COLUMBIA - Organizers hope the third annual Bobby Bonds Memorial Symposium will help reverse the declining number of blacks playing baseball at all levels. They also know that job gets harder with every negative headline involving Bobby's son, Barry.
It's hard to find a day when San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds isn't dealing with allegations over using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. And that limits his impact as a role model for black youths thinking of baseball, said former New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson.
"He is arguably the greatest baseball slugger," the South Carolina native said. "But right now, no one knows that. So who are kids going to relate to?"
Wilson was born in Bamberg and played baseball at the University of South Carolina before finding his way to the Mets.
He will probably be forever remembered for his role in game six of the 1986 World Series. First, Wilson skipped out of the way of Bob Stanley's pitch that let New York tie Boston in the bottom of the 10th. Then Wilson hit the slow roller that got past Bill Buckner for a Mets victory that tied the series. Wilson and the Mets took game seven and the championship.
Wilson worries that black participation in the game has reached a critical point and needs serious attention.
Barry Bonds has been a polarizing force for much of his career, making it hard for young blacks to latch on to him the way Wilson could growing up following Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
Wilson doesn't think the younger Bonds' troubles will deter grass-roots efforts such as the symposium.
"What I think hurts the cause is the fact that Barry Bonds is the only African-American being publicized right now," Wilson said.
"That's all of baseball. Show us something positive."
William Forrester, the Metropolitan Junior Baseball League's executive director, talked with Bobby Bonds about the efforts shortly before the elder Bonds was taken ill with cancer. Bobby Bonds died in August 2003.
Forrester said Bobby Bonds shared his group's vision that more needed to be done to revive baseball for blacks from youth leagues to colleges.
Forrester admits to wondering "sometimes if people want to tie their names to this with everything being anti-Barry," he said. "But we're moving forward."
Forrester and Wilson say the event can serve several purposes: raising awareness that it's important blacks reconnect with baseball and exposing the tournament's youth players to historically black colleges and their programs.
"It's tough going out there to find those prospects," said Derrick Johnson, Benedict's baseball coach.
Wilson says football and basketball have done much better jobs marketing to the black community.
"It's time for us to get out there, too," he said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Bobby Bonds Symposium on the Survival of Historical Black Colleges and Universities Baseball Programs
WHERE: Benedict College, Columbia
WHEN: July 27-30
ALSO: Youth baseball tournament sponsored by Metropolitan Junior Baseball League