Barry Bonds Is Essential to Giants
by Glenn Dickey
Sep 30, 2005

BARRY BONDS will be back, for at least the 2006 season. The Giants have no choice.

Everything in the orange-and-black fiefdom still revolves around Bonds. As we’ve seen this year, without Bonds in the lineup, the Giants are in the bottom tier in the league. Even after their little late season spurt, when Bonds returned, their record is worse than all but four National League teams.

Without Bonds, the Giants are a boring team. Although nobody can be certain how often he’ll play next season, you can bet the Giants marketing will still be built around him. They have nothing else to sell. There were many games this season when the announced attendance was substantially more than the number of people in the stands; people who had bought tickets couldn’t re-sell them. Without Bonds, those people wouldn’t buy tickets at all, and Giants attendance would plummet.

This is not just a Giants problem. This is not an area where many fans are truly passionate about their teams, as fans are in the Eastern baseball cities, or as Dallas Cowboys fans are. Teams have a hard core of passionate fans – and I hear from many of you - but there aren’t enough of them to fill a park/stadium/arena. It takes a winning team or a special player to bring out the casual fans who make the games sellouts.

That’s why there have been three attempts to move local baseball teams, twice for the Giants, once for the A’s. That’s why the A’s, in the midst of a pennant race, drew only so-so crowds for their last week, with the biggest crowd coming the night after they were eliminated – because it was a $2 ticket night. That’s why the Giants faced the same situation when they were at Candlestick Park. That’s why the 49ers had to buy up tickets so their home opener would be an official sellout and why only the presence of so many traveling Dallas fans made the game last week a sellout and have made the Raiders-Cowboys game in Oakland this Sunday a sellout.

There are multiple reasons for this. One is that a high percentage of Bay Area residents come from somewhere else, and those who were fans of their home town teams tend to retain that interest. Another is that there are so many other things to do in the area. When Bob Lurie owned the Giants, he used to say that his biggest competition came not from other teams but from Carmel, the wine country and Lake Tahoe.

The current Giants management knows all this. When they were still at Candlestick Park, they took financial losses so they could build up a very good team to play in Pacific Bell Park. They knew that the honeymoon with the new park would end quickly if they didn’t field a competitive team.

The apex of that effort came in 2002, when they should have won the World Series. Since then, they have fallen off, as players got older and general manager Brian Sabean continued to bring in more older players. Now, they have nothing left but Bonds.

BONDS HAS A say in this, because he’s a 10-5 player (10 years in the majors, five with the same team), so he can veto any trade. So far, he’s insisted that he wants to stay, but even if he agreed to leave, it would be extremely difficult to trade him.

The Giants couldn’t just trade Bonds for several players. They’d have to trade him for another star player, and what team would be willing to do that for a player who is so close to the end of his career and who comes with so much baggage?

The Giants have a history with Bonds, and they’ve built their team and marketing around his pursuit of the career home run records of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, so they’ve put up with his incredible attitude. As we know, the only way the Giants knew what was happening with Bonds as he recuperated from his multiple knee injuries was by checking his website. Other team managements, watching that, had to say, “We want no part of that.”

The only possible trade that made sense was to send Bonds to an American League team, where he could be the DH, but the two teams with the highest payrolls, the Yankees and Red Sox, have Jason Giambi and David Ortiz in that role. Both clubs have all the hitting they need; it’s their pitching that hurts them.

That leaves the Anaheim Angels as the only remaining team that could pay Bonds’ salary (or part of it, if the Giants agreed to pay part), and there have been stories, though none with on-the-record comments, that the Angels want no part of Bonds, either.

Those three teams are all drawing very well – the Yankees have the highest attendance in baseball – so they don’t need Bonds to stimulate attendance, as the Giants do.

If they could trade Bonds, the Giants would have more payroll flexibility, but this is not a year when that would be a real help, because the free agent market is pretty thin.

IT’S BEEN SAD to watch the deterioration of the Giants.

They still don’t have a plan for life beyond Bonds. They brought in young pitchers this season, though it took them far too long to get rid of Kirk Rueter; you’ve no doubt noticed how eagerly other clubs went after Rueter. But they still can’t seem to develop position players. The longer Lance Niekro played, the worse he looked. Ditto with Todd Linden and Jason Ellison.

So, J. T. Snow may be back again, though his lack of power is crippling to the weak Giants offense. They can’t get rid of Edgardo Alfonzo, another corner infielder whose power has virtually disappeared and who imitates a statue with his defense. Though he was playing on the line, the game-winning hit by Damian Jackson went right by Alfonzo last night. The most telling plays, though, are the grounders to his left. Eric Chavez routinely makes that play, cutting in front of the shortstop and throwing out the hitter. Pedro Feliz often makes it. Alfonzo never does, so the ball either goes through or Omar Vizquel gets to it so deep in the hole that he can’t make a throw.

Other teams scout the Giants, so they know all about Alfonzo’s shortcomings, which is why they haven't been able to trade him. Unfortunately, there’s still a year left on his contract. I hope they’ll eat that. His departure would be addition by subtraction.

So, it’s still all about Bonds, though nobody knows how much he can even play next year. It’s not likely to be more than 120 games, and it may be considerably less. But the Giants have no choice. He’s all they have left.


THANKS: I got my first Google check yesterday, so I thank those of you who have been hitting the Google buttons, and those who have been hitting the “Buy/Sell” link for ticket transactions. . . And my wife urges you to click on PleaseVisitNancyDickey.com for your real estate needs.

TV: I’ll be a guest on “49ers Playbook,” which precedes the Sunday 49ers-Cowboys game on KTVU (2).

E-MAILS: I’ll be updating the “Letters” section today. Some juicy reactions to yesterday’s 49ers column. Look for it in mid-day.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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