Should Bonds Bat No. 2?
With the Giants, itís always been, what Barry wants, Barry gets. The arrangement worked well for both sides until last year, because with Barry in the lineup, the Giants were always a threat to win it all. When he was sidelined for almost all the season in 2005, it all came crashing down.
But ironically, that strengthened Bondsí hand. Now, everybody knows how pathetic the Giants are without Bonds. They need him desperately. Theyíre stuck. They have no leverage at all.
Knowing that, youíd have thought Alou would have tried to talk to Bonds before he made his announcement to the media. He actually had a good rationale for making the change: Because Bonds will probably have to come out of the lineup in the late innings for defensive purposes, a much weaker hitter would be put into his spot.
But talking to players is not something Alou does, apparently ever. He played ball in an era when the managerís word was it, especially with blacks and Latinos. Players had no leverage in those days because the reserve clause was still in place, bonding players to their teams as long as the teams wanted them. A player who had trouble with a manager was in deep, deep trouble.
Thatís hardly the case now. Players have the upper hand because theyíre paid so much money and, if they donít like the manager, theyíll soon be free to go to another club.
Alou is a very modern manager in handling, or mishandling, his pitching staff. The idea of bringing in pitchers just for one batter was rarely done during his playing days but itís frequently done today, although perhaps not with the enthusiasm with which Alou embraces it.
But in dealing with his players, Alou is definitely old school. He doesnít feel it necessary to explain what heís doing to any player. Heíll tell the media what heís doing, but a player? Never. So, itís not surprising he told the media before he even talked to Bonds.
In this case, he should have made an exception. Bonds is a superstar and superstars always get special treatment, but even in that category, Bonds is in another class. Willie Mays never had three lockers to call his own, nor a public relations man standing in front of his locker (s) to ward of questioning media.
Thereís another factor, as well. This is apparently Alouís last season managing the Giants; he has said that he came back only because his sons wanted him to reach 1000 career wins. The one man who can determine whether his last season is a winning one is Barry Bonds, so he should be making every effort to keep him happy.
EVEN BEYOND Alouís reasons, thereís a strong case that could be made for batting Bonds second.
There have been many mathematical studies done that showed the most efficient batting order would have the teamís best hitter in either the leadoff or the No. 2 spot. The reason is obvious: He would come to bat more times in a season, giving him more chances to either hit a home run or get on base for somebody to drive him in.
Things change slowly, if at all, in baseball, and the traditional batting order has remained: (1) A speedy player who could steal a base if he got on; (2) A hitter who was adept at hitting the ball to the right side and moving up the runner, even if he made an out; (3) A high percentage hitter with power; and (4) A slugger type, who might not have a high batting average but hits for power. Bonds actually hit in the No. 3 spot for most of his career but was moved to No. 4 when Jeff Kent was struggling in 2002 and has hit there ever since.
There have been occasional shifts from this model. One of the most amusing came in 2001 when Art Howe, normally the most traditional of managers, had Jeremy Giambi leading off, though Giambi had little speed. But that was an Aís team with no speedsters, and Howe reasoned that he might as well have a good hitter in that spot.
The reasoning for the traditional lineup has been that a manager wanted hitters who would get on base at the top of the lineup and then hitters in the middle who could drive him in.
Thereís another factor with Bonds: His frequent walks. The Giants have benefited because Bond often scores after heís been walked, but those walks also deprive him of a chance to hit more home runs and drive in more runs.
Would he be walked fewer times if he were hitting second? I donít have the answer to that, but it would be nice to have a chance to find out.
But, of course, we wonít. The biggest star in all of baseball has said no, and thatís that.
THIS IS probably the last year weíll see this kind of behavior. The Giants had hoped that Bonds would break Henry Aaronís career home run record in a Giants uniform, but I canít see them signing Bonds to another contract when this expires. If he wants to pursue Aaronís record Ė and there are those who think heís only interested in surpassing Babe Buthís mark of 714 Ė heíll probably do it as a designated hitter in the American League.
If he can play even 2/3 of the games this year, I think the Giants will win the NL West. Not much to beat there. The Padres have lost pitching, the Dodgers are stockpiling middle infielders but have no outfield and the Diamondbacks are rebuilding.
After that, general manager Brian Sabean will have to revamp his planning and start building with younger players, which will probably cause the Giants to step back for a time. The new manager will no doubt be glad he doesnít have to deal with Bondsí monumental ego, but he will also wish he still had the greatest offensive force in the game.
SICK LEAVE: Iím mostly recovered from a bug I wouldnít wish on Al Davis. While I was in bed, my e-mail basket filled up, so I apologize to those of you I couldnít answer, and I thank those of you who wished me well.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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