Regardless of how many disingenuous interviews Barry Bonds gives in an attempt to create a positive image of himself in the public, there is no way for him to atone for twenty years of petulance. Bonds’s maudlin wailing about how he his misperceived and how he has been the target of a witch hunt by baseball only serves to reinforce his persona as one who simply doesn’t have the faculties to understand why people have such a negative view of him.
Reality shows, press conferences using his son as a prop as to why he has become melancholy with everything involved with his career, trying to appear conciliatory with those whom he has offended over the past twenty-plus years—–all are irrelevant. Bonds’s performances late in his career as he tries to repair his tarnished legacy are similar to the kid that messes around in school all year and then in May starts doing his work and trying to get good grades to avoid punishment that summer—-it doesn’t work. Too many people who have dealt with and been associated with Barry Bonds have memories too long to simply allow some attempt at good will to sway them into thinking that Bonds is a changed man.
Understandably Bonds continues to dodge the question as to whether he used performance enhancing drugs; what he doesn’t realize when he whines and complains about how hurtful it is when people hold up asterisk signs and tell him that he should just disappear is that he has offended fans, teammates and anyone else associated with him with his obnoxious behavior and his selfish nature just as much as he has hurt them with his drug use. He seems to be attempting to garner sympathy for his plight; like most selfish people he only sees himself and what is going wrong with his life. He doesn’t understand that there are people working twenty hours a day, six to seven days a week making a pittance compared to the $18 million plus Barry Bonds gets for playing a game.
Without the drugs, Barry Bonds would have gone down as one of baseball’s legends; it was the era and the jealousy that caused Bonds to decide to join a substantial number of players and use performance enhancers. That he continues to try and convince the world that he did nothing wrong and makes self-pitying statements about how wearing all of this has been on him shows that he still doesn’t understand what it is about him that makes everyone so angry in the first place.
For a supposed "Moneyball" team, the Blue Jays made an awfully rash decision in throwing all that money at A.J. Burnett. Isn’t the concept of "Moneyball" to get value for your dollars by studying and analyzing statistics? I’m looking at A.J. Burnett’s statistics right now and am struggling to see $55 million in value. Signing Burnett for the unconscionable sum of money is straight out of the George Steinbrenner school of doing business except he has the financial wherewithal to absorb such a hit without it bothering the team dynamic all that much; can the Blue Jays say the same thing?
If signing free agents were only about ability, then Burnett is a worthwhile investment; when he’s healthy his stuff is that good. That’s the problem: When he’s healthy. This is a pitcher with a violent delivery, a less than .500 career record and he’s only pitched over 200 innings in a season twice. Where is the "Moneyball" in those stats? And then, after he’s signed and begins complaining about pain in his elbow, Burnett has to be accused by his GM J.P. Ricciardi of the pain being in his head?
The Blue Jays invested a lot of money over a lot of years for a pitcher who hasn’t shown the ability to gobble up consistent innings. Looking at his numbers and considering what they’ve gotten out of him so far, I’m sure the Blue Jays could have gone another route and probably acquired two pitchers for the same money and at least had them go out every fifth day and competed. Now that Burnett is on the 60 day DL, he isn’t eligible to come back until late June. And I’ll believe that when I see it.
The Dodgers early season success despite an unheralded starting rotation and a slew of injuries brings to light exactly how unfairly Grady Little was treated in Boston. Little, in his two years as manager of the Red Sox won 93 and then 95 games and lost in the seventh game of the ALCS in his second season. Little was blamed for that loss because he decided that he wanted his ace, Pedro Martinez, on the mound with the game on the line. Managers are often criticized because they go by some unseen, unknown "book" that dictates to them when they are supposed to remove their pitchers. But when a manager decides that if he is going to lose, then he should lose with his best pitcher, he gets vilified when it doesn’t work. Many times a manager will make a move that he knows he shouldn’t make because it will present a more palatable response when questioned about it by the media and the front office. "That’s the way we’ve done it all year," they’ll say in their own defense. Little made an independent decision and wound up not only fired, but out of work for three years.
