Ripken in the Minors
Interview with Bobby Bonner: December 19, 2007
RITM: Most players would call themselves fortunate to be drafted once, but you were actually drafted three times (Selected by the Montreal Expos in 10th Round (224th overall) of the 1974 amateur entry draft, selected by the Kansas City Royals in 9th Round (229th overall) of the 1977 amateur entry draft, selected by the Baltimore Orioles in 3rd Round (74th overall) of the 1978 amateur entry draft.)
What were the factors in the ’74 and ’77 drafts that compelled you to not sign?
Bobby Bonner: In 1974 I was right out of high school and I was actually drafted as a pitcher. I had 4 major knee operations before I got out of high school but I had a really strong arm. I averaged about 17 strikeouts every 7 innings during summer ball and high school so people wanted me to pitch. I had over 20 scholarships for college as a pitcher but I didn’t want to pitch. I wanted to play more than once every 4 days. I guess I was just real stubborn. I guess I don’t like being told that I can’t do something. People kept saying with your knee problems you can’t play everyday. And so, Texas A & M came in and offered me a full scholarship. The coach said you will never pitch unless you want to and so I signed with A & M. In my freshman year we were playing the University of Texas. They were undefeated, like 32-0 or something like that. They came into our place and just killed us the first game and was killing us in the second game. We had 3 innings left and had already gone through the pitching staff about twice already. The coach looked at me and asked if I could give him a couple of innings and save the pitchers. So I went in for 3 innings and struck out 7 Longhorns. But I didn’t want to pitch, I really didn’t.
In my Junior Year I was drafted by the Kansas City Royals and I almost signed that year. However, the Coach at Texas A & M came to me and said, "You’re getting ready to set every record at A & M if you’ll stay your senior year", so I decided to stay my senior year. I guess pride got the best of me.
RITM: In Cal’s book, The Only Way I Know, you are mentioned 15 times and even shown in a picture with Cal at a signing in ’81. Although Cal calls you his "rival at SS" in that picture, he talks about you with a tone of respect and comments that you were light years ahead of him as a fielder when you joined the organization out of Texas A & M. He even goes on to say that you made him look like a klutz on the field and that he was in awe of your natural ability at Rochester when you played together in ’81.
However, it seemed that Mike Boddicker really liked to get on Cal about the fact that you were in the organization. Comments were made from Mike to Cal that he would die in the minors and even told Cal he had some hope when you went on the D.L. in Charlotte with a bad knee. Were you aware that any of this was going on at the time?
Bobby Bonner: I had no idea he was doing it. I was good friends with Mike. Mike came out of Iowa from college and we became good buddies. We went to AA and AAA together and to the show in ’80 for awhile. Mike liked me a lot and I played behind him for so many years. I had no idea though that he was writing those things to Cal. I had no idea.
RITM: Everyone has that moment. It’s probably safe for me to say that your moment in your playing career happened in Toronto during the 1980 season on a play in the bottom of the 11th on a wet, artificial turf that Cal Sr. called an "impossible chance". What do you remember about that half inning?
Bobby Bonner: I remember everything about it. I remember before the game, I remember the game, I remember everything that took place.
Before the game, Earl called me in the office and said, "Who do you think you are?" and I said, "What do you mean?" He goes, "The front office is telling me that I need to put you in the lineup and play you." He goes, "I don’t know what type of pressure you are putting on the front office but I am the Manager here and as far as I’m concerned you’ll play when I tell you you’ll play." I had no idea what the front office was doing or if they were doing anything. I was just happy to be in the show, it was my lifelong dream. The day I meet Weaver is the day he’s yelling at me in the office before the game telling me he’s the Manager and that as far as he was concerned I’ll play whenever I get an opportunity. "Sit, listen, and learn", that’s what he told me before the game.
After batting practice and everything I put my uniform and coat on. I’m not picking up a ball and I’m not getting loose because he told me that as far as I was concerned I was never going to play.
