This card gets us to the 80% mark of the ’74 set. That is a pretty big milestone but this card is a bit pedestrian to honor it. Bill Bonham looks pretty stoic on a sunny day at Candlestick. He is in the midst of what would be one of his best seasons and there is a decent shot this photo was taken as he was transitioning from a bullpen guy to a rotation guy, a role he would fill the balance of his career. Bill had a decent fastball but his real out pitches were a couple off-speed numbers over which he generally had sporadic control. The Cubs got pretty smart during the year when they opted to start Bill since they had a losing record when he relieved – though he recorded six saves - but a winning one in the rotation. He did some nice work down the stretch. In three of his final five starts he struck out nine batters and in two he went all the way, in one game for ten innings. He also went 3-1 during that stretch. So hopes were high for ’74 as at only 25 he was poised to take a regular spot in the rotation behind Ricky Reuschel. And then they weren’t.
Bill Bonham grew up in Pacoima, California, where in high school he played multiple sports. He was pretty high profile because the Angels made him a pick the summer of ’66, his senior year. But Bill didn’t go early enough so he opted for Los Angeles Valley College, where he played ball the next two years and set a record for wins. After his first year he was selected by the Angels again, this time in a much higher round. In ’68 The Orioles took a shot but Bill rejected them to move on to UCLA, where he again pitched for two years. His junior year of ’69 the team went to the CWS led by its offensive star, Chris Chambliss. Jim York was on that team also. Finally after the ’70 season the Cubs signed Bill right before the draft as a free agent and he threw some awesome heat that summer in A ball in relief, putting up six saves. In ’71 he had an excellent spring and stuck on the roster, making his debut early in the season. Outside of a short spell in Triple A he stuck up top, spending most of the season as a long guy out of the pen. In ’72 he returned to Triple A to get some more work and when he returned as a swing guy in the summer his numbers improved, including four saves. ’73 was all Chicago as he morphed into a starter.
In ’74 the Cubs were sort of reeling from the aging out of most of their stars and the departures of some other ones, notably Fergie Jenkins. While Bonham did generally good work in the rotation – a few too many hits and walks but high K marks and a league-average ERA – his record came in at 11-22 and those losses led the NL. In ’75 his record improved markedly to 13-15 but the rest of his stats went the other way, especially the ERA which moved up by nearly a run. In ’76 he went 9-13 with a 4.27 ERA with lots of walks and a dip in his strikeouts. But ’77 was better as he added a win, his walks came in, his strikeouts bulked up, and his ERA more than matched the league. After the season he went to the Reds for future conehead and top-notch reliever Bill Caudill and Woodie Fryman.
With the Reds things got both better and worse for Bonham. Better because he had a solid line-up and solid defense behind him and his pitching mechanics improved significantly. Worse because he got hit by the injury bug in spades. In his third start for Cincinnati his elbow popped and he missed the next 30 games. Still he returned to go great guns and after beginning the season 7-0 he finished at 11-5 with a 3.53 ERA and better K totals. But he missed another month in July and then his season ended in mid-September because the elbow never completely healed. He had the elbow worked on and returned to the rotation in ’79. But this time his shoulder got hurt and again Bill missed about a month early in the season. Still, he got more innings than his previous year and went 9-7 with a 3.79 ERA. But that shoulder injury would be a career killer. In ’80 he started well enough but then had to rest a couple weeks. He got bombed in a May start, went to Triple A for some excellent rehab work – 1-0 with a 0.56 ERA in three starts – but then only got in one more game up top the rest of the year. After another operation he made a few comeback attempts in ’81 and ’82 but he couldn’t pitch without pain That was it for Bill and he went 75-83 with a 4.01 ERA and 17-9 in the minors with a 3.25 ERA and 227 K’s in 216 innings.
Bill played hoops in high school also. When you Google Bill’s name and UCLA another Bonham – Ron – comes up. He was a big deal hoops player at the school but I do not believe he and Bill are related. Topps really picks on the Cards here. Those stats are over two years old.
Bonham never moved away from the area in which he was raised. By the early Eighties he settled in around Solvang, California, an apparently beautiful town in wine country. There for the past 30-plus years he has ran a clothing boutique with his wife named Berengaria.
Bobby Darwin was a Cub also, but not for long. For this one we get help from a trade from this set:
1. Bonham and George Mitterwald ’74 to ’77 Cubs;
2. Mitterwald and Bobby Darwin ’72 to ’73 Twins.