Barry Bonds

A dozen days in the life of Barry Bonds

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A lot of people are talking about the awesomeness of Miguel Cabrera … and rightfully so. He’s the best hitter on earth right now. I love watching the guy hit baseballs. Thing is, I heard someone on television the other day say something like: “I’ve never seen a better hitter than Miguel Cabrera.” And I thought to myself: OK, look, maybe we want to forget that baseball happened from 1995 to 2005 or so. Maybe that time period was irredeemably tainted by performance enhancing drugs. Maybe it will come to be viewed as an inauthentic time … kind of the garbage-in, garbage-out school of thought.

But, you know, it DID happen.

And nobody — I mean nobody who ever lives — will be a better hitter than Barry Bonds was in 2004.

Before even getting to Bonds, we should mention Albert Pujols, who has fallen from grace so rapidly that it seems people forget that everything Cabrera’s doing now, Pujols did it first.

Miguel Cabrera hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs to win the Triple Crown?

Pujols in 2006 hit .331 with 49 homers and 137 RBIs (and, incidentally, didn’t lead the league in ANY of the three categories).

This year, Cabrera is hitting .360 with 40 homers and 120 RBIs.

In 2003, Pujols hit .359 with 43 homers and 124 RBIs, plus FIFTY ONE doubles and he scored 137 runs.

In his decade, Pujols hit .359, 357 and four times hit hit between .329 and .331. He hit between 41 and 49 homers six times. He drove in 120 runs six times. And those were just his triple crown numbers. He also stole some bases (twice stealing 16), won a couple of Gold Gloves, was touted constantly for his intangibles while still managing to lead the league in that much debated WAR statistic four years in a row. As I’ve written before and will write again: Miggy is a demigod. But Prince Albert was there first.

And then, to be fair, Frank Thomas was there before Pujols.

Then there was Bonds. And he’s an entirely different category. You can argue, if you like, that every single thing Bond ever did on a baseball diamond is tarnished and blemished and unworthy of memory. That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. The counter argument is: Whoa! That’s all. Whoa! It seems to me that even if you THINK you remember how ridiculous he was, you probably don’t. I didn’t. I went back and found 12 games he played from August 10 to August 21 in 2004. I kind of picked the games at random — I was only going to do one series, but then I kept going because, frankly, it still absolutely blows the mind. He broke the game, that’s what he did. He tilted it. He blue screened it.

Take a look:

August 10 (Giants lose to Pirates 8-7)
AB 1: Runner on 2nd. WALK (five pitches).
AB 2: Runner on 1st. WALK (on full count)
AB 3: Runner on 3rd. FLY OUT (warning track in right)
AB 4: Leads off. HOME RUN
AB 5: Nobody on. STRIKEOUT (looking)

August 11 (Giants lost to Pirates 8-6)
AB 1: Bases loaded. WALK (on full count)
AB 2: Runner on 2nd. INTENTIONAL WALK.
AB 3: Nobody on. FOUL POPOUT.
AB 4: Nobody on. GROUNDOUT (first base).
AB 5: Leads off inning. INTENTIONAL WALK.

August 12 (Giants beat Pirates 7-0)
AB 1: Runner on 2nd. Pitched to! DOUBLE (off centerfield wall)
AB 2: Runner on 1st. WALK (five pitches)
AB 3: Runners on 1st and 2nd. LINEOUT.
AB 4: Runners on 1st and 2nd. WALK (full count).

August 13 (Giants beat Phillies 16-6)
AB 1: Nobody on. WALK (five pitches)
AB 2: Runners on 2nd and 3rd. INTENTIONAL WALK.
AB 3: Runners on 2nd and 3rd. INTENTIONAL WALK.
AB 4: Runner on 2nd. SINGLE.
AB 5: Nobody on. HOME RUN.

August 14 (Giants beat Phillies 7-6 — Bonds did not start game)
AB 1: As pinch hitter in eighth with nobody on base. INTENTIONAL WALK.

