Barry Bonds Makes An Adjustment
With Willie Mays, it was the park. When the Giants moved to Candlestick in 1960, Mays took one look at the distance to left field, felt the wind blowing in and knew that it would be very difficult to hit home runs to left field. So, he adjusted his swing to hit to right center, figuring the wind would carry it further to right field and he would get his homers that way. Though many writers thought the park cut down on Maysí homers, when I researched it many years ago, I found that Mays hit exactly as many home runs at Candlestick as he did on the road.
With Bonds, the changed circumstances are the condition of his legs, particularly the right knee, which required three surgeries last season. He doesnít have the leg strength to pull the good fast balls. At the start of the season, he was still trying to pull, and his best shots wound up as outs on the warning track in center and right-center. Now, heís going the other way, and heís hit three balls out to left field, the latest on Thursday against the very tough Billy Wagner.
Though Bonds is not the hitter heís been in the recent past, opposing managers still treat him as if he were. Itís been rare that a pitcher challenges Bonds as Wagner and Darren Oliver did. Bonds lined out to deep center off Oliver to end the game in the 11th. Otherwise, Bonds has been walked, intentionally or semi-intentionally, at about the same post-2000 frequency.
Thatís often worked to the Giants advantage, though, because Moises Alou has been hitting so well behind him. A case could be made for Alou as the Giantsí most dangerous hitter right now, as heís hitting .349 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 21 games.
Bonds leg problems have made him a defensive liability, which was underscored yesterday when Randy Winn, who started in left in his place, made a leaping catch of a ball at the fence. The press box consensus was that there was no way Bonds would have made that catch, because he canít jump Ė so the ball would have gone in the stands.
In his prime, Bonds was a great defensive left fielder Ė he and Ricky Henderson are the two best Iíve seen Ė because he could play shallow and still get back for balls over his head. His quick release of the ball made up for his weak throwing arm.
That Bonds no longer exists. Now, he has trouble getting started and even more trouble stopping. When he starts running, he has to just gradually slow down, instead of coming to a quick stop. Itís painful to watch.
But because heís so important to the offense, he has to be in the lineup as much as possible. Manager Felipe Alou admitted he probably played Bonds too much earlier, six days in a row. He will have to be given more rest, so he can stay off the disabled list.
One thing is certain: Those who profess to worry that Bonds will catch or surpass Henry Aaronís career home run record of 755 can relax. Between his legs and the caution/fear of opposing managers, Bonds wonít have the opportunity to do that this year, and this is clearly his last season. The Giants wonít re-sign him after this season, and no American League club would take him as a DH because of all the baggage that accompanies him.
Bonds will pass Babe Ruthís career total of 714, but that hasnít been a record since Aaron surpassed it more than 30 years ago Ė unless you have a separate category for most home runs hit by a white man.
BONDS HAS been the big attraction at PacBell since he started his great home run surge Ė and fans went crazy when he hit the game-tying home run yesterday Ė but there was also evidence yesterday that they are already preparing for life without Bonds.
Before last season, there was a definite difference in the excitement level at the park when Bonds sat out, as well as a large exodus of fans after his last at-bat when he did play. Last year, when he didnít play until mid-September, it was dullsville at the park. Many fans who had tickets to games disposed of them on eBay, or simple ate the cost. Crowds were definitely down, much more than the official attendance count.
Perhaps itís because fans had a year of adjustment, but when Bonds wasnít in the starting lineup yesterday, there was still a lot of buzz at the park. Of course, fans also saw a very exciting game, which went back and forth, right to the end. Since it was a National League game, it was also a bunt festival Ė which had little effect on the game Ė but there was plenty of hitting, as the teams combined for 30 hits.
This Giants team, even when Bonds isnít playing, is much more fun to watch than last yearís. Thereís no dead weight like Edgardo Alfonzo in the lineup. Pedro Feliz, finally getting a chance to be the regular at his natural position of third base, is playing very well defensively. When Bonds isnít in the lineup, they do more running, not so much stealing as using the hit-and-run and going from first to third on base hits.
The team has more depth than last year. Jose Vizcaino has filled in nicely at second base as Ray Durham is once again injured. Steve Finley, despite his age, is still a superior defensive center fielder when he plays.
Brian Sabean seems to have learned from last seasonís mistakes. He didnít go into this season with question marks like Brett Tomko and Kirk Rueter on the pitching staff. Last season, he waited too long to make changes, but when the bullpen faltered early this season, he immediately cut Tyler Walker.
IT STILL comes down to Bonds. The Giants could still win their weak division without a huge contribution from him, but that would be as meaningless as the Padres win last season.
Iím sure itís always difficult for Felipe Alou to make out a lineup card without Bondsí name on it, but he has to be careful to give Bonds periodic rests. Even a diminished Bonds can do big damage if heís healthy in September Ė and October.
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