The ball flew high into the San Francisco sky, easily clearing
the 25-foot brick wall in rightfield of spanking new Pacific
Bell Park. It continued over the boardwalk which fronts San
Francisco Bay before landing in the back of a small boat that
was trolling the water, no doubt the vessel's catch of the day.
This was on Jan. 21, on the 15th pitch of Barry Bonds's first
batting practice at the new yard. After crushing that pitch,
Bonds then sent a few more shots soaring into the afternoon. It
was a tantalizing peek at what Bonds might accomplish in the
hitter-friendly park, which has the shortest rightfield porch
(307 feet) in the National League. "Rightfield does seem real
close," Bonds says with a mischievous smile.
"It was our big off-season acquisition," says San Francisco
general manager Brian Sabean of the 40,800-seat new stadium.
"This season we think there will be great parity in our league.
We hope our new park and playing in front of packed houses
almost every night (the Giants have already sold out 70 games,
as opposed to three in 1999) will give us an edge, one that will
push us hopefully to the playoffs."
No player is more important to those postseason hopes than
Bonds, who missed 58 games last season with injuries to his left
elbow and right knee. With Bonds out of the lineup from April 18
to June 8, San Francisco was an ordinary 25-22. His injury also
exposed the club's lack of depth, which, surprisingly, the
Giants front office did not address during the off-season. (The
Opening Day roster will not feature a single significant
addition.) At some point this season that decision to maintain
the status quo will haunt the team, especially when you consider
that most of its key veterans have spent substantial time on the
disabled list in recent years. "Obviously we need to stay
healthy to compete for the playoffs," says manager Dusty Baker.
"But we can't expect the injuries to hurt us this year as much
as they did last year. Certainly, we don't expect Barry to get
hurt again. After all, he's a world-class athlete."
During the off-season Barry's father, Bobby, a Giants scout,
told his son to cut back on his upper-body weightlifting. Bobby
felt that Barry was too bulky and his flexibility too limited
last season when he hit .262, his lowest average in a decade.
Barry heeded his father's advice and in the spring he was again
stinging the ball as he had been before his injury-plagued 1999.
This season, playing in the Giants' new bandbox of a ballyard,
Bonds could threaten his 1993 MVP totals of 46 home runs and 123
RBIs. "Barry will be outstanding in the new park," says Bobby.
"It looks like it was made for him."
Bonds wasn't the only Giant who missed considerable time last
year. Second baseman Jeff Kent was shelved for 24 games with a
toe injury, and rightfielder Ellis Burks missed 42 games because
of knee problems. Kent's toe injury lingered over the winter,
and he suffered a rib-cage injury while lifting weights just
before the start of spring training. While Burks says he is
fully healed, he has played in more than 120 games only twice
since 1993. The Giants desperately need Kent--who had 128 RBIs
two years ago and 101 last season despite missing significant
time--in the lineup to protect Bonds. They need Burks because
when he plays, he's one of the league's best clutch hitters.
Last season he had the NL's third-highest batting average with
runners in scoring position (.378). If this trio stays healthy,
it's capable of 100 home runs and 300 RBIs.
Sabean says that the main reason he didn't bring in any new
talent to shore up the offense was that it would have cost him
one of his young pitchers. He's got a point. The Giants have one
of the better young rotations in the majors, led by Russ Ortiz
and Joe Nathan. Ortiz, 25, developed into one of the NL's top
starters last season, when the righthander won 18 games and
learned to throw his big, overhand curveball for strikes. But it
was Nathan, also 25, who was the first player inquired about by
nearly every general manager who called Sabean this off-season.
The righthander was 7-4 as a rookie in '99, and his
repertoire--which includes a fastball in the mid-90s--is so good
that he's regarded as a future No. 1 starter.
Shawn Estes, who was the Giants' ace only two years ago, has
regressed. He made the All-Star team and won 19 games in 1997,
his first full season in the bigs; he is 18-23 since. Despite
sound mechanics and a good fastball and nasty hard curve, he has
struggled with his control; both he and Ortiz walked well over
100 batters in '99. Because of the starters' high pitch counts
and inability to pitch deep into games, Baker relied heavily on
his bullpen, which wore down in the season's final two months
when the Diamondbacks pulled away from the Giants in the NL West
"Our players believe in our young pitching staff," says Baker.
