Bonds Last Year - Or Is It?
The Giants had no choice but to continue their Bonds Uber Alles plan for one more season because he’s still under contract, but after this season, they’ll let him go. If he wants to continue, perhaps as a DH with an American League club, so be it.
When a team has a star of Bonds’ magnitude, it really has no choice but to ride him as long as it can. As I’ve noted before, the 49ers did the same thing in the late ‘90s with Steve Young. As long as the Giants have Bonds in the middle of their lineup, they have a chance to get to, maybe even win, the World Series. As long as the Niners had Young, they felt they always had a chance at the Super Bowl.
There’s an obvious danger to that strategy: If the superstar goes down, so does the club. The 49ers collapsed when Young went down early in the ’99 season. When Bonds was out until the final two weeks of the 2005 season, the mediocrity of those surrounding him was exposed.
Nonetheless, the Giants are continuing that strategy this year. To that end, Giants general manager Brian Sabean has shored up the team around Bonds, with both addition and subtraction. He picked up a solid starter in Matt Morris and let the ever-promising, never-delivering Brett Tomko go. He finally got rid of Edgardo Alfonzo, picking up Steve Finley, who will be a capable outfielder to fill in when Bonds or Moises Alou is out of the lineup. He replaced the departed Scott Eyre with Steve Kline, as the left-hander to get out left-handed hitters in late innings. He finally cut the emotional strings with J. T. Snow, so Lance Niekro will have a chance to prove he’s an every day player, and he traded for Mark Sweeney, a valuable pinch-hitter who can fill in at first base or the outfield.
Overall, this looks like a deeper and improved club over the 2005 bunch, and there are no unrealistic hopes, as there were before last season with Tomko and Kirk Rueter in the rotation and Alfonzo at third base.
But one thing hasn’t changed: It all depends on Barry. If he can play as many as 120 games, the Giants should be able to win their division, probably by several games. Bonds remains the major offensive force in the majors, not only for the damage he can do himself but because he makes everybody around him better.
But if Bonds goes down to injury early and often, the Giants will struggle to best .500.
That’s why the Giants have been willing to make so many concessions to Bonds. They’ve given him the three lockers in the locker room and his personal recliner. They’ve gritted their teeth when he made announcements on his website, without telling or consulting them. This season, there will even be a “reality” show with Bonds in the clubhouse.
But if he makes them a winner, all is forgiven.
IN MORE THAN 40 years of covering major league sports, I’ve never seen a case remotely like Bonds.
Superstars always get preferential treatment. Willie Mays certainly did in the ‘60s, whoever the manager was. Even Alvin Dark, who still had the racial attitudes of his native Louisiana, let Mays go his way, though Dark was hard on Latino players, particularly Orlando Cepeda. Herman Franks let Mays decide when he would play – and Mays sometimes would take a day off when Bob Gibson was pitching. When Clyde King tried to tell Mays to play when Willie didn’t want to, King was fired.
At times, there was resentment in the clubhouse because of Mays’ preferential treatment, but that was muted because Mays did favors for his teammates. There wasn’t the money in the game that there is now, but player guests on radio-TV interviews would get gifts – golf clubs were a favorite – and Mays would give those gifts to teammates, because he was on those shows frequently.
There is no parallel in that behavior with what happens with Bonds. His teammates make the right statements publicly, but they don’t like him personally. And, Bonds doesn’t care. He’s an independent entity, going his own way, not caring what anybody else in the clubhouse thinks. The only one who has ever challenged him is Jeff Kent, who challenges everybody.
Controversy constantly swirls around Bonds. When he first said he’d play in the World Baseball Classic and then withdrew, there was immediate speculation that he withdrew because he was afraid of facing tougher drug tests. His explanation – that he didn’t want to risk injury and put his season in jeopardy – seemed reasonable to me. When he first said he’d play, I thought that was an incredibly stupid decision.
Even last year, there was speculation that he wasn’t playing because he feared he would fail the baseball drug tests, which had been stiffened – and even speculation that he would retire, for that same reason. Of course, he did play in September, and he’s planning to play this season.
As you know if you’ve read me before, I believe this whole steroids thing is overblown. Whatever Bonds may have done, he’s passed every test. I understand why writers don’t like Bonds, especially if they have to deal with him on a regular basis, but it’s really time to give him credit for what he’s done instead of constantly speculating about his steroid use.
THE BONDS ERA has been a stormy one for the Giants, but it’s also been a very good one. The Giants won a franchise record 103 games in his first season, 1993. They came oh-so-close to winning their first World Series in San Francisco in 2002 and they’ve been in contention for most of his 13 seasons in a Giants uniform.
Meanwhile, fans have had a chance to see the best hitter of his generation – and the best I’ve ever seen – on a nearly daily basis, except for last season. Those who have actually been in the park have certainly enjoyed that; when I hear from anti-Bonds people, it’s almost always somebody who does not go to the games.
Speaking for myself, it’s been a great experience. I hope Bonds can stay healthy so we’ll have multiple chances to see him one last time, and one last chance for the Giants to get back to the playoffs. After this season, the Giants will have to shift their planning in a big way, but for this season, let’s all savor the moment.
GIANTS BLOGS: A reader asked me last week about Giants blogs, and I had to confess that I don’t have any information on them. I know there are many Giants fans out there, so if you have information about blogs, please e-mail me and I’ll put the information out on my website.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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