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Is today the day for Bonds?

Well, B-day is here. The guy with the handsome mug (as my friends say, “a face made for radio,”) you see above came into this world 39 years ago today. And gotta be honest, I’d much rather be throwing batting practice (to my almost-5-year-old Clayton) and slapping fives (with my 10-month-old Noah) than watching both here at the park. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great job, and I’m extremely appreciative of it. But during the course of a season, one day blends into another, and a day devoid of baseball is good for the soul now and then.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that I’ve been predicting for about six weeks now that today would be the day Barry Bonds would hit either 756 or 755. As long as I’m here, might as well see some history. He’s in the lineup; in this instance, day game after night game doesn’t matter.

Sergio Mitre on the bump for Florida. Hopefully, he’ll pitch to him. Dontrelle Willis did a decent job of that last night, after the disgraceful effort by Marlins pitchers on Friday — four straight walks after Bonds hit No. 754. Logic suggests Bonds won’t homer today — that day game after night game thing _ but I’ve got to stick with my prediction.

Speaking of Willis, he sure seemed to throw far more slop than he did in years past. He did hump it up to 94, 95 mph around the fourth and fifth innings, but he spent much of the game around 88 or 89. Stuff didn’t seem nearly as electric. Could be the reason he’s struggled so mightily this season.

Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention the 1987 Giants. They’ll be honored today. Probably the first Giants team to which I ever paid attention. The NLCS they played with the Cardinals was one of the best playoff series ever played. Not surprisingly, Candy Maldonado is not slated to be here.

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A bunch of short hops

Apologize for having been a bit erratic with the blog this week. The Bonds Watch has put me behind the 8-ball with respect to a lot of my other daily activities, so figured I get caught up with a few items today.

Tough break for Bobby Crosby and the A’s. Makes it even more difficult for the A’s to evaluate him going forward (though their lack of a top-notch shortstop prospect buys them time), and prevents Crosby from putting into effect whatever it was he said he figured out at the plate recently. Can’t knock him for being fragile for this injury though. Broken hands via hit-by-pitches are a hazardous part of the job.

The Bonds Watch is going predictably slow. Last year, it took Bonds 26 Giants game to go from home run No. 712 to No. 715. Thursday’s contest was the Giants’ seventh since he went deep twice against the Cubs at Wrigley.

— Heard a rumor — and it’s just that, a rumor — that the Giants are in play in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, with Noah Lowry as the bait. That’s a trade I’d make in an instant. I know Teixeira has had a rough year with the Texas Rangers, but he’s a switch-hitting masher the Giants could stick at first base for five years.

— That said, the Giants pitcher I predict will go (if any do) is Matt Morris. Teams that need pitching this time of year are looking for veterans with playoff experience. Morris has that.

— Wouldn’t be shocked if the A’s hold onto Shannon Stewart and Joe Kennedy, two viable trade candidates. Both could gain the team draft picks next spring, and that’s something general manager Billy Beane always considers.

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Happy Birthday to Barry

Today is Barry Bonds’ 43rd birthday and the greatest gift he could give baseball fans is to hit three home runs tonight and get the Chase for Hank behind him.

Not gonna happen.

I’m not breaking any new ground here, obviously, and as predictions go, this one isn’t exactly going out on the limb. Bonds could tie it, because he’s hit two homers in a game twice this season and 71 times in his career, one more than the 72 Babe Ruth had. I’m not betting on it, though, because Bonds seems to have a tougher time homering at the Big Phone than in years past. He has only four there since May 8, and his last one was June 29.

In fact, what’ really interesting about this whole thing is the thought of the team’s next trip to Los Angeles and San Diego, historically two places that are especially anti-Bonds. If Bonds is sitting at 755, what do the Giants do? They can’t sit him for all seven games, because that gets into the integrity of the pennant race. I’m guessing the Diamondbacks and Rockies would not be happy with Bonds sitting out against the two teams atop the NL West.

That said, neither Bonds nor the Giants want the record to occur on the road. I suppose Bonds could just try to hit singles. But at this point, I’d argue he’s not good enough anymore to assume he’ll homer in any game at home. Could be an interesting thing to watch.

Anyway, Atlanta’s Tim Hudson goes after him tonight. Stay tuned.

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On the Road with Bonds

The blog today comes to you live from Milwaukee, where the official renewal of the Barry Bonds Watch has taken place. Yes, we’ve been watching all year — longer than that obviously — but Bonds’ two-homer explosion in Chicago on Thursday signaled the beginning of the final assault. Most of the media members who are going to be on hand for No. 756 are on board now, and it’s going to be a circus for the Giants until this thing is done.

From what I can tell, the atmosphere among enemy fans is not nearly as poisonous as it was when I hit the road last year. I’ve seen far more signs supporting Bonds than I have those that are harping on his alleged steroid use. They still boo him, but not as loud or as visiously as seemed to be the case last season. The sense I get is that everybody wants this over with, and if they happen to see it, cool.

The mood in the clubhouse is quite different, for obvious reasons.One reliever was chirping loud last night, several other players privately voiced their disgust.

To a degree I can understand their viewpoint. The media is now enveloping their clubhouse like a herd of cows being led to slaughter. And at times, they seem to be as unmovable. I sidled up to the side of Bonds’ cubicle after the Giants’ 8-4 win last night to grab a decent spot amidst the herd. First, reliever Steve Kline relayed that Bonds wouldn’t talk. No movement from the media. Then a Giants spokesman said the same thing. Again, nothing.

Finally, Bonds came in, towel draped around him and shooed the mob away. Even then, they dispersed slowly. It’s a bit like when the teacher asks for a show of hands in math class, and not a soul raises his or her hand.