All of a sudden, and I forget exactly who got hurt and what happened, but somebody got pinch hit for and we go to the 11th inning. He hasn’t even told me that I’m going into the game yet. I haven’t even picked up a ball for three and a half hours. I’m so stiff and it’s cold in Toronto. All of a sudden he starts yelling, "Boddicker, Boddicker", because Boddicker was there at the same time I was. And so, I’m thinking that he wants Mike in the game. All of a sudden the guys run on the field and tell me that I’m in the game. I had no clue and I didn’t even know where my glove was. After I finally found it I ran on the field just in time for the first pitch. A guy gets on first base and they bunt him over or something like that. I remember that Eddie Murray, in the top of the 11th inning, hit his 3rd homerun of the game. I believe we were winning 3-2 at the time.
A guy was on second base, I believe there was one out at the time. It had been raining, the Astroturf was wet. It was so cold. I remember a guy by the name of Barry Bonnell got up to the plate. Barry Bonnell hit a shot to my right. It was a line drive shot, but it started about knee high and hit about 3-4 feet in front of me to my right. I saw the guy at second base break toward third. When I saw him breaking as the ball was hit I’m thinking that I’m going to catch the ball, throw to third, and get the guy at third base. And for a split second the ball was hit so hard, hit the Astroturf, went by me, and I never got a glove on it. Of course I was given an error on the play.
When I came in of course Earl cussed me out. After we lost the game he’s yelling at the top of his lungs because my locker is right by his office. He was yelling and screaming, "Who do they think this guy is sending him to me? I didn’t want to play him and he and even catch the ball", so I have to listen to that my first day in the big leagues.
RITM: It doesn’t really matter now but if the same play happens in Baltimore, do you get an error charged?
Bobby Bonner: No.
RITM: Despite limited playing time, you are still one of a selected handful of individuals to call themselves a World Series Champion. After winning a World Championship you asked to be traded? What factors led to that decision?
Bobby Bonner: We have to go back to 1982. In 1982, I made the big league club. I went to spring training and hit .407 and was 7-7 in my final 7 at bats. I believe I had 5 homeruns in the spring, and I am not a homerun hitter. I had unbelievable spring training, one of the greatest. By the way, nobody ever told I made the team. Earl never came to me. The coaches never came to me. Everybody was fighting for that position of middle infielder at that time. Lenny Sakata, myself, and a couple of other guys. I didn’t know what to do. The team was headed north the next day and no one had told me I made the team yet. I asked my clubhouse guy what to do and he told me to “bring my suitcase tomorrow, just in case you get on a plane”. I brought my suitcase and guess what; I ended up on a plane going north.
We went up north and played the University of Maryland the day before we opened the season. My first time up I hit a homerun, I believe it was a 2 or 3 run homerun. I got a single, and I was 2-5 that game. I sat the bench for like the first 10 days of the season, didn’t play. Then I spot played, played one day, sat the bench, but I didn’t play hardly any, very little.
Then we went to Seattle and Earl put me in the lineup against the Mariners. Scotty MacGregor is having an unbelievable day. He’s pitching a 2 hit shutout and we’re winning 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th inning. A guy gets on first base with one out. There’s a ball hit up the middle, a slow roller, but quick enough to get to second base. I charge the ball. I’m going to catch the ball, touch second, turn the double play and we win 1-0. When I go down to catch the ball the ball hit the astroturf where it meets in the dirt and the ball jumps up and hits me in the jaw. I never got a glove on it and of course it’s an error. The next guy gets a double off the wall and we lose the game 2-1.
After the game Earl calls me into his office in Seattle and cusses me out in front of around a dozen reporters. He called me every name in the book. "Stupid play" yada yada yada. He tells me that as long as he is the Manager of the Orioles that I would never again play in the big leagues. He doesn’t care how much pressure the front office is putting on him to play me and that he made out the lineup and that he didn’t care if I died on the bench. So I was sent down to the minor leagues even though I had a big league contract in 1982.
