Barry Bonds: Still the Catalyst for Giants
by Glenn Dickey
May 02, 2006

BARRY BONDS will be a mixed blessing for the Giants this season.

Bonds now looks a lot like Frank Thomas with the Aís, but the Aís can use Thomas as a designated hitter and not have to play him in the field. The Giants have to put Bonds in left field and just hope that he doesnít have to make any tough plays.

The Giants can put together a very good defensive outfield when Bonds doesnít play, with Randy Winn in left field, Steve Finley in center and Moises Alou in right, with Jason Ellison in reserve. The versatile Winn is best in left field, and he made two sensational catches to save a win last weekend. At 41, Finley is still an outstanding defensive center fielder, though his bat isnít what it was. Alou is off to his best start in years at the plate, and he does a good job in right field, too.

It all changes when Bonds plays, and not just because of him. Winn isnít as good in center as Finley (who isnít as good as the Bay Areaís best centerfielder, Mark Kotsay of the Aís), so two positions are weakened.

The biggest difference, of course, is Bonds in left. He canít break on a ball quickly because of his weak right knee, so the ball has to hang up a long time for him to reach it. Heís always had a weak arm but was able to compensate for it earlier in his career by the way he could charge the ball and get off a quick throw. He canít do that any more, so the weak arm is emphasized. He canít change directions quickly, either, so if he slightly misjudges a ball and has to change directions, lots of luck.

His legs have slowed him up on the bases, too, and again, the comparison with Thomas is valid.

On Sunday, as I was driving to the Giants game, I was listening to the Aís game on the radio. Thomas was at second but was held on third on a base hit. Aís announcer Ken Korach said that third base coach Ron Washington would have sent any other runner.

Similarly, after doubling in his second at-bat on Sunday, Bonds was held at third on a single that would have scored any other Giant, with the possible exception of a pitcher. On the next play, a high bouncer to first, Bonds broke for the plate, to prevent a possible double play. But he was barely halfway down the line when the throw came home, and it was painful watching him try unsuccessfully to get out of the ensuing rundown.

Bonds is looking every bit the nearly 42-year-old player that he is, and it will only get worse for him the rest of the season. Just standing around on the field, which he has to do after one of his frequent walks, takes a toll on his legs, and itís worse when he has to run. Thereís a serious doubt whether he can even make it through the season.

BONDS IS still the catalyst for the offense, though, so manager Felipe Alou has no choice but to play him when he can, no matter how much he hurts the team defensively or on the base paths.

As I noted last week, Bonds canít plant his surgically-restored right knee as firmly, so he canít drive through the ball as he once did. The ďsplash hitsĒ number at the Giants park isnít going to go up substantially this year.

Bonds has compensated by hitting the ball the other way, and heís hit three homers to left or left-center. The double mentioned above was just left of center field, too.

Itís clear that heís not the hitter he was in the 2000-2004 period, possibly because he canít concentrate as fully with the pain he gets from his right leg. For a long period, he was amazing in the way he would wait for the one good pitch heíd get in an at-bat and then just crush it. Now, heís swinging at more pitches off the plate and heís often fouling off pitches he used to hit squarely.

Heís still a dangerous hitter, but not the unbelievable one he was in the 2000-2004 stretch. Yet, heís vital to the Giants offense because opposing managers are still treating him as if he were the same feared hitter of previous seasons, with intentioal and semi-intentional walks, so Moises Alou is leading the Giants in RBIs with 24, hitting behind Bonds.

Are opposing managers unaware that Bonds is not the same hitter he was? Thatís hard to believe because they look at game videos and have reports from advance scouts.

Felipe Alou suggested managers are walking Bonds intentionally to prevent him from getting to Henry Aaronís career home run record of 755, and he has a point. Arizona manager Bob Melvin walked Bonds intentionally in a game in Phoenix in which the Giants were leading by five runs.

In Sundayís game, Diamondbacks starter Brandon Webb challenged Bonds when he came up the first time with two men on base, eventually striking him out after Bonds had fouled off four pitches, all presumably strikes. The second time up, with nobody on, Webb threw three balls, threw a strike as Bonds was taking but then walked him on the next pitch. The third time up, with a runner on first, he pitched to Bonds, who doubled.

Given that Webb was firmly in control of the game and had no trouble getting the ball across the plate in Bondsí first and third at-bats, his inability to throw strikes in Bondsí second at-bat suggests that Webb was told not to give him a pitch he could hit.

THIS WILL be Bondsí last season. The Giants wonít re-sign him and no American League club will. One reader suggested that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner would sign him, but the Yankees have Jason Giambi, who is hitting .328 with nine home runs and a league-leading 27 RBIs. Giambiís career doesnít approach Bondsí but at this point, he is a much better bet.

I doubt that Bonds will want to play another year, in as much pain as he is now. I believe he wants to pass Babe Ruthís mark of 714 career home runs, which is almost a certainty, and lead the Giants back to the World Series, which is much less of a certainty.

The Giants will give him every chance to achieve that second goal. Mixed blessing though he may be, any time the lineup card includes Bonds, he changes that game.

LETTERS: I got so many e-mails on yesterdayís 49ers/Raiders draft column that Iím not able to answer all personally, but Iím going to take a representative sample and update ďLettersí later today.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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