Bonds Absence Affects Everybody
The Giants have been a great draw on the road since they acquired Bonds. Last year, for instance, they were second only to the Chicago Cubs in the National League, third overall; the New York Yankees were tops for the majors.
Even the Boston Red Sox didnít draw as well on the road last year as the Giants, though the fervor of Red Sox fans is unrivaled. When the Red Sox played in San Francisco last summer, the crowds seemed to have more Red Sox rooters than Giants. In part, that was because the Giants fans arenít so vociferous in support of their team, but it was also because many Red Sox fans, coming from up and down the West Coast as well as locally, offered Giants ticket holders a price they couldnít refuse.
This year, going into the Sunday games, the Giantsí road average of 30,089 was 6000 below their average last year, a drop of 16 per cent. That average was less than nine National League teams and three American League teams, one of them the Aís.
People have come to see Bonds not just because heís been the best hitter in the game for the last few years but because he makes such a good villain. Thatís especially true in Pittsburgh, where they boo him relentlessly because he left as a free agent for the Giants in 1993.
I can understand the frustration of the Pittsburgh fans because the Pirates have had 12 consecutive losing seasons since Bonds left, but theyíre blaming the wrong person. Pirates management thought it was better to keep Andy Van Slyke than Bonds. Van Slyke retired after the 1995 season. In a 13-year career, he had only two seasons in which he scored more than 100 runs (101 and 103) and one season in which he reached 100 RBIs. Bonds has 12 seasons in each category.
BONDS LOSS is felt in another category, home run percentage in baseball, which is down about nine per cent. The ďsteroids are the end of the world as we know itĒ crowd contends itís because of a stricter baseball drug policy, but there are other factors, including cold weather (two games snowed out in Detroit!) and injuries to Bonds and Jim Thome.
Bonds and Jason Giambi are currently the two hitters who are thought to have gotten the most benefit from steroids. Since Bonds is out, thereís no way of measuring how the stricter tests would affect him, but Giambi is playing and struggling mightily.
Giambi has admitted to a federal grand jury that he took steroids, starting while he was with the Aís. In his first two full seasons with the Aís, he hit 20 home runs each year. After that, his seasonal totals rose, to 27, 33, 43 and 38. In his first two seasons with the Yankees, he hit 41 each year.
Steroids Ė or just coming of age? His big home run years started when he was 27 and ended when he was 32, which are generally the peak years for a hitter.
Thereís another problem with thinking that the jump in home runs by Giambi (and Bonds) is due to steroids: Pitchers are also taking them. In an individual sport Ė Scott Ostler wrote last week in The Chronicle about the East German swimmers and their drug use prior to the 1976 Olympics Ė you can quantify improvement because the athlete is competing against the clock. In baseball, itís pitcher against batter. If both are taking steroids, who has the edge?
One thing we know for certain is that steroids enable an athlete to add muscle more quickly if he works out seriously, and that certainly made a difference for Giambi. He was a good hitter with doubles power (40 in each of his first two seasons) who became a home run hitter with his added bulk. He also became a better percentage hitter, going from the .290s to .342 in his last year with the Aís. That is not steroids. Itís just the pattern of a good hitter who becomes smarter and more selective as he gains experience.
Giambi has said he went off steroids in midseason, 2003, and that was the season he started his decline. But it was his batting average that declined; he hit as many home runs that year as he had the year before.
Last year, of course, he was beset by a number of physical problems and had a terrible year. This year, heís gotten off to a bad start and has lost confidence; he looked very tentative early in the series against the Aís. But he nearly hit a ball out in the Saturday game and he looked like the Giambi of old when he ripped a game-winning double down the line on Sunday
Granted, that came off Ricardo Rincon. The Aís always seem to keep somebody in the bullpen who was once effective but who has lost it. Last year, it was Jim Mecir; this year, itís Rincon. But even so, Giambiís confident swing made it seem for a moment that he was back. It will be interesting to see what he does the rest of the year.
IT WILL ALSO be interesting to see what Bonds does when (if?) he returns.It wonít be easy because heíll virtually have to go into a spring training mode to get back into playing shape, physically and mentally.
National League pitchers would just as soon he never comes back, but not the owners. They like the big gates Bonds brings with him. It's cost them money to have him out of the Giants lineup.
NOTE: I've arranged with my webmaster to put on a function which will allow readers to forward the first paragraph of a column and my website link to friends. Bruce won't be back until Friday, so that probably won't be on until next week.
Check note below this column re my appearance on KFRC, 610 AM, Tuesday morning.
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