I got called up at the end of the 1982 season but I didn’t play hardly at all. So then, Earl got fired at the end of the ’82 season and I was pretty happy. I told my wife, "Let’s move to Baltimore and let’s work out with the club because I’m going to make this club". I knew they were probably going to move Ripken to shortstop so I’m out of a job, but I can play second and play third. Everyday I worked out in left field, right field, and centerfield. I wanted to prove to them that I was a utility player and that I could play any position.
I went to spring training and hit over .300 in spring training. Joe Altobelli was our new Manager. He called me into his office and said they were going to send me back to the minor leagues and asked if I wanted to know why. I’m thinking to myself that they’ve moved Ripken to short so I’m out of a job but I said, "I don’t know why you’re sending me down". He said, "You’re taking this Jesus thing a little too far" and I said, "What?" I was shocked. He said, "You make everybody nervous" and I said, "What?" He said, "You don’t fit in. You bring your Bible to the ballpark and talk about Jesus all the time". I said, "Let me ask you something, Joe. Do I play hard when I’m on the field?" He said, "Yeah, and we’re not concerned about that. We’re concerned about your other things. You have to leave Jesus in the Church. You can’t bring Him to the ballpark with you." I said, "Joe, you don’t know your Bible man. He lives in my heart and goes wherever I go". Joe said these words to me and I’ll never forget them. He said, "Well, he ain’t goin’ to Baltimore."
So I got sent back down to the minors, even though I had a big league contract. So I go to Rochester and we’re playing pretty good. We go from last place to first place. I come to the ballpark, I believe it was Monday or Tuesday, but I come to the park early like I normally do to do my workouts. The Manager calls me in his office in AAA and tells me that he got a call from the Orioles. He tells me that I’m going to go up for a few weeks since somebody is hurt. He said, "Do you want to play tonight or do you want to rest?" and I said, "I want to play". He said, "But you don’t want to risk getting hurt!" I said, "Look, Skip, if they call me up Ripken is at short and I’m just going to sit the bench so I’d rather be playing". He put me in the game.
We’re playing the Tidewater Tides, the Mets’ AAA. I’m 3-3 going into my 4th at bat. A 92 MPH fastball came right at my face. I threw my hand up; the ball hit my hand and broke my hand. It was my right hand, a displaced fracture. It was busted pretty bad. As I was laying on home plate the first thing that came to my mind was my dad. My dad was dying of cancer in San Antonio, Texas, and he was not a Christian. I was praying everyday that God would give me one more chance to tell my daddy about the Lord because the Orioles would not let me go home to talk to my dad about Jesus. They would let me go to his funeral but then that would be too late. So I had to fly to Baltimore the next day. They operated on my hand and had to put two pins in it. The next day I flew to San Antonio, Texas, to be with my daddy. I spent three days and nights by his bedside, telling him about the Lord. He didn’t respond to anything I was telling him but the Orioles called me after three days to tell me that I had to get back to Baltimore to start my rehabilitation. I’m a company man. I had never thought about anything other than playing ball. I figured once I got done playing ball I would be a coach. I would spend my entire life on a field because baseball meant everything to me. Whether I was playing or coaching, I was a
student of the game. I flew back and started my rehab. My phone rang about 3:00 in the morning a couple of weeks later and it was my dad on the phone. He said, "Son, I want you to know that I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior". We cried and we prayed together and then he said these words to me; I’ll never forget them. He said, "Son, I don’t know why I waited so long but I thank God for His grace and His mercy and His longsuffering and there’s one more thing I want to tell you son." and I said, "What’s that?" He said, "Son, I love you". My daddy had never told me that his entire life. My dad died a couple of weeks later after telling me that and he went home to the Lord. And so the last words my dad ever told me on this physical earth here was, "Son, I love you." That means a lot to me.