"Our pitchers will respond to that. We need to win early so the
pitchers gain confidence, and we need to avoid sustained losing
streaks like we had last year. If we do that, we'll be right in
the the thick of things until the end."
around the Horn
[3 1/2 stars]
by the numbers
1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)
Batting average .271 (7)
Runs scored 872 (3)
Home runs 188 (7)
1999 record: 86-76 (second in NL West)
Opponents' batting average .265 (7)
ERA 4.71 (10)
Fielding percentage .983 (5)
Back in 1995 insiders said Calvin Murray, then 23 years old and
one of the Giants' hottest prospects, would be San Francisco's
centerfielder for years to come. Well, five years have come and
gone, and only now does Murray appear ready to contribute.
"Calvin is a late bloomer, but he has all the tools to be
great," says general manager Brian Sabean. After struggling at
the plate for several years in the minors, Murray, the Giants
first-round draft pick in 1992, hit .334 at Triple A Fresno in
'99 with 23 homers and 42 stolen bases. He'll start the season
as the team's fourth outfielder. "I love Calvin's speed," says
manager Dusty Baker. "He's paid his dues. Finally, it's his time."
projected roster with 1999 statistics
Manager: Dusty Baker (eighth season with San Francisco)
BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
CF Marvin Benard L 88 .290 16 64 27
3B Bill Mueller S-R 262 .290 2 36 4
LF Barry Bonds L 17 .262 34 83 15
2B Jeff Kent R 59 .290 23 101 13
RF Ellis Burks R 69 .282 31 96 7
1B J.T. Snow L 106 .274 24 98 0
SS Rich Aurilia R 138 .281 22 80 2
C Doug Mirabelli R 293 .253 1 10 0
IF Russ Davis R 213 .245 21 59 3
OF Calvin Murray*(R) R 250 .334 23 73 42
OF Armando Rios L 256 .327 7 29 7
C Bobby Estalella* R 319 .231 15 62 4
IF Ramon E. Martinez S-R 377 .264 5 19 1
STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
RH Livan Hernandez 68 8 12 6.7 1.52 4.64
LH Shawn Estes 91 11 11 6.3 1.58 4.92
RH Russ Ortiz 43 18 9 6.3 1.51 3.81
LH Kirk Rueter 103 15 10 5.6 1.48 5.41
RH Joe Nathan 108 7 4 5.8 1.44 4.18
BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA
RH Robb Nen 47 3 8 37 1.47 3.98
RH John Johnstone 163 4 6 3 1.04 2.60
LH Alan Embree 187 3 2 0 1.16 3.38
RH Felix Rodriguez 241 2 3 0 1.45 3.80
LH Aaron Fultz* (R) 335 9 8 0 1.40 4.98
RH Mark Gardner 234 5 11 0 1.43 6.47
 New acquisition
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Triple A statistics
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Giants
I don't get the Giants. They finished 14 games back and did
nothing to change the team. Very strange.... They will get some
energy from their new ballpark. And Dusty Baker gets his guys to
play hard every day. But it's going to be tough to win with that
catching. Bobby Estalella has a bigger upside than Doug
Mirabelli. He's a big, strong kid, but he's a dead-red fastball
hitter who has trouble making adjustments at the plate.... Barry
Bonds is getting closer to 500 home runs, and he's one of those
guys who kicks it into gear when there's a milestone like that
out there. He'll be right back in the MVP race.... I like
shortstop Rich Aurilia. He's made himself into a tough out, and
he's got enough pop to hit it out if you make a mistake.... Russ
Ortiz is for real. He'll win 15 to 17 games. If he gets a little
better command of his fastball, he could win more.... Ask any
team if they'd want Shawn Estes, and every one would say yes.
But he'll be cruising for five innings and suddenly give up five
runs. I think his biggest problem is he's too tough on himself.