Will Bonds be Barried in 2008?

How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended! … Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: “Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble …?”—Isaiah 14

Mortality has finally caught up with one Barry Lamar Bonds. It is the ultimate closer; it comes in the final inning of a player’s career and sends him packing. Even the game’s gods—Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Satchel Paige, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays—whiffed on mortality’s 3-2 splitter. It always runs the count full, giving the player the hope that there is still a chance, but they cannot lay off that final pitch.

Oh, make no mistake, Bonds still has some baseball in him, but that is not the question. Players like Albert Belle, Dick Allen, Shea Hillenbrand, Gary Sheffield, A.J. Pierzynski, Dave Kingman, Jose Canseco and Bonds have unofficial charts that their given team uses. On that chart is a movable baseline and there are two lines on it: The first one is “talent,” the second “temperament.” The temperament determines where the baseline resides—the more volatile the player, the higher the baseline is set. As long as the talent level is above the baseline, the player’s behavior is allowed. However, when the talent level drops below the baseline, his tenure with his team becomes tenuous.

For example: In 1986, Dave Kingman finished second in the AL in homers with 35 and had 96 RBI. However, his personality was so disagreeable that those numbers were below every team’s temperament baseline and he was done in the big leagues.

In 2001, Jose Canseco hit 16 HR in just 256 AB while batting .258/.366/.477 and absolutely destroyed left-handed pitching (.273/.395/.697). Surely, he had value as a bench player or a platoon 1B/DH. Like Kingman, however Canseco’s temperament baseline was set so high that even his bat against lefties could not reach it. He was done at age 36.

Once Barry Bonds hit HR No. 756, his value to the Giants started plummeting. He couldn’t play defense, he often needed to be pinch run for and because of his age he needed frequent days off. Despite having the best offensive numbers on the Giants, and indeed in the National League, it was still below the baseline. Despite the fact that Bonds wasn’t the reason for the Giants’ offensive woes in 2007, that his presence wouldn’t hinder a rebuilding effort and that his chase of 3,000 hits would sell extra tickets as he closed in on the milestone, it didn’t matter.

Bonds wouldn’t be back at any price. The Giants didn’t want to talk about a reduced contract, they didn’t want to talk at all … they just wanted him gone.

The San Francisco Chronicle stated recently: “Club officials know that some potential free agents would be reticent to come to San Francisco as long as it was ‘Barry’s team.’” As I wrote in my Sympatico-MSN column, that is hardly the case since, if you offer a player a large enough amount of money, he’ll consider playing anywhere and receive encouragement from both his agent and the MLBPA to do so. Money made the Texas Rangers’ minor league system more appealing to Alex Rodriguez, the Columbine-affected public school system in Colorado more than adequate to Mike Hampton and L.A. close enough to home to Macon, Ga., resident Kevin Brown.

The thing is, the whole “Barry’s Team” issue is a canard insofar as free agents go. Peter Magowan, Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy found that so much of their decision-making process swirled around Bonds that they simply wanted that factor removed from the equation. They wanted to retool the club both in the short and long term without worrying about Bonds’ feelings and the various distractions that came along with it.

Bonds may have occupied one roster spot, but he took up a lot of the clubhouse, both figuratively and literally. Players themselves acknowledged that Bonds brought a certain amount of tension. Now that’s gone. The Giants wanted to begin a new era in San Francisco and Bonds was an enduring symbol of the previous one. The Giants have moved on, but what is in store for Barry Bonds?

Major league baseball is a sheltered existence for the game’s elite players. As Howard Bryant once wrote, the player always is “in control … somebody else carries the luggage and they can turn their backs on anyone at any time.” The “anyone” remark refers to outsiders intruding on the player’s space. Bonds was sheltered within baseball’s sheltered existence. He could, in effect, turn his back on insiders as well—including teammates—without repercussions. Giants owner Magowan admitted: “Did Barry get special treatment? Of course he did.”