I got my hand really good and well again so they sent me to Rochester to begin my rehabilitation. I started playing and they were shocked number one that my career wasn’t over as it was a pretty bad break. Number two; they were shocked in that I came back in like 6-7 weeks that I was playing again. Of course I was hurt and the pain was unbelievable in my hand but I wanted to play. And so I played and played and played. At the end of the season we didn’t do too well in Rochester but I got called back up to the big leagues. I had a big league contract and I played in 4, 5, maybe 6 ballgames. I didn’t do a whole lot and I know I didn’t take any at bats. I came in for defense, played second and things like that. At the end of the season we won the American League East. I’m so excited. We’re going to the playoffs and they need a utility player. I played, second, third, short, left, pinch ran, I did anything and everything, stayed out, kept working, working, working. The front office called me in the office again and said, "Bobby, we can’t believe you got your hand well but you’re back up here and we thank you very much but we don’t think you’re 100%. We can only take 25 guys to the playoffs, so we’re going to take Glenn Gulliver and a couple of other guys instead of you because we just don’t think you’re 100%. But, if we win the World Series you will get a ring. If we win the World Series you will get a share of this money because you are on this team." I said, "Wonderful!" I didn’t go with the team and I watched on TV. As you know we won the World Series.
I’m waiting for spring training for my ring because they measured me. I stood in line and they took my measurement for my ring size, everything. In December I got a call from a guy in Rochester. He called me and said, "Bobby, I’m so sorry" and I said, "Sorry for what?" He said, "You haven’t heard?" and I said, "Heard what?" He said, "Well in the paper up here in Rochester you have been taken off the big league roster." I said, "No I haven’t heard that. No one’s called me and told me anything." A couple of days later my phone rings and it’s the General Manager for the Baltimore Orioles. He called me up to tell me they had a team vote and they are not going to give me a share of the World Series money, that they decided not to give me a ring, either, and that they were cutting my contract two thirds.....take it or leave it.
I got real mad, oh I got angry. I said, "I’ve done nothing but what you wanted me to do. I went to spring training early every time like you wanted me to. I went to instructional league two years in a row to teach the rookies how to bunt, to learn how to pinch hit. I went to Venezuela to play winter ball. I was All-Star shortstop in the Southern League in ’79, All-Star shortstop in 1980 in AAA, all-star shortstop in Venezuela. I’ve done everything you asked me to do and I’ve been a company man." I said, Why don’t you trade me?" and they go, "You’re not worth anything. We can’t get anything for you." I said, "If I’m not worth anything give me my release. Release me." From my understanding at that time when the Orioles signed a prospect they had the rights to you for seven years unless they release you. I had played for 6 years so I couldn’t sign with another team unless they gave me my release, my unconditional release. The Orioles said they would not release me, so I had to take it or leave it. I had a contract where I could not support my wife and family playing AAA ball, "if I could make the team there in Rochester", they said.
I went back to the back bedroom. I was so angry with what took place over the phone that I opened my Bible and I began to read. I got to John chapter 21, where Jesus asked Peter three times, "Peter, do you love me more than these?" You see, Peter was a fisherman. After the resurrection, Peter went fishing and Jesus appeared to Peter and He said, "Peter, do you love me more than these?" He asked him that three times. Well, God spoke to my heart and said, "Bobby, do you love baseball more than me?" and I said, "Yes Lord I really do. I do love baseball more than You." And I said, "But no more". And so I got down on my knees and I made a vow, Chris, and I said, "Lord, if You give me one more year I’ll sign this contract. I’ll sign this minor league contract and I’ll go wherever they tell me to go but at the end of the year I’ll be a Free Agent. No matter what happens, I don’t care what happens, good, bad, indifference, I don’t care. I’ll walk away from this game that I love more than anything and I’ll walk away and I’ll go anywhere in the world You want me. I’ll even go to Africa". Now I did not know at that time I’d be going to Africa but that’s what I said.
