The road to the majors can be grueling for pitchers. You put in endless hours of practice to hone your craft. You throw thousands of balls on your way up the ladder. You battle injuries, setbacks and fatigue constantly.
If you can overcome all of that, you have a chance. Your hard work pays off. You make it to the majors. For five years, you’re one of the best baseball players in the world.
After all that, all anyone wants to talk about is a home run you allowed.
That’s the situation for former major-league reliever Mike Bacsik. During his final season in the majors, Bacsik, then a member of the Washington Nationals, cemented his legacy in baseball lore. On August 7, 2007, he allowed the home run that propelled Barry Bonds past Hank Aaron on the all-time list. Bacsik was the man on the mound when Bonds hit No. 756.
Ten years later, people still ask him about it.
“A lot of people over the years have wanted to talk about it when they meet me,” Bacsik told Yahoo Sports. “That’s something they want to talk about, so I’ve gotten used to remembering it and talking about it.”
In particular, Bacsik can remember the final two pitches of the at-bat. With a 3-2 count, Bacsik threw a curveball, which Bonds hit just foul up the first base line. The Nationals didn’t want to repeat pitches to Bonds, so the next offering was supposed to be a fastball outside. The 86 mph pitch missed its target, leaking back over the plate. Bonds struck, driving the ball to deep center for the historic home run.
At that moment, Bacsik knew exactly what just happened. It was impossible to ignore. The media was packed from foul pole to foul pole during batting practice. The first two games of the series were similar to a World Series atmosphere, according to Bacsik. Every pitcher on the Nationals knew what was at stake.
“We definitely knew,” Bacsik says. “It was the No. 1 thing in pro sports at the time.”
Bonds could have reached the milestone in Game 1 of the series. John Lannan took the mound in his third major-league start. The rookie acquitted himself well. Bonds went 0-for-3, with a walk, against Lannan. During a crucial seventh inning at-bat, Lannan struck out Bonds, ending his night. History would wait until Game 2.
Circumstances conspired against Bacsik during the contest. The Nationals’ scouting report on Bonds was exactly what you might expect: Don’t let him beat you. Try not to give him anything to hit and let the other players in the lineup do the damage.
But each time Bonds stepped to the plate against Bacsik, there was no one else on base. Bacsik was allowed to pitch to Bonds all three times he faced him. Bonds doubled in the second, singled in the third and hit No. 756 in the fifth.
After the game, Bacsik was told he wouldn’t be doing interviews at his locker as usual. He was ushered to the press area to speak with in front of the massive collection of media members at the game. He didn’t expect that much attention.
“The next day, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., I was on the phone consistently doing interviews,” Bacsik says.
While talking about the home run could have been frustrating, Bacsik was able to get over the moment pretty quickly.
“I was fine,” he says. “When he hit the home run, I felt horrible. But after it was over and I spent 15-20 minutes in the clubhouse, I realized, ‘hey, I didn’t just lose the World Series or a playoff game.’ I gave up a home run in the fifth inning to the greatest home run hitter of all-time. I was OK with it and we came back and won the game.”
Though Bonds’ home run gave the Giants the lead in the fifth, the Nationals came back to win the game 8-6 after rallying in the top of the eighth inning.
It was ultimately a happy moment for the Nationals, but that’s not what anyone remembers. A decade later, people still focus on that home run. While it’s not ideal, talking about the home run doesn’t bother Bacsik that much.
“You would always rather talk about the good moments than this one, but it’s part of baseball history and I’m OK with talking about it,” he says.
The controversy surrounding Bonds’ numbers and achievements is still present a decade later. Bonds is not yet a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame despite being a no-brainer on paper.
“There’s no arguing he’s the best player of my era and even before,” Bacsik says. “I don’t really think there’s an argument there. He’s the greatest player I ever played against.”
Bacsik compared Bonds’ performance to what most pros experience in high school.
“In high school, everything was easy,” he says. “I could bat almost .500, I could strike out everybody. [Bonds is] still in high school. This is still really easy for him and it’s really hard for all of us.”
Bacsik retired with a 5.46 ERA over 216 innings, but there were plenty of positives. He won his first major-league game July 5, 2002. In his next start, Bacsik threw a complete game.
Bonds’ home run wasn’t even the first time Bacsik was a part of major-league history. His major-league debut with the Cleveland Indians featured the largest comeback in baseball history. After starter Dave Burba was torched for seven runs over two innings, Bacsik was called upon to eat up some innings. He didn’t pitch particularly well, giving up seven runs, six earned, over six innings.
By the end of the fifth inning, the Indians were down 14-2. The team would rally with him on the mound, scoring seven runs over the seventh and eighth innings. When he left the game, Cleveland had narrowed the lead to 14-9.
The team rallied once again in the ninth, scoring five runs to tie the contest. In the bottom of the 11th, they won on a walk-off single from Jobert Cabrera. After being down by 12 runs, Cleveland tied the largest comeback in baseball history, and eventually won the game 15-14. The team they beat, the Seattle Mariners, went on to win 116 games that year.
But the thing that stands out most to Bacsik has nothing to do with his on the field performance. It has to do with his father. When Bacsik joined the Texas Rangers in 2004, he became the first son of a former Ranger to pitch for the club. His dad, Mike Bacsik Sr., pitched for the team for three seasons in the late ’70s.
That remains the one thing Bacsik Jr. is most proud of from his playing career.
“For my dad to be the first-ever Dallas-Fort Worth native to play for the Texas Rangers and then for his son, me, to become the first-ever son of a Texas Ranger to play for the Texas Rangers – and that was the team I grew up loving – that’s really a special moment with my dad that we remember the most,” he says.
His ties to the Rangers still exist today. Bacsik has a local radio show on 105.3 The FAN, and provides pre-and-post game analysis of the club for FOX Sports Southwest.
But it always comes back to Bonds. Bacsik knows that he’ll have to keep addressing the home run for the rest of his life. The media requests will die down in a few days, only to ramp back up at every significant anniversary.
And that seems just fine with him. Bacsik reached his ultimate goal. During his five years in the majors, he found himself involved in one of baseball’s most historic moments, and was part of a milestone that created a cherished memory, and forever links him to his father.
Talking about a home run he gave up 10 years ago doesn’t seem so bad considering all that.
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