August 15 (Giants beat Phillies 3-1)
AB 1: Runner on 2nd. INTENTIONAL WALK.
AB 2: Lead off inning. FLYOUT (To deep centerfield)
AB 3: Lead off inning. WALK (full count)
AB 4: Lead off inning. GROUNDOUT (to 2nd base)

August 16 (Giants beat Expos 8-5)
AB 1: Runner on 2nd. INTENTIONAL WALK.
AB 2: Runner on 1st. STRIKEOUT (looking)
AB 3: Lead off inning. WALK (five pitches)
AB 4: Leadoff inning. POPOUT (third baseman)
AB 5: Runners on 1st and 2nd. WALK (four pitches)

August 17 (Giants beat Expos 5-4)
AB 1: Lead off inning. HOME RUN
AB 2: Runner on 1st. HOME RUN.
AB 3: Runners on 1st and 3rd. INTENTIONAL WALK.
AB 4: Nobody on. FLYBALL (Deep centerfield)

August 18 Game 1 (Expos beat Giants 6-2)
AB 1: Pinch hitter in eighth, runners on 1st and 2nd. POP OUT (third baseman)

August 18 Game 2 (Giants beat Expos 14-4)
AB 1: Runners on 2nd and and 3rd. INTENTIONAL WALK
AB 2: Runner on 1st. WALK (five pitches)
AB 3: Lead off inning. SINGLE.
AB 4: Nobody on. HOME RUN.

August 20 (Giants beat Mets 7-3)
AB 1: Nobody on. SINGLE.
AB 2: Runner on 1st. SINGLE.
AB 3: Nobody on. DOUBLE.
AB 4: Runner on 1st. GROUNDOUT (shortstop)

August 21 (Mets beat Giants 11-9)
AB 1: Runner on 2nd. WALK (full count)
AB 2: Lead off inning. TRIPLE.
AB 3: Leadoff inning. WALK (four pitches)
AB 4: Runner on 1st. DOUBLE.
AB 5: Runner on 1st. SINGLE.

It’s a cartoon. It’s a busted video game. In those 12 games, Barry Bonds hit .556. He slugged 1.333. He hit five home runs. He walked 21 times, nine of them intentional. His on base percentage — are you ready for this? Yeah: .750. He got on base three-fourths of the time he came to the plate.

But is that surprising? Heck, his on-base percentage for the entire year was .609. That was the crazy level of fantasticality Barry Bonds achieved. One year he hit 73 home runs and slugs .863, the all time record. The next he hits .370 and walks 198 times. The next he slumps to .341/.529/.749. And in 2004, the year he broke the game, he hit .362, walked 232 times, was intentionally walked 120 times, nobody will ever have a year like that again.

Everybody has their own thought on the steroid part of the equation. But the truth is that in 2004 (and it wasn’t very different in 2001, 2002 or 2003) someone became so good at the game of baseball that there was really no way to deal with. It was like an alien coming from outer space with some weapon we simply cannot counter. It was like some running back coming along who is 10 feet tall, weighs 475 pounds and cannot be tackled even by all 11 men. The guy on TV who said he’s never seen a better hitter than Miguel Cabrera might want to exclude players he believes cheated the game, and that’s absolutely his right. But, make no mistake: He HAS seen a better hitter.

Did Tony Clark sacrifice the future in order to make a deal now?

Tony Clark
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We broke down what we know of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement yesterday. Today Yahoo’s Jeff Passan has a far more in depth look at the various provisions in the deal and provides a lot of behind the scenes stuff about how MLB and the union got from A to B.

There’s a lot to chew on there. A lot of minutiae and money talk that, truth be told, most fans don’t care too much about, even if it does have repercussions for how teams do business and, eventually, the product they put on the field. Passan deals with almost all aspects of that, concluding that, while this deal will ensure baseball for the next five years, it may very well lay the groundwork for future labor strife and a possible increase in differences between baseball’s haves and baseball’s have-nots going forward.