I went to Instructional League and made the club in Rochester and went up to Rochester not even thinking that I’m going to start because they had put somebody else at shortstop. Well, I decided to make an announcement in Rochester that I’m retiring no matter what happens this year so I figured they’re not going to play me. Guess what. The shortstop got hurt, so I played I don’t know how many games at short. Then the second baseman gets hurt. I played I don’t know how many games at second base. Then the third baseman gets hurt. I go to third base, I go to left field, I go to center, I go to right. I played in over 100 ballgames, led the club in hits, runs scored and doubles that year. The team voted me MVP of the team. The sportswriters voted me MVP of the team. I was a free agent at the end of the year and I had five Major League clubs call me and offer me contracts. I was 28 years of age and I walked away. That’s my story.
RITM: What aided in me locating you was a 2001 article with Jeff Schneider about the 1982 Topps Future Stars card #21. What do you remember about the process of getting on that card?
Bobby Bonner: It was no big deal at that particular time. It really wasn’t, even though it was my first card. I didn’t think anything about it. When I was a kid I had all kinds of baseball cards that I used to make noise in the spokes of my tires. Of course we all know that it’s not the one on the right and it’s not the one on the left; it’s the guy in the middle. Of course I use that card sometimes when I preach because there were three guys who were crucified, the one on the right, the one on the left, and the One in the middle. The One in the middle is the One you need to look at. Of course the only reason why the card is expensive is because of the guy in the middle, that’s Cal Ripken.
RITM: According to the I AM Ministries site, you and your wife have been missionaries since 1988 to the country of Zambia, Africa and have been instrumental in helping start over 100 churches in Zambia. You are also credited for starting the NorthStar Bible Institute of Zambia and a Pastor Training Course (PTC) to train nationals to reach their people with the gospel. Was missionary work something that you had always planned on doing after your baseball career, was it the chain of events you mentioned that led to this, or was it even something you ever imagined doing with your life?
Bobby Bonner: I never thought I would ever be in Africa. My momma told me my first word I ever said when I was growing up was not momma, it wasn’t daddy. It was ball. I played ball ever since before I could walk. When I was in high school I played football, baseball, basketball and ran track but unfortunately I kept getting hurt. I had four major knee operations like I said. When I was in eighth grade I could dunk a volleyball. I could jump 5’11. I had an unbelievable vertical jump. I was the fourth fastest in the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, in eighth grade before I tore my knee up in ninth grade. A lot of people said it was because I had four knee operations out of high school that prevented me from being the #1 pick in all of the United States. I was All-American First Team out of high school. Of course back then they didn’t have back then what they have today. I played in the very first ever Texas high school all-star baseball game. And so, I wanted to play ball. I wanted to be in the big leagues. I wanted to be in the Hall of Fame. I wanted to be just like the natural when he says, “You’re the greatest thing that ever lived”. That’s what I wanted.
In 1983 when I realized baseball was a god in my life I had to decide what’s more important. And so, when I made a vow to the Lord, I said Africa because that was the moon. You know what I mean? I mean, I’d never go to Africa. But then, after I retired from baseball, I started teaching in a Christian school up in Rochester, New York. A missionary came to out Church and talked about the need to go to Africa. It was like a little light came on and the Lord spoke to my heart and just said, "Did you mean what you said?" and I said, "Yes, Lord, I did" and He said, "Well then, go". I began to have my Bible training and I went to Africa. Actually there’s an update that should be on there now. We now have 216 Churches, we’re in 7 different countries, we have a hospital, we have an orphanage and we’ve trained over 200 men that are now pastoring and evangelizing. We’ve seen over half a million people accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and we now have four Bible Institutes.
RITM: When I spoke with Jeff Schneider he asked how you were doing. When I told him about how successful your work has been he said, "Doesn’t surprise me". Is it safe to assume that you were a dedicated and determined individual back then or was it your faith that was displayed? What led him to make a comment like that?