The fact is that in Boston, the front office is such that they didn’t want someone who is going to be a free thinker. Anyone who has read Moneyball and knows the school of thought that emanates from the theories espoused therein, knows that teams like the Red Sox and A’s don’t want a manager who is going to deviate from the plan. Terry Francona was a failure as a manager in Philadelphia and, rest assured, if the Red Sox got off to a 17-25 start, he would be replaced by another "yes" man; a man who is going to be content to do as he is told and babysit while management pays them moderately and dictates what they will do. These men are easily replaceable. Grady Little was a "baseball guy"; someone who does what he thinks is best for that particular game and will, rightly or wrongly, be judged based on those decisions. He made such a decision in 2003 and it cost him his job.
I don’t believe the idea that Little’s contract was not renewed based on that move and that move alone, as so many people believe. I think that he was not retained because he was too independent minded for the way the Red Sox wanted to run things and it was a convenient excuse to let him go based on that one fateful decision. But the players are the ones who ultimately decide a manager’s fate. His players seem to like Little and they play hard for him. In the end, that’s all that the manager can ask for, and in Grady Little’s case, it seems to be working; and that nullifies any stat-driven theories that say otherwise.
I just got home from the Mets-Diamondbacks game and one thing struck me: the diminshing numbers of Luis Gonzalez. This is a player who was a journeyman; granted he was a pretty solid player for a journeyman (not exactly Kurt Bevacqua) but a journeyman nonetheless. This is a player who bounced from Houston to Chicago, back to Houston, to Detroit and finally to Arizona. His numbers, while respectable, were never of the superstar variety. Then all of a sudden, in his early to mid-thirties, he becomes this power hitting machine. It wasn’t as if his homers went from 16 to 25 and stopped there; he went from 10 to 23 to 26 to 31 to 57!!! 57 HOME RUNS!!!Where did this sudden surge come from? I don’t want to make any false accusations, but it strikes me as….odd. Then, just as suddenly his numbers revert back to what they looked like early in his career?
This led me to look up the numbers of another player who was considered a 15 to 20 homer guy who would drive in 75 to 80 runs and play great defense; a player who, in his early thirties, suddenly discovered this mystical power. This is a player whose name has been mentioned in the stories of performance enhancers—-Bret Boone. The rise in their careers almost mirrors one another. Boone was a player who bounced from Cincinnati to Atlanta to San Diego and then gets to Seattle and suddenly puts up numbers worthy of Charlie Gehringer, Rogers Hornsby and Ryne Sandberg. How does this happen? Then, just as the steroid allegations and testing comes to light, he falls off the planet completely and his career is over. Why?
These are players whose numbers just don’t add up and they’re given a pass that Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire aren’t because they’re the "big" names. Rafael Palmeiro is a pariah because he got caught. But what about other players whose careers should be called into question? Why are they given a free pass?
Counting out the Braves, as so many of the "experts" seem apt to do, is the biggest mistake that anyone who follows baseball can make. The Mets main competition for the National League East will not be the Phillies, but will once again be the Braves, and given their history it’s hard to bet against them.
Yes, the Braves closer is weak; yes, their starting rotation has struggled at times; and yes, two of their main cogs are becoming more and more succeptible to injury. But with all that, the Braves stand at 27-23 and are only 3.5 games out of first place.
John Schuerholz may be the best general manager in baseball at seeing what’s available, seeing what his team needs and filling the holes. Bobby Cox is the most underappreciated manager in baseball for taking what he has on the roster and maximizing their abilities to get his team to the playoffs. Despite their lack of success while in the playoffs, it takes greater skill to navigate a team through 162 games than it does to win in October when weaknesses in the bullpen (the Braves achilles heel over the past fifteen years) come to the forefront.
While the Phillies were on their hot streak the prevailing opinion was that they were going to be the Mets biggest challenge for the division. Now that the Phillies have come back down to earth, their lack of pitching depth, a porous closer who tires toward season’s end and poor defense will be their downfall. Another poorly constructed roster will result in another managerial change at the end of the season (and perhaps sooner if they collapse) and the truth that maybe it’s the players’ faults and not Larry Bowa or Charlie Manuel or whoever is filling out the lineup card and occupying the manager’s office.
