Barry Bondscontributed nothing to the San Francisco Giants' biggest win of the youngseason last Saturday, not even a handshake. Down 5-2 in the bottom of the ninthto their bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Giants rallied for fourruns, the last of which scored on a just-deep-enough sacrifice fly by shortstopOmar Vizquel, sending his teammates streaming from their dugout in celebration.Bonds, removed from the game in the top of the inning, was nowhere to be seenon the field or in the postgame clubhouse. It might well have been a dressrehearsal for 2007. ¬∂ These days when people talk of Bonds's leaving the yard,the expression is more applicable to his stealth ducking of reporters than itis to his hitting home runs. And Bonds's leaving San Francisco for good at theend of this season has become a real possibility, Giants president and managinggeneral partner Peter Magowan acknowledged last week. ¬∂ Asked if Bonds mightcontinue his pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record of 755 in a differentuniform next season--a move to the American League would offer Bonds the chanceto be an every-day designated hitter for the first time in his career--Magowanreplied, "Is it a possibility? The answer is yes. It might be better forBarry to be a DH than going out there in leftfield and standing on his feetafter he's been standing on his feet on first base. It doesn't give him anytime to rest. It may be a healthier situation for him to be a DH." ¬∂ Likeyour classic San Francisco fog, Bonds's future and his chances of breakingAaron's record have only grown murkier after about a quarter of this season hasbeen played. Bonds, who turns 42 in July, has been a clearly diminished hitterwho does little more than draw walks and try to jack home runs. His attempt topass Babe Ruth's 714 home runs for second place on the alltime list has beenpainfully slow, with Bonds mired in a homerless 1-for-19 slump through Sundayafter hitting number 713 on May 7. McCovey Cove, beyond the rightfield wall atAT&T Park, was left becalmed during the Giants' seven-game home stand lastweek.
Moreover, Bondsexhibited almost no interest or ability in the areas of defense andbaserunning. Last Friday, for instance, he embarrassed himself with a runner onfirst base by heading back to the dugout after hitting a pop-up that wound upbeing dropped by Los Angeles second baseman Jeff Kent. Bonds recovered in timeto barely reach first and avoid a double play.
At week's endBonds was hitting .139 in May (5 for 36) and hadn't driven in a singleteammate. For the season he was hitting .217 with five home runs, 12 RBIs, a.174 average against lefthanded pitchers and a .458 slugging percentage, whicheasily would be his worst since 1989. He also saw his career batting averagefall to .299. And Bonds was on pace to become the ninth player in the lastdecade to play more than 135 games in a season and score 35 runs or fewer.
At this rateBonds would finish 2006 with 21 home runs and 729 for his career, a rate thatwould extend his chase of Aaron's record into '08, if he makes it at all."The body is starting to fail him now," one AL general manager saidlast week of Bonds. "He'll still hit his home runs every now and then, buthe doesn't scare me as much. Guys like Miguel Tejada, David Ortiz, MannyRamirez, Jason Giambi this year, Vlad Guerrero, I call them diarrhea hitters.They give you diarrhea every time they come up because they're so scary. Bondsis not that guy anymore. [Senator] Jim Bunning had the best line last year: 'Iremember when players didn't get better as they got older. We all got worse.'That's what's happening to Bonds."
Asked if he wouldhave interest in Bonds next season as a DH, the G.M. said, "No. I wouldn'twant to add a guy like that to my clubhouse. Plus, look at all the guys likehim, like Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, who just lost it all of a sudden anddisappeared."
Another AL G.M.,when asked if he would be interested in Bonds next season, said, "A guy athis age, you consider him week to week, never mind eight months from now. Fouryears ago I had interest, but right now I'd have to say no."
Of course it'snever a good sign, either, when federal agents may want a ballplayer more thanhis current employer. Bonds still faces the possibility of indictment on felonyperjury charges stemming from his sworn testimony to a grand jury in 2003 thathe never knowingly took steroids or other illegal performance-enhancingsubstances. In addition there is a separate investigation, ordered bycommissioner Bud Selig and chaired by George Mitchell, looking into paststeroid use by players. A source familiar with that probe said last Friday thatMitchell's work is well under way and that he is "looking under all rocks,not just what is already publicly known." The outcome of eitherinvestigation could prompt Selig to suspend Bonds, just another piece ofbaggage for a team to consider.
The risk-rewardformula for employing and, as the Giants now admit, enabling thehigh-maintenance Bonds is no longer so obviously in the slugger's favor.Magowan, for instance, said that Bonds earned and even needed preferentialtreatment. Asked if he catered to the notoriously moody Bonds in order tomaximize his investment in the player ($90 million over five years), Magowanreplied, "Yes." Then he added, "Some of the special privileges hegot were not unique when you look at sports and entertainment. I'll say thisabout Barry Bonds that not enough people realize: He's a winning ballplayer. Hemakes everybody around him better."
One of theprivileges the Giants afforded Bonds was carte blanche access for his personaltrainer, Greg Anderson, who recently served three months in jail after pleadingguilty to steroid distribution. The book Game of Shadows charged that theGiants discovered through a background check that Anderson may have beeninvolved with steroids but still granted him full access in order to avoid thepossibility of upsetting Bonds. Says Magowan, of monitoring players for thepossible use of performance-enhancing drugs, "There are probably 30 clubsin baseball who could have done a better job based on what we know now. Tosingle out the Giants for being lax in the clubhouse is ridiculous."
Bonds will make$18 million this season, or about 20% of the Giants' $90 million payroll. Helikely would need to take a massive pay cut to fit into any team's plans nextseason, given his declining production and medical issues (unstable right knee,bone chips in his left elbow) that cast significant doubt on his durability.Bonds's agent, Jeff Borris, suggested last week that Bonds wants to play nextyear and would consider a DH role if the Giants do not retain him. Magowan saidhe would have no talks with Borris about Bonds's future until after theseason.
"At differenttimes [Bonds] said this year would be his last year, then he said it wouldn'tbe," Magowan said. "He's reversed himself a couple of times. For a lotof reasons, I think this should be best addressed by the Giants, to the extentthat it's up to us to address this matter, when the season ends. There's toomuch uncertainty now."
Meanwhile, thewaters of McCovey Cove lie undisturbed, and the fog thickens.
How might thealltime home run leader board look circa 2020? The list at far right wascomputed with Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA projection system, which usescomparisons to similar players throughout history, weighing factors such asstatistics, age and major league service time, defensive position and bodytype. Projections are adjusted to reflect the fact that it is easier to hithome runs today; projections are also adjusted based on a player's 2006performance, so Albert Pujols (above, with Bonds), who had 19 home runs atweek's end, has greatly helped his cause.
PROJECTED HR LEADERS
|7.||KEN GRIFFEY JR.||637|
Active players inbold
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PUJOLS'S POP, PAGE 58