Bonds' Giants Career Is Over
Even last season, Bonds struggled mightily in the field, unable to break sharply for balls, often just jogging for balls hit away from him down the line.
Now, he’ll be coming back from three knee operations, complicated by an infection at one point. For him to play in the field any more, they’d have to invent a new position: Standing Left Fielder.
Playing in the field would also take a further toll on his fragile knees, so for Bonds to stay with the Giants, he’d have to be a pinch-hitter with only an occasional start as a position player.
That wouldn’t serve anybody’s needs. The Giants had signed Bonds to what was expected to be his final contract so that he could make his run at the Babe Ruth/Hank Aaron career home run records in a Giants uniform, before cheering crowds at a soldout park. Now, they won’t be able to use Bonds as a selling tool because of the uncertainty of his future, so his $18 million annual salary just becomes a dead weight on their payroll.
Bonds has also embarrassed the Giants this year because it’s been so painfully clear that he’s calling all the shots. They haven’t been able to make any announcements about his condition because they didn’t know – unless they went to his website. They were also blindsided by his announcement yesterday. As recently as last weekend, Giants manager Felipe Alou was talking about getting Bonds back for the September stretch run in the hapless NL West.
Perhaps, if he’d known Bonds wouldn’t be back, Giants general manager Brian Sabean wouldn’t have bitten on that foolish trade in which the Giants got Randy Winn for Jesse Foppert and Yorvit Torrealba. That trade looks even worse now that there’s no hope of Bonds’ return.
Bonds has ruled out playing this year on the advice of his doctor (who is, of course, not affiliated with the Giants), who warned him that he could jeopardize his 2006 return.
The only reason for Bonds to return next season would be to resume his assault on the Ruth/Aaron marks. He can’t do that if he isn’t playing regularly, which seems to dictate a trade to an American League team, where he could be used as a designated hitter. The Anaheim Angels would be a logical choice because owner Arte Moreno, who signed Vladimir Guerrero, has shown he’s willing to open his checkbook for the right player. As a DH, Bonds could take the Angels to another World Championship.
IT’S A SAD day for most Giants fans, only a few of whom have gotten so caught up in the steroids issue that they haven’t been able to appreciate Bonds.
Bonds is not an easy man to like, and his national reputation is unfavorable. I’ve often been asked in radio interviews about the reaction to Bonds in the Bay Area, and my reply has been that those who hate him are almost always those who are not coming to the games.
Those at the Giants games have loved him. I’ve heard it not just from the press box but in the stands when I’ve walked around the park, as I often do. He got tumultous applause on Opening Day, when he made his famous declaration, “I will be back,” which unfortunately has not come true. The mass exodus after his last at-bat was another testimonial to his popularity.
Why shouldn’t they love him? He’s treated Giants fans to an unparalleled exhibition of hitting, for power and for percentage. His swing, seemingly almost taking the ball out of the catcher’s glove, has been awesome in its quickness. His plate discipline has been outstanding. His mental discipline hasn’t been obvious to fans because it goes to his preparation before the game, but it’s been an important part of his success.
Steroids? For those who think Bonds’ success is due to steroids, I ask one question: If it’s that easy, why aren’t others doing it?
Mark McGwire, who was using a steroids-like substance that was not banned in baseball, had a remarkable late-career surge, during which he hit 70 homers, a season record which Bonds soon broke. McGwire had hit 49 homers as a rookie, a major league record, though he wasn’t a smart hitter then, just swinging at the first good pitch he saw, often the first one in an at-bat. Pitchers caught on to that, and McGwire also suffered a series of injuries which set him back. When he got healthy and became a smart hitter, he went on his home run rampage.
Rafael Palmero, who just tested positive for steroids, and Jason Giambi, who admitted he’d taken steroids, are the only two other sluggers we can say positively have taken them. Palmeiro has put up good numbers – one of only four hitters to have collected 3000 hits and 500 home runs – but never approached Bonds in season performances. Giambi is a very good hitter, but he’s never hit more home runs in a season than the 43 he hit in 2000, his last year with the A’s. Though many of the “steroids are the end of the world as we know it” crowd thought the stiffer baseball drug testing this year would doom Giambi, he’s bounced back nicely since he got past his injury problems, hitting 14 home runs in July, when presumably, he was off steroids.
Sammy Sosa was widely perceived as a steroids user but if steroids were responsible for Sammy’s big numbers, when he hit more than 60 homers three times in a four-year span, he must have gotten off “the juice” awfully quickly. The last two years – before the new drug testing policy – Sosa hit a combined 75 home runs, two below Bonds’ one-season record.
Steroids use has been widespread in baseball, with pitchers and hitters both using them, but nobody else has put up the numbers Bonds has. Give the man his due.
THERE ARE two players who stand out in my memory, which includes watching major league baseball since it arrived in San Francisco in 1958: Willie Mays and Bonds.
Mays was the better all-round player, and I treasure my memories of his baserunning and fielding, as well as his hitting. I equally treasure the sight of Bonds as a hitter, the best I’ve ever seen, unleashing his swing like a cobra, sending the ball deep into the stands or McCovey Cove.
It would have been great to see Bonds break the home run records in a Giants uniform. Now, we’ll have to watch it from a distance, but we have the consolation of having seen him at the very peak of his game.
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