Saturday, November 26, 2005

Barry Bonds, Larry Ellison, and Great Moments in the History of Coincidence

Just over the right-field wall of San Francisco's SBC (nee PacBell) Park sits a pocket of the Bay christened McCovey Cove after former hometown longball-hitter Willie McCovey. This natural feature is what makes SBC Park one of the greatest in Major League Baseball; the seamless integration of stadium and nature calls to subconscious the kind of ballfields, crammed between train tracks and the harbor, you might have played in as a child. The best feature of the best part of the park is the group of fan-boaters who sit on the water, listening to the game on the radio and waiting for a homerun, preferrably hit by the hometown Giants, to come sailing out of the park, like marine versions of the ballhawks in lawnchairs on Waveland Avenue outside Wrigley.

Larry Ellison was one such boater. The retired firefighter's ritual was sitting in a kayak and waiting for one of those balls to come sailing over the wall and into the cove, where his tiny craft's lightness and quickness might give him an advantage in the race for the bobbing ball. That's where Ellison was on Monday, April 12, 2004. At the plate in SBC was Barry Bonds, the greatest homerun hitter of recent decades, who had previously hit dozens of balls into McCovey Cove in the four years since the park was opened, notably during his race for the single-season homerun mark in 2001. On this Monday, Bonds was chasing another mark--career homeruns--and coming up fast behind the man in third place, perhaps the greatest ballplayer of all time, former Giant Willie Mays, who happened to be Bonds's godfather. Sure enough, with two men on and two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, Bonds swung at the pitch from Milwaukee's Matt Kinney and knocked Number 660--the Mays-tying ball--over the right-field wall and into McCovey Cove. And sure enough, Ellison was the first one to reach it.

Ellison knew that this was a meaningful ball. He knew the personal significance Number 660 held for Bonds, who grew interested in baseball as a boy in large part because of his godfather Mays, but he also knew that this particular ball would be one of the dozen or so most collectible balls in the history of baseball, able to sell at auction for six or perhaps seven figures. That's why it surprised everyone, except the people who really knew him, that Ellison so easily decided to return the ball to Bonds. Bonds and the Giants were grateful; in return they gave Ellison other memorabilia and six tickets behind homeplate so he and his family could enjoy the next game as VIPs. Ellison kept the memorabilia and five of the tickets, but turned down the seat for himself. He preferred his kayak in McCovey Cove.

The next night, Tuesday, April 13, 2004, that's where Ellison was when Bonds took a seventh-inning two-out pitch from the Brewers' Ben Ford and lobbed it over the right-field wall. Number 661 bobbed in the cold, salty water of McCovey Cove for a few seconds before it was fished out by the hand of Larry Ellison. With this homerun, Bonds had passed Mays and moved into number three on the career list behind Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth. After the game, Ellison approached Bonds to return the ball, but this time Bonds told him to keep it.

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Blogger Larry Ellison said...

The Good Reverend stated "After the game, Ellison approached Bonds to return the ball, but this time Bonds told him to keep it."

This is not entirely accurate. During the game Bonds sent someone out to tell me that I could keep 661. But I had no intention of returning the second one to him. I was a little naive in giving 660 back to Barry but he was a little naive in thinking I would also give him 661.

Larry Ellison - The Governator

10:06 AM  

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