Will Bonds Return? Cal-Tennessee Revisited
The argument for bringing Bonds back has two components: 1) His bat; and 2) His drawing power.
Even though he’s not as feared as he was in the 2000-2004 period, when he was easily the pre-eminent offensive player in the league, Bonds is still a huge factor for the Giants. His totals of 27 home runs and 64 RBIs would be much higher if he hadn’t been walked 126 times, which leads the league by a large margin and gives him a .481 on-base percentage. Bonds’ walks often lead to Giants runs – he leads the team with 72 runs scored – so he’s an integral part of the Giants’ offense.
Yet, even with Bonds, the Giants rank 28th in runs scored in the major leagues. Only the Washington Nationals and Chicago White Sox have scored fewer runs. If you take Bonds out of the lineup. . .
And don’t count on help from the free agent market. The Giants will always have trouble attracting free agent power hitters because of their park. Last year, they went after Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee, and both spurned them, going to hitters’ parks in Chicago and Houston.
There’s not likely to be any big power hitters available this year. If Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract, he’ll almost certainly return to the Yankees. There’s no way he would leave a perennial contender to come to the Giants, who are currently 10 ½ games out of fourth place in the NL West. Anyway, speculation has it that Rodriguez will get $30 million a year with his new contract, and there’s only one team that will pay that.
Bonds’ drawing power is something the Giants will have to consider, too. He has been the single biggest factor in their record-setting (for Bay Area teams) attendance since their oft-renamed park opened in 2000. This year, the Giants tied season tickets into All-Star game tickets and had the park virtually sold out before Bonds even signed, but they won’t have that lure next year.
There are many Giants fans who e-mail me and newspapers around the area to say they want the Giants to cut their ties to Bonds, but almost invariably, they are people who don’t actually go to the games. If you go to the games, you see that the fans there absolutely love Bonds. If you polled them, I’d sure an overwhelming majority of them would want to see Bonds back.
Understandably, Giants management pays more attention to fans who pay to see the games than those who follow only through TV, radio and newspapers.
The argument against bringing Bonds back is that it would stall the Giants youth movement, but at this point, you’d have to say, what youth movement? Are we talking about their 33-year-old shortstop in Triple A?
The fact is, the Giants’ farm system is still not producing enough quality players to do the complete overhaul that is needed.
Kevin Frandsen may finally get a chance to start on a regular basis at second base this month, which would be a good thing. Frandsen is a dependable defensive player who hit well in the minors, and he’s 24, so he has time to develop. The Giants foolishly re-signed Ray Durham for two years and they’re stuck with him, but playing him now would serve no purpose.
The other top prospects are outfielders Rajai Davis, acquired from Pittsburgh, Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholtz and Daniel Ortmeier, who is also being tried as a first baseman.
Schierholtz is the only one of the four who looks like a legitimate major league hitter, with a nice, compact swing. He’s only 23, which is significant. The age at which a player reaches the majors and his minor league record are two strong predictors for major league success. Schierholtz seemed to come into his own this year, both at Fresno, where he hit .333, and with the Giants. Sent back to Fresno in midseason to develop his power stroke, he hit 10 home runs.
Schierholtz would have a better shot if Bonds doesn’t return because he’s a corner outfielder. Davis and Lewis, who are both 26, are centerfielders. Both have holes in their swings, especially when they try to hit home runs. Davis is a superior centerfielder, and he should be playing instead of Dave Roberts. The Giants should work with him to use his speed, bunting, slapping the ball past infielders. Show him some clips of Brett Butler in action.
Some readers like Ortmeier, but there is nothing in his record to indicate that he’ll be a good major league hitter, nor a power hitter. He’s hit about one homer per 36 at-bats in his minor league career and was only slightly better this year, 10 in 305 at-bats. In 140 at-bats with the Giants over the past two seasons, he’s hit four homers.
Sometimes, hitters acquire power as they get older, but the ones who do that are 21- and 22-year-olds who are good contact hitters. Ortmeier is 26, and his average has dropped as he’s moved up the minor league ladder, .244 and .251 at Fresno and Connecticut last year, .260 at Fresno this year. It would take a huge leap of faith to envision him as either a good percentage hitter or a power hitter on the major league level.
So, if the Giants don’t re-sign Bonds, they’re looking at a team with absolutely no punch and one without drawing power. Local columnists will scream at the thought, but I think they’ll bring Bonds back.
CAL FOOTBALL: The Cal-Tennessee game was an example of college football at its best, two strong teams meeting in what was a very exiting game and, of course, with a very satisfying outcome.
There were other aspects of the day that made it memorable, too. I got to the campus early and walked around, stopping at a couple of tailgates for a glass of wine and food – in that order, of course – and was struck by the number of Tennessee people at the tailgates. I soon learned the reason: When Cal played at Knoxville last year, many Bear fans went back and were befriended by Tennessee fans. So, they reciprocated by inviting the Tennessee fans to their tailgates here.
Many of the Tennessee fans made a real trip of it. I talked to some who had been out for a week, visiting the wine country, going to San Francisco restaurants.
The game itself was the noisiest I’ve ever known, in 50 years of watching Cal football, even more than Big Games, when that rivalry was actually competitive. A Cal cheerleader came over to the west side to exhort season ticket holders to stand on every play and cheer their team on.
Not everybody was happy with that. One of my friends said he almost got into a fight with the fan beside him when he refused to stand up and said, “We’re not the students section.” And the cheerleader was over the top when he said before one play, “This play will determine the future of our program.” Really?
But overall, the response of the fans – and the Tennessee fans, when their team was on the move – made for a very exciting game.
The most encouraging sign for the Bears was the way they took charge in the final 10 minutes, first marching for 72 yards and a touchdown in little over a minute, and then completing shutting down the Vols the rest of the way. So much for playing soft.
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