That leaves the Braves. It seems whatever challenges they face they manage to maximize the talent on their roster and play above and beyond what was thought to be their capabilities. The sum of the parts on the roster always outdoes the individuals—-they simply find a way. Roster wise, top to bottom, the Mets are better, but that doesn’t mean anything on the field. Every year it is said that the Braves run is over and yet it still goes on. The Mets have had their chances to bury the Braves earlier in the season and didn’t. The deeper into the season the Braves hang around the outskirts of the race in the National League East, the more it can be a problem for the Mets. And the Braves don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Barry Bonds passing Babe Ruth opens up the question as to whether Bonds is going to be able to hang on long enough to catch Hank Aaron at all. With his body breaking down and baseball’s new drug testing policies, does Bonds at age 41 have enough gas left in the tank to make it? Does he even want to make it at this point?
Knowing what Aaron went through as he chased Ruth and with the media scrutiny even more intense today and with Bonds being as petulant as he is, does he want to put himself through all that grief? Realistically, with Bonds’s body in it’s current shape, the Giants can expect 15-18 more home runs this season. Being generous and giving him 20 more would leave him with 735. Will he be willing to take an incentive laden contract to join an American League team to pursue the record? Will he be able to get the 21 homers he’ll need? Bonds has always wanted to be paid what he feels he is worth; the fans seem to have zoned out on the pursuit; will an American League team pay him even half of what he’s making now in hopes of filling the ballpark as he chases the record? Which teams would even want to deal with Bonds and his traveling circus?
If the Yankees falter again this year and George Steinbrenner still has the faculties to order his baseball people around, it might be in the Bronx. Would Billy Beane want to deal with Bonds in Oakland? Not for the amount of money Bonds is going to want. How many other teams are there? Boston? Not with Big Papi entrenched in the DH spot. Who else? Anaheim, maybe? Baltimore or Toronto? Maybe. He does have options. The important question is: Does Barry Bonds even want to catch Hank Aaron at all and is he willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make it?
Yusmeiro Petit is one of the young pitchers that the Mets traded to the Marlins to get Carlos Delgado and because he pitched against the Mets today, I got to thinking about comments broadcaster and former Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez made following the deal last winter. I can’t remember what he said verbatim, but the gist of his argument was that he wouldn’t have traded the young pitcher for Delgado.
No one—-not Omar Minaya, Larry Beinfest, Billy Beane, John Schuerholz or Buck Martinez—–knows what kind of career Petit is going to have. From watching him today, he appears to be a righty who will survive more on guile than on powerful stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that. Greg Maddux is going to the Hall of Fame based on guile and control. But to say that he wouldn’t trade for the consistency and power of Carlos Delgado based on a young right handed pitcher who, up until recently, wasn’t even considered a great prospect, is ludicrous. I can understand wanting to hang onto young arms in order to build up an organization, but to suggest the Mets should have rejected an offer of Delgado because they didn’t want to include Petit in the deal is ignoring the big picture.
This Mets team has a very small window in which to contend with this roster. They’re predominantly a veteran team with their best pitchers, Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine all on the backside of Hall of Fame careers. They needed Delgado and they needed him immediately. The opportunity presented itself and they had to take it regardless of what Petit becomes, if anything. This was not a Scott Kazmir type, shot in the dark deal where they were trading a blue chip prospect in the vague hopes of staying on the outskirts of a race for a wild card. They knew what they were getting in Delgado and so far, he has lived up to his end of the deal.
This is not an indictment of Buck Martinez personally. I remember a game in the eighties in which he recorded a double play on two plays at home and in the first one, he had broken his leg in the collision. He was a tough, tough player. But when one goes from broadcasting to managing without any first hand managerial experience, it is a very difficult transition to make. Martinez is thinking in the long term when he says he’d rather hang onto the young arms rather that trade them for immediate help. But that ignores the type of team the Mets are right now. What they needed was a power hitting first baseman, not a twenty-two year old pitcher who probably wouldn’t have been in the majors this season had the Mets kept him. There are certain trades that have to be made. Trading Scott Kazmir wasn’t one of them. Trading Yusmeiro Petit was.