You should read it all if you care about this stuff, but there are two takeaways I have from all of it that, I think, suggest serious trouble ahead. Maybe not this year or next, but in future player-owner negotiations: (1) the union, for the first time ever, agreed to a hard cap on player compensation, in the form of a hard limit on international player bonuses; and (2) the union agreed to major provisions without securing player consensus. Both of these developments are described by Passan thusly:

The desire of a vocal segment of players to avoid an international draft at all costs was abundantly clear, and ultimately – over the objection of a number of top players and officials – the union took that position: No deal until there’s no draft. MLB saw an opportunity and instead got the cost containment it desired without having to spend a penny on the infrastructure a draft would necessitate. The league asked for a hard cap on money spent internationally and couldn’t believe its fortune: The union acceded, a stunning reversal from past negotiations when a hard cap of any kind, be it on team salaries, draft spending or international money, was rejected outright.

I and many others had opposed an international draft, but that its avoidance came at the cost of a hard cap was surprising. And, as I noted yesterday, that the cap is as low as it is — $5-6 million — was equally surprising. The owners got the cost containment that they wanted, did nothing to address the concerns they claimed they had about the exploitation of amateurs, and, for the first time in history, got a hard cap on spending. Even draft bonus slotting, which has been in place for a while, has some give and take to it that the new cap does not have.

But I’m more surprised to see that the union was not in solidarity when it came to all of this. Passan quotes one player, who he says speaks for many, who said the international draft negotiation was “hijacked” by a subset of players and that there is great disunity as to how it all turned out. This is new territory for the Players Union. While there has been some infighting among players in recent years with respect to drug testing, there has never been public disunity when it comes to pocketbook matters. The MLBPA’s power — the very reason it was able to beat the owners for over 30 years straight and become, arguably, the most successful union in all of organized labor — came by virtue of its solidarity. A solidarity that seems to be unprecedentedly absent this time around.

For now, this may not matter. A deal is done and there will be baseball for the next five seasons. But it’s easy to smooth over disagreements when everyone is rich. Right now baseball is flush with cash and revenues are increasing. What happens if that stops?

What happens if, as some have predicted, the cable money stops flowing into baseball’s coffers? ESPN has lost over a million subscribers in the past two months. People are cutting cords. I have a lot of faith in cable companies, large broadcast networks and sports leagues to find new ways to sell sports to people and do not predict a shocking doomsday, but the model that has driven baseball’s revenue for the past decade or two is not etched in stone. There will be flux and, if more pessimistic predictions come to pass, there could be a serious disruption in baseball’s revenue streams. An RSN could very well declare bankruptcy or decide that it would cost them less to simply breach a contract with a club or the league than to continue to pay them. Whatever happens, the only constant in media over the past 25 years has been change and there is no law saying networks have to pay baseball teams a billion dollars to show baseball games.

So, flash forward five years and presume, for the moment, that baseball’s revenues have been flat or falling. And say the owners decide that it’s time to revive their 1980s-90s strategy of capping salaries for major league players. Sure, the players will fight it, but they’ve lost the ability to say that hard caps are, by definition, unacceptable. They’ve caved on the topic for the first time, thus making any case they would make to the owners and to their own rank and file that much harder to articulate. Why, might a 2021 union member who was subject to a cap in 2017 think, is a cap that only really affects some veterans on his club such a bad thing? Maybe it’s OK? And why, might an owner’s representative at the bargaining table think, should we believe that Tony Clark won’t cave now? He came off of Marvin Miller and Don Fehr’s hard line in 2016. Maybe he will again. It’s worth a try!

All of which makes more work for Clark and the union to fight serious threats if they are presented to them, and the harder you have to work to shore up your own side in a negotiation, the less power you have to fight the other side. Clark will have to expend far more effort to argue harder and to rally his own troops now that he doesn’t have a baseline principle to which everyone is in agreement. And if that “hijacked” sentiment Passan noted above is any indication, Clark showed that he was either unable to generate solidarity on an important matter this year or, more worrisome, that he was uninterested in doing so. Is there any guarantee that he can do a better job later, when the threats are greater?

As I noted at the beginning, it’s good that we will have baseball, uninterrupted, for the next five seasons. It’s good that a deal was done. But the more we learn about the new CBA, the more it seems that reaching that deal cost the union quite a bit in terms of solidarity and principle. The players may not have to pay much if anything for that now, but bills always have a way of coming due.

