustache.

Goody Two-Shoes
Bonnell was nicknamed "Preacher." Being of reasonable intelligence, Bonnell picked up on the fact that this nickname was not given to him as a compliment. 

Nonetheless, Bonnell received this nickname because of his strong beliefs and faith. As a devout member of the Mormon Church (Latter Day Saints), Bonnell used to read his Bible regularly on team bus trips. One of those trips in his first minor league season led a teammate to ask Bonnell questions about his faith. Bonnell eventually baptized that teammate into the LDS church.

That teammate was Dale Murphy.

Consistent with this theme, Bonnell became a Mormon bishop for a time after his playing days ended.

The World According to Garp
Barry has written his memoir called Steel Ribbons. As far as I can tell, no one has published it yet, but Bonnell has a website on Weebly to promote the book and to seek representation. But don't go to that site and think that you'll be able to get in touch with Bonnell. As his smaller print disclaimer on the Steel Ribbons page says in a perfectly long run-on sentence, "Thanks to all the baseball fans who browse this site with interest in my current work, however, this site is not intended to solicit requests from fans, rather to provide a place for literary professionals to sample my writing and to contact me if interested.."

Totally Gnarly MEETS The World According to Garp
I had no other way of describing this one. Based on an article from a few years ago, Bonnell apparently was working on a teenage science fiction book called "MUFOC".  Based in his hometown of Milford, Ohio, the story was about a UFO Club for kids in Milford. In writing the book, Bonnell said that he and his friends "actually had a UFO investigative club with an adult advisor."

Perhaps Bonnell could be the LDS version of L. Ron Hubbard.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
For whatever reason, I feel like Barry Bonnell always killed the Brewers. His career numbers against Milwaukee support that he did better than his career averages, and he had more doubles against the Brewers than against any other team in major league baseball. But that's not exactly "killing" the Brewers.  I must just be remembering a game or two where he drove in some key runs or something.

Bonnell has led an interesting, widely varying life. He played major league baseball, obviously. He had a dream as a kid to become a pilot, and he satisfied that passion as well. In fact, he became a professional pilot in 1989 with Northwest Airlink flying little SAAB 340 planes for Northwest. That plane, now discontinued, is a two-engine turboprop plane that seats 37 passengers in its current configuration for United Airlines.

After ending his piloting career when he saw that airline consolidation would probably keep him so far down the totem pole that he would never fly any of the big jets, he turned to working in mail order medication for a home medical equipment company. His LinkedIn profile touts his progress in becoming the director of contracting for the northwest United States for Lincare, a national company. He apparently worked himself out of a job at Lincare since his bio says that "[w]hen the original risk plans began to fail, the contracting position was no longer needed at Lincare and the position was eliminated."

After that, he started his own company to bring the world Britney Spears lunchboxes and N'Sync teddy bears. He sold off that company and turned to writing and to "Pet-activated turnkey products" with his current company "Roy's Boys Pet Toys."

According to his high school's biography for him, Bonnell still lives in the Seattle area, where he settled after his playing days ended. A cautionary note for any Washington attorneys: Bonnell is the citizen member of the Washington State Bar Association's Disciplinary Board.

Perhaps "totally gnarly" meets "The World According to Garp" is the most accurate way to describe him. Or, at least the term Renaissance man.

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