I don't worry about the relationship that Barry and I have. You
worry about being a better player, and Barry made me one.
--JEFF KENT, HOUSTON ASTROS SECOND BASEMAN, ON FORMER TEAMMATE
Behind the metal bar that serves as a divide between fans and
ballplayers, the buzz of the crowd begins to pick up. Word is
spreading that Ray Durham, the San Francisco Giants' new second
baseman, has just parked his car in a nearby lot. "Ray's coming!"
says one man, grinning widely beneath the brim of an orange
Giants cap. "He's coming! He's coming!" It is 7:47 a.m. outside
the team's spring training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., and
while the air is cold and the sky an angry gray, not one of the
50 or so spectators even thinks of budging. It is an eclectic
group--firemen and teachers, lawyers and housewives, 17-year-old
boys with braces and seven-year-old girls with Barbies--with a
shared passion. Most in the group are using a week's vacation to
be here, to crowd around and perhaps exchange a greeting with the
players they idolize.
As Durham finally approaches, the fans produce baseball cards and
silver Sharpies. Some in the crowd pull out shiny black Giants
helmets from duffel bags. "Hey, how y'all doing?" says Durham,
flashing a boyish smile. "You guys must loooooove the Giants."
One by one he signs every piece of memorabilia thrust his way,
engaging in carefree banter that many fans will remember until
they die. Upon scribbling his name across the final item, he
offers a hearty farewell.
"Just happy to be here!" Durham says. "Happy to be with Barry!"
March 24, 2003
Forty-five minutes later an even larger collection of diehards
waits behind the bar as the ultimate spring training moment
arrives. Walking toward the stadium is the Barry Bonds,
sunglasses covering his eyes, a look of indifference masking any
inner emotions. For the Giants fans who make spring training an
annual ritual, trying to get Bonds's signature is as challenging
as capturing a saber-toothed tiger. The players are only about
six feet from the metal bar when they walk by, but Bonds seems
worlds away. A large woman with SAN FRANCISCO printed across her
T-shirt calls out. "Barry, can you sign? Barry? Barry? Mr. Bonds?
Baseball's ultimate superstar turns toward the crowd. He is a
lion, and ants are in his food. "You people," he says coldly,
"need to get a life."
The ensuing silence is painful.
This too the fans will remember until they die.
If you are wondering what zippity-doo-dah Ray Durham and
leave-me-alone Barry Bonds have in common, what two men with
personas as far apart as their home states of North Carolina and
California, respectively, are doing together on the same club,
the answer is simple: rehabilitating. You read that correctly.
The National League--champion Giants are the unexpected home to
what must be the game's largest rehab center, a place where the
baseball hardened and World Series deprived can come and--just
maybe--win a championship.
There's Durham, the former Chicago White Sox spark plug, chatting
with new centerfielder Marquis Grissom, 35, who was once billed
as the next Rickey Henderson but never lived up to that label.
Over at third, that's former All-Star Edgardo Alfonzo, who was
let go as a free agent by the New York Mets and replaced by ...
Ty Wigginton? And in rightfield, isn't that Jose Cruz Jr.? Wasn't
he supposed to become a superstar--four years ago?
And what of Bonds, you ask? Is he baseball hardened too? Yes.
More than anybody.
The surefire Hall of Famer is entering the 18th year of a
magnificent career filled with individual achievement, and
although last season he came within one victory of reaching what
he has repeatedly called his one true desire, the world
championship slipped away. Some will remember the mighty slugger
hitting .471 against the Anaheim Angels, launching four monstrous
homers in seven Series games. Yet if you are seeking a lasting
image, a Barry Bonds World Series postcard, perhaps it was his
final sighting of 2002: sitting in the dugout alone, forlorn, as
the Angels celebrated on the field.
His emotions at that moment were understandable. At 38, had he
lost his last chance at a championship? He had been surrounded by
more talent than ever before, most notably the equally moody and
nearly as productive Kent, the first second baseman to drive in
100 runs for six straight seasons. By himself Bonds, for all his
ability, could carry a team only so far. With Kent, his
antagonist and slugging partner, the sky was the limit. And now,
after the Giants had blown a three-games-to-two lead, the sky had
No more than a week after the World Series, San Francisco general
manager Brian Sabean knew that the Giants would present a
drastically revamped lineup in 2003, with Bonds still in the
middle but surrounded by a new candy coating. Centerfielder Kenny
Lofton and rightfielder Reggie Sanders were free agents, and when
both made it clear that they would return to Pacific Bell Park
only if given multiyear deals, they were as good as gone. Lofton
was 35, temperamental and a shell of the player who had won four
Gold Gloves. Sanders, also 35, was a good guy in the clubhouse
but prone to injuries and slumps. "They made their positions
clear," says Sabean, in his seventh season as San Francisco's
G.M. "This is a business--a rough business." Third baseman David
Bell was also a free agent--and one of Sabean's favorite
players--but when the Philadelphia Phillies offered him $17
million over four years, Sabean let the journeyman walk. And then
there was Kent.
Soon after the World Series was over, Kent, the 2000 National
League MVP, told the Giants that he would test the free-agent
market no matter what the Giants offered. Sabean says that this
was the beginning of the end, though in fact that may have come
last March, when Kent was caught lying to the team and the press
about the cause of his broken left wrist. Kent said he had
slipped while washing his truck, but witnesses said he had fallen
off his motorcycle. The public dispute was ugly. The team's front
office launched a full-scale investigation, and when the facts
came out, Kent was torched by the media and criticized by Sabean.
The second baseman was not on good terms with either party again.
"I wasn't optimistic," Sabean says of re-signing Kent. "I knew
that no matter what offers we made to Jeff, he wasn't going to
sign immediately. He was determined to see what was out there,
but we weren't going to wait around. We had work to do." Kent
signed with the Astros in December.
In San Francisco the general manager has to weigh every personnel
move against the impact it will have on one man: Bonds. He is the
franchise--the best, highest-paid and most demanding player on
the team as well as the biggest attraction in the game. Before he
could construct a new lineup around Bonds, however, Sabean first
had to replace manager Dusty Baker, who after 10 seasons had left
for the Chicago Cubs. Reportedly jealous of the skipper's
popularity and the amount of credit Baker had received for the
Giants' success, owner Peter Magowan had made little effort
during or after the season to sign him to a new contract. After
the Series, Sabean acted fast, hiring former Montreal Expos
manager Felipe Alou, 67, in November and giving him a two-year
contract with a third-year mutual option. The mild-mannered Alou
was appealing for a myriad of reasons, but first and foremost was
his long friendship with Bonds.
Alou and Bobby Bonds, Barry's father (who was found last year to
have lung cancer, another matter weighing heavily on his son this
spring), knew each other from their playing days in the 1960s and
'70s, and when Alou broke in as a manager in the early '90s,
Bonds always sought him out before games against Montreal. "He
would talk to me about hitting, about life in the big leagues,"
says Alou. "Sometimes he would joke, 'How are you guys going to
pitch me?'" Sabean knew that like Baker, Alou wouldn't rock
Barry's boat. The last thing San Francisco needed was the
my-way-or-the-highway approach of a Buck Showalter or a Bobby
Valentine. Barry wants a $3,000 leather recliner in front of his,
ahem, three lockers? Fine. Barry doesn't want to take BP? Fine.
Barry needs his own p.r. staff on the field? Fine. "I know that
superstars operate at a different altitude," says Alou. "If you
mess with that, you might end up with a superstar who's no longer
a superstar. Barry is a very special player. He deserves to be
treated as such."
With Alou's input, Sabean replaced the players around Bonds,
building a lineup that should produce a higher on-base percentage
and, consequently, more RBI opportunities. (Over the last two
years Bonds hit 119 homers, but 75 were solo shots.) Although
Alfonzo, Cruz, Durham and Grissom combined for 25 fewer homers
and 61 fewer RBIs than Bell, Kent, Lofton and Sanders totaled
last year, the newcomers put together a higher batting average
(.281 to .273) and OBP (.355 to .345), two areas in which Sabean
wanted his team to improve. What's more, except for Alfonzo, who
will bat fifth behind Bonds, each of the new guys has stolen at
least 32 bases in a season. "We will definitely have an exciting
element that wasn't as prominent last year," says Sabean. "We've
added some players who know how to make an impact with their
Factoring in deferred payments, the combined salaries of Alfonzo,
Cruz, Durham and Grissom are approximately $12 million this
season. The Astros are paying Kent $7 million. Unlike Kent,
however, San Francisco's four newcomers have not been MVP
ALFONZO When New York offered the 29-year-old Alfonzo only a
two-year deal, worth $11 million, it was clear the Mets weren't
that interested in re-signing him. In addition to the infielder's
disappointing production in 2002 (16 homers, 56 RBIs), the team
was not convinced that his lower back, which had bothered him the
year before, was completely healed, and was unhappy with
Alfonzo's lack of conditioning. He reported to spring training
this year with what seemed to be a good amount of stuffing under
his shirt. "I'm in great shape," he insisted. "Ready to go."
When healthy, Alfonzo is a Gold Glove--caliber third baseman; he
also has a lifetime .318 average with runners in scoring
position. He should be entering his prime. Last season the Giants
had Benito Santiago (.261 with runners in scoring position in
'02) batting behind Bonds; Alfonzo, if he's 100%, will be a major
upgrade. "He's a cold-blooded professional hitter," says Grissom.
"He doesn't feel pressure. He just hits."
CRUZ Midway through 1997 he was called up by the Seattle
Mariners and hailed as the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr. Six
years later everyone's still waiting for him to live up to
expectations. Few major leaguers possess his natural
talent--"He's a five-tool guy," says Durham. "You know how hard
they are to come by?"--but Cruz has to stop swinging at breaking
balls off the plate. Two seasons ago, with the Toronto Blue Jays,
he broke through with 34 homers and 32 stolen bases. Last year,
in part because of a sprained left ankle, which sidelined him for
33 games, he had 18 homers and seven steals. Sabean believes that
the move to the NL, where first-pitch fastballs are more common,
will help Cruz. "This kid is not totally there yet," says Alou,
who will bat him third. "He got close a couple of years ago, but
something happened, and he receded a little. Baserunning-wise and
defensively, he's a real superstar. With the bat, he's still a
DURHAM Upon acquiring him from the White Sox last July, the
Oakland A's made it clear that he would be strictly a DH.
Although Durham was a fixture as Chicago's second baseman for 7
1/2 seasons, he has always been a defensive liability. Three
times he led American League second basemen in errors, and while
Kent was no Willie Randolph, he did have soft hands. Durham does
not. Had San Francisco re-signed Kent, Durham would be in
centerfield. Many believe that's a more logical home for him at
this point in his career.
While Sabean likes the idea of his sparking the lineup from the
leadoff spot, Durham is the rare top-of-the-order hitter who
whiffs a lot. Four times in his career he has exceeded 100
strikeouts in a season. Last year he struck out 93 times in 564
at bats. "That doesn't worry me," Durham says. "With Barry back
there in the lineup, I'm going to score a whole lot of runs.
That's the primary goal of a leadoff hitter. Score and score and
score some more."
GRISSOM Alou has always had a soft spot for Grissom, whom he
managed in Montreal from 1992 through '94 and calls "a giant of a
man." But the player who in the mid-'90s won four Gold Gloves and
twice stole more than 75 bases is a distant memory. With the Los
Angeles Dodgers last year a healthy Grissom hit a surprising .277
with 17 homers and 60 RBIs in 343 at bats as part of a
centerfield platoon with Dave Roberts. At his age, however, how
will he hold up in Pac Bell's vast centerfield, especially with
Bonds--whose defensive range is shrinking fast--in left?
Though Sabean will not say as much, the most encouraging thing
about the new additions is their history of getting along with
superstars. In other words, they're not Kent. Last June, Bonds
and Kent got into a dugout shoving match in San Diego. It was a
rare occasion when Bonds--on the whole not the most beloved
resident of the clubhouse--earned high praise from teammates. The
altercation took place after Kent, furious at a poor fielding
decision by Bell, lambasted the taciturn third baseman for
several minutes. Bonds ordered Kent to shut up, then shoved him
so hard that Kent bounced off the back wall of the dugout. It was
one of at least a half-dozen altercations between the two during
their six years together. Kent and Bonds were the Tupac and
Biggie Smalls of baseball, enemies who tolerated each other in
between flare-ups. It was a productive pairing, but never a
In New York the low-key Alfonzo was more than happy to defer all
attention to catcher Mike Piazza, who calls his former teammate
"a good dude. Fonzie can get along with anybody." Durham was one
of Frank Thomas's closest pals on the White Sox, and Cruz and
Toronto slugger Carlos Delgado used to exchange motivational
books. "He's a guy who can fit into any clubhouse," says Delgado.
"He's not the type of guy who will run the clubhouse. He'll fit
Of the four, however, it is Grissom who seems best prepared to
deal with Bonds and who--should the occasion arise--won't sit
back and let a negative atmosphere take over the clubhouse. The
Dodgers acquired Grissom from the Milwaukee Brewers in February
2001 and assigned him the locker next to that of Gary Sheffield,
who at the time was demanding a trade and bashing the
organization on a near-daily basis. Grissom often counseled
Sheffield on controlling his anger, and soon enough the star
outfielder started keeping his thoughts in check. "Marquis takes
it upon himself to help iron out situations," says Dodgers
rightfielder Shawn Green. "If a guy is wrong, Marquis will tell
him. A lot of people just try to brush things under the carpet.
If Marquis has an opinion, he'll give it, and it'll carry some
Grissom's Rule: "You have to treat all people with respect, from
the clubhouse staff to the backup catcher to the stars," he says.
"I would never walk by without at least saying hello, giving a
smile. There's no reason to treat people any other way. We're all
As if on cue, Bonds turns the corner and strides past Grissom
without saying a word.
It's going to be an interesting summer in San Francisco.
Alfonzo, if he's 100%, will be a major upgrade over Santiago.
"He's a cold-blooded professional hitter," says Grissom.
"Strikeouts don't worry me," Durham says. "With Barry back there
in the lineup, I'm going to score a whole lot of runs."
Delgado calls Cruz "a guy who can fit into any clubhouse. He's
not the type of guy who will run the clubhouse."
"A lot of people just try to brush things under the carpet," Green
says. "If Marquis has an opinion, he'll give it."