Breaking Down Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: Davey Johnson

1990:  Manager Davey Johnson of the New York Mets looks on the field before a game in the 1990 season. ( Photo by: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Davey Johnson

The case for his induction:

As we note each year when the Manager of the Year Awards are announced, it’s hard to properly assess managers. A team’s performance is so heavily dependent on talent and health that it’s often difficult to determine what role a manager truly plays in its success. Bruce Bochy won three World Series titles in five seasons but the Giants disappointed in the second half of 2016. Did he suddenly forget how to manage? Of course not. Stuff happens.

Over time, however, it’s a bit easier. No, you can’t simply go on the number of titles a guy won, but patterns certainly emerge and a manager’s influence begins to reveal itself over decades. And there is a definite pattern for Davey Johnson: he, quite simply, won everywhere he went. Teams which hired hims saw marked improvement soon after he came on board and, for some reason, declined right after he left. Funny that.

Johnson managed for 17 seasons and won 1,372 games, posting a .562 winning percentage. He was twice named Manager of the Year. He won the 1986 World Series with the Mets, led his clubs to first place finishes in his division six times and second place finishes eight times, making the playoffs in six seasons overall. He would’ve likely won another division title and made another playoff appearance but for the strike-shortened 1994 season.

Johnson was on the scene as the Mets ascended to greatness and they descended into trash not long after he left. He did his best under a combustible owner in Cincinnati, managed to maintain the success Lou Piniella had there and the team got worse after he left. The Orioles were a sub-.500 team before he arrived, he took them to the playoffs twice, he left and they spent more than a decade in the wilderness. The Nationals made the playoffs for the first time after he took over. Only the Dodgers did not see dramatic improvement under Johnson, but nor did they really decline.

Johnson was also an innovator when it came to analytics. He was a big proponent of lineup optimization, using computers and math to do so way before his peers did. When it comes to platooning and putting players in niche roles which allowed them to maximize their talents, Johnson had few if any peers among his contemporaries. It was him and La Russa, really, with everyone else far behind.

The case against his induction:

His aggregate win total is pretty low compared to modern managers who have been inducted by the Veterans Committee, primarily due to his not managing anywhere from 2001 through 2010. If he had padded that resume with even sub-.500 clubs he’d have win totals which exceeded Casey Stengel, Walter Alston and Leo Durocher. As it is, he’s 31st all-time in wins, just below the still-active Terry Francona and just above Chuck Tanner. Even if his winning percentage is higher than the majority of managers ahead of him, those totals have harmed his case and make him pale compared to contemporaries like La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. That’s an unfair standard — those three are among the all-time greats — but that’s who voters will likely compare him to. If he had two or three World Series titles he may have been able to overcome the win totals, but he doesn’t.

A second factor that also has a lot to do with optics as opposed to merit is that Johnson was seen as having great timing, having been hired by the Mets just as Frank Cashen assembled a killer roster of young talent and later being hired by teams which were already poised to win. That should not be held against Johnson — he could only manage the teams he was given — but some people have knocked him in the past for swooping into good situations as opposed to being on the ground floor of winning organizations. It’s dumb, but it’s a thing I’ve heard people say.

One other factor that may or may not play into this: Johnson had a difficult time getting along with the front offices who employed him, leading to short tenures in Cincinnati, Baltimore and Los Angeles. Personally I think not getting along with Marge Schott and Peter Angelos is a sign of good character, but it’s hard to avoid the fact that Johnson was a prickly character himself. Should that affect his Hall of Fame case? No. Will it? Maybe. Depends who is on the committee voting for him.

Would I vote for him?

I would. The only other manager who had the immediate impact Johnson had everywhere he went was Billy Martin. The guy just won and won in many different places under a lot of different circumstances. I wish we could point to some metric that definitively told us who was a good manager and who wasn’t, but in the absence of that I can’t help but look at Davey Johnson and say “man, that guy was a good manager.” One of the best of his era and, I feel, worthy of induction.

Will the Committee vote for him?

I’m pessimistic. Johnson’s win totals, extended absence in the 2000s and subsequent lack of disciples and proteges in the world of baseball make him feel like more of an outsider than a lot of other retired managers. His greatest exploits seem like they happened a long, long time ago and I feel like he has become under-appreciated as a result. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he gets in, but suspect he will not.