Bobby Bonner: In 1978 when I first signed I was not a Christian. I was the biggest hell raiser there was on this planet. I was a bartender in college. I ran with the fast crowd. I did drugs. I smoked pot every day from grad 9 to my senior year in college. I never played ball high. When I was in high school I did LSD I mean I ran, baby, I ran with a fast crowd. In October of 1978 when I realized I was a sinner I trusted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and He forgave me and changed my life and I never got over Him. Even to this day I have never got over becoming a Christian. So when I went back to spring training in ’79, after spending much of ’78 on the DL from where I hurt my back real bad, I was getting drunk every day, I was cussing and I was fighting. Then all of a sudden in spring training I walk in with a Bible underneath my arm and it freaked everybody out. Who is this guy, you know? There was guys I was running with in ’78 that now I’m praying for and asking them to come to Church. They just said, "Man, who is this guy?"
When I finally met Jeff of course I was a Christian. We were having Bible studies. I would invite Jeff to come to the Bible studies. During my years in Rochester we saw about 50 ballplayers receive Jesus Christ as their Savior.
I remember 1979 in Charlotte. The Farm Director, Tom Giordano, came down to Charlotte, North Carolina, to see us play. He saw me holding a little Bible Study before the game out on the ball field. I was called in and he told me, "You can never bring your Bible to the ballpark anymore". I said, "Why?" and he said, "Because this is the ballpark". I said, "I can bring my Bible wherever I want" and he said, "Well you can’t pray at the ballpark". He said, "That’s a law. That’s a rule". He said, "If need be we’ll fine you. You’re not going to bring your Bible to the ballpark". And so, they wouldn’t let us have baseball chapel in the minor leagues with the Orioles at a ballpark. We couldn’t have it at the ballpark; that was a law. And so I went in to talk to him. I said, "You’re trying to control these young rookies. You’re trying to take God out of their hearts." He goes, "I’m not trying to take God out of their hearts. I’m just saying you can’t have God at the ballpark." So I began to have Bible studies in my hotel room. I began to have Bible studies at my house. Do you know what was so hypocritical about that whole thing? Every time the Orioles had a prospect that they had spent a lot of money on that was having problems with drugs or alcohol, guess who they called? They called me to talk to him.......but not at the ballpark.
RITM: What players have you kept in touch with since your baseball days?
Bobby Bonner: When I went to Africa, I wrote 25 registered letters because I know they would get them. I knew if I sent a letter to the ballpark chances are they’re not even going to read it. So I sent 25 registered letters to my buddies, and I got no response at all. I was asking them for help. Chris, to this day I live on faith. I don’t have a salary. I don’t have a company that supports me. You say, "How do you survive?" I live by faith. Churches and individuals support me by faith on a monthly basis. If they don’t send it to me I don’t get it. So I went to Africa and didn’t know what my income was from month to month. I still don’t, that’s how I live. So I was hoping that some of the ballplayers would support my Ministry and I got no replies.
When I came back from Africa, I believe after my seventh year, I was able to meet Frank Tanana. I didn’t know Frank when I played, but I met him. Frank began to support us a little bit. Then I ran in to a buddy that I played with in college, Mark Thurman. He played at A & M and he played a little bit with the Orioles and went to the World Series with San Diego and I believe he played with the Cardinals. I knew Mark really well and Mark knew me in college when I was lost. And so, when he heard I was in Africa, he contacted me. I was elected into the Texas A & M Sports Hall of Fame. I was unable to be there the night they inducted me so I asked Mark if he would accept it on my behalf and he did. Mark has been a supporter of our Ministry.
RITM: Considering all the places that you have been and all the things that you have done, what are your favorite accomplishments in life?
Bobby Bonner: My ultimate is the day I met Jesus Christ October of 1978, when I got saved and Jesus Christ came to live in my heart.
Something happened when I first got to Africa that I’ll never forget. It changed my life. One of the African men asked me to go with him to visit his family that had never heard the name of Jesus. They didn’t have a Bible; they had never gone to Church. They lived very deep in the bush in the country, about 500 miles from where we were staying. I took another missionary with me that was a builder. We drove and drove and drove and drove. 200 miles by paved road, 300 miles by dirt road to get to this little village out in the middle of nowhere. I remember going there and I remember being scared to
death. Even though everyone may say, "You’re so brave!" I still have an imagination. It wasn’t just a few years ago when people in that area were eating people like me. I was a little scared going in there. I didn’t know what to expect. They gave us a little hut to stay in. It was about 9:30 that night and it was dark and we’re in this little bitty mud hut in the middle of nowhere and I’m thinking, "Man I used to be on the ball field and here I am in the middle of the jungle in Africa". All of a sudden, the guy who brought us out there, said, "My family’s ready for you" and I go, "Where are they at?" He told me that they had made a fire and they were all around the fire.
I’m thinking, "Well, they probably have a big pot out there and they’re going to cook me for dinner", I had no idea. I took my Bible and I took a little flashlight and we went out and sat on this log. There was about 25 of his family members there. I looked at them all and said, "Have you ever heard the name of Jesus?" and they said, "No, we don’t know that name". I said, "Well, let me ask you this. Do you believe there is a God?" and they said, "Oh, yes" and I said, "Well Who is your God?" They looked up at the stars and they said, "He’s the One that created all the stars, and He created the heavens. He created the trees and He created man". I go, "Who told you that?" and they go, "No one". I go, "You don’t have a school?", "No", "Has a missionary every come here and told you that?", "No". The Bible says in Psalms 19 the heavens declare the glory of God, and there’s not a place on this earth where that voice is not heard. What happens is once we get to a certain age we can either choose to Worship the Creator or Worship the creature and most people, of course, Worship the creature and God gives them up as the Bible says in Romans 1.
But anyway, I began to talk to them and said, "Let me ask you some more questions. Do you know what sin is?" and of course they didn’t understand that. I began to elaborate on it. Pretty soon they saw their sin and they go, "What must we do to have our sins forgiven?" and I said, "There’s a holy God and I gave them the whole story from Genesis to Revelation, and how God became a man and went to a cross to die for our sin. Each of them said, "We want Jesus". And so, he had the opportunity to lead all of his 25 family members, father, mother, brothers, sisters, to Jesus Christ. After they got on their knees and came up off their knees I asked him to teach them how to sing a song. We began to sing a song around 11:30 or midnight. Through the fire I looked to my right and there’s 25 sets of eyeball in the bush staring at us, 25 more people. They heard us singing from across the river. They got in their canoes, came across and said, “What are you singing about?” I said, “Sit down and let me tell you”. About an hour and a half later that whole village had been converted and trusted Christ. It’s about 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning and all of a sudden I look off to my left. There’s about 30 people in the bush staring at us. I called them over by the fire. They heard us singing from about a mile and a half in the jungle. They didn’t know what was going on so they got the whole village up to find out what we were singing.
We were there for 8 days and 8 nights. We led about 290 people to Jesus Christ. The people would sit there from 6:00 in the morning until just after midnight as I would literally read them the Bible because none of them had ever seen a Bible or heard a Bible. At lunch time they would take me over and feed me a little bit. I said, "We need to feed everybody" but they said, "We don’t have enough. We want to make sure you’re strong enough to give us the Word of God." After the third day of them sitting there all day long in the sun listening to me I said, "Look, I can’t handle this anymore. Tell them to go home. Come back later, I’ll still be here." He told them to go home and he says, "They won’t go anywhere. They’re afraid that they’re going to miss what God has to say." I said, "I got to go to town. Where’s the nearest town?" and they said, "There’s another town 43 miles on the other side of us."
So I drove to town and left the other missionary there to teach. I drove to this town to buy food to feed everybody. The next morning, at 5:00, there was a knock at my hut. I opened the little bamboo door and in walked this man in a suit. He was a black man, Zambian man, with a long, black beard. It was different with him because he spoke English. He said, "Are you the missionary" and I said, "Yes". He said, "Tell me about Jesus". We were able to lead him to Christ. Come to find out, he started chasing my truck in town when he saw my truck there. He followed our tire tracks all night long on foot until he got to the village to where he borrowed a bicycle and he traveled 43 miles looking for us to ask me to tell him about Jesus. So I guess that experience alone probably did more to change my life as far as knowing people in this world want to know about God and they desire to know. Not only that, but God has given us a command to go into all the world and tell everybody about Him.
RITM: If you could get any message out to the world, what would it be?
Bobby Bonner: I would get the message out that God loves them. God loves you right where you are and God sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins. If you’ll out all of your faith and trust in Him and not yourself or anything else then He’ll save you and give you the gift of eternal life and you’ll never get over it.
I hear people say sometimes, "You know, I’ve tried this Jesus thing" and I say, "No, you’ve never tried my Jesus" You’ve tried a series of works, you’ve tried a series of lessons, you’ve tried something you’ve never tried, to have a personal relationship with a living God. He is alive, because I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without Him.
I was preaching a few years ago and a guy came up to me and said, "Bobby, you’re in Cooperstown". I said, "What are you talking about?" and he said, "Yeah, do you remember the longest game in the history of baseball? Rochester Red Wings played the Pawtucket Red Sox? 33 innings?" and I said "Yeah." He said, "Well, in Cooperstown there’s a little glass case and you’re in it. I started crying because I said, "Wow, God did give me the desire in my heart" and then of course I was elected to the Rochester Red Wings Hall of Fame and a couple of years ago, the Aggie Hall of Fame.
You know, God is good and all of those records are fine and dandy and whatever. But you know, at the end of the day, all of the records that I set at A & M, they’re all broken, I think, with the exception of one. Records are made to be broken and man is man at his best. Probably the only record that will never be broken is Ripken’s, Iron Man. With all of that said and done, at the end of the day, what you’ve done for Christ is the only thing that is going to count.
I need to tell you one more thing if I can. Last January, I went to the Cal Ripken, Sr. fundraiser in Baltimore. Cal Jr. wrote me a letter and asked me if I could come. He wanted to have a reunion of the ’83 World Series team. You see, Cal didn’t know that I never got a ring. He didn’t know what the front office did to me. So Cal wrote a letter and said, "Please come" and I wrote him back and said, "You don’t want me". I said, "I wasn’t even there". I got a letter back that said, "Please come". I went. I’m there that first night and guess who walks in? Earl Weaver walks in. After the press talked to him I saw he was alone and I went right over to him. I haven’t seen him since ’82. Remember what I told you, ok? I walk up to Earl, I threw my hand out, and I said, "How ‘ya doin’, skip?" He goes, "Bobby?" I said, "Yeah". He says, "I’m surprised you’d even want to talk to me." And I said, "Why wouldn’t I want to talk to you?"
He said, "You know Jim Palmer, don’t you?" and I said, "Yeah, I know Jim." He said, "There’s not a week that goes by that doesn’t call to let me know and remind me how I ruined your career." I Said, "Earl, you didn’t ruin my career. Let me tell you what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years." Of course I told him about Africa and I said, "What people thought was bad, God meant for good. By the way, Earl, I just want you to know I don’t hold anything against you. As a matter of fact, I’ve never held anything against you and what happened, happened. More than anything else, skip, God loves you and so do I." He started crying. That meant everything to me.
*Images in this interview are as follows:
1) Bobby Bonner with Matt & Jeff Haelig. Image courtesy of Bill Haelig.
2) 1982 Topps "Future Stars" Card #21
3) Bobby and Becky Bonner. Image courtesy of the I AM Ministries site. For more information about the Ministry of Bobby and Becky Bonner, please visit the following: http://www.iamministries.info/about/bonner/