He is now outside that protective bubble. For the first time in very a long time, he will be dependent on others if he desires to chase 3,000 hits—his best bet is doing it as a DH. If he wants a salary that reflects a team’s “respect for him” then he needs a team that can afford that. Toss in his stated quest for a World Series ring and factor in owners who are Bud Selig loyalists and it gets tricky. Bud’s reaction to HR No. 755 made it clear how he feels about Bonds. The commissioner likely wants Bonds gone, seeing as how he wants to get past the “steroid era” and Bonds is its biggest reminder.

Among the wealthy teams, the Red Sox have David Ortiz and the Yankees have a huge number of candidates. Angels owner Arte Moreno has been clear in his views of juicers, and even though Bonds has never flunked a steroid test or been indicted for anything, he still carries that stigma.

The teams that couldn’t afford a big salary request, aren’t considered viable 2008 contenders or are in tight with Selig include the Royals, Orioles, Devil Rays, Twins, A’s, White Sox and Rangers, so that puts them out of the picture. That leaves the Indians, who, like the Yankees have several DH options, the Mariners, who will likely use Richie Sexson in that role (the M’s could’ve disposed of him after he was claimed off waivers but they inexplicably pulled him back) and the Blue Jays, who have Frank Thomas and possibly Matt Stairs for that role. The Tigers likewise have Gary Sheffield and possibly other in-house DH candidates, and they have expressed their lack of interest already (plus owner Mike Ilitch is a Selig loyalist).

Despite his talent, Barry Bonds might not have the luxury of being fussy if he wants to play in the AL. I’m sure somebody will offer something, but Bonds might be in the uncomfortable position of accepting whatever is offered rather than telling clubs what he expects. If he wants the deference the Giants gave him, it’s highly unlikely any team is willing to give him that. He will be expected to be part of the team’s fabric rather than having the team’s fabric being woven to fit him.

Further, Bonds will be a media circus simply by virtue of being Barry Bonds. With the expected flood of steroid revelations from the Mitchell Report, which will likely include information from the Jason Grimsley and Kirk Radomski affidavits, “Operation Raw Deal,” plus the ongoing grand jury investigation involving Bonds, any team signing him will have to factor that level of distraction into the value of his 30 HR and 100 BB and the chase for No. 3,000.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

That’s the baseline Barry Bonds’ talent will have to push past if he’s to play in 2008. He may well go the way of Dave Kingman and Jose Canseco. Granted neither possessed Bonds’ abilities, but neither did they have that high a temperament baseline.

Stay tuned.

A Note of Gratitude

With the Toronto Blue Jays season in the books, I reflected on those folks who were a big part of my writing experience covering the Jays and would like to pass along some thanks. In no particular order:

Jerry Howarth for his inside information on what was going on with the club. Plus thanks for making my nephews’ summer a memorable one. I wish I could’ve gotten a picture of their faces when they heard your personal greeting on my tape recorder. It’s a sight I will always treasure. Also a shout out to the hard working Sue Mallabon and Nadia Flaim of the Jays’ front office, who went above and beyond the call of duty in aiding me this year—Mr. Rogers … give these ladies a raise!

Thanks to Mike Green and the folks at Batter’s Box, who gave me a steady stream of excellent e-mails containing tremendous feedback. I got terrific information from the lineup of Jonathan Hale, Todd Devlin, Dave Rouleau and David Moro at The Jays Nest.

I’d like to pass along props to my worthy foes at Mockingbird and Maldonado Over Everything. I salute Razzer, Dr. K., Mr. Hale and mulliniks. We have differing views on what transpired during 2007, but they made their points well and gave me a cornucopia of useful data. I thoroughly enjoyed our exchanges. I have to add Tao of Stieb for their hilarious take on our debates (and I want my talcum powder back!) and of course their links were always appreciated. Same time next year, guys?

Of course I cannot forget the good folks (mark achenguy, and hugo) at Blue Bird Banter (another source of top-level feedback), Neate Sager of Out In Left Field fame and the folks who gave me my very first scandal (I’m so proud … sniff) Ken Tremendous, dak, Junior, Matthew Murbles, and Coach of Fire Joe Morgan. Never has base clogging affected so many so deeply.

Thanks to all of you who made an 83-79 season so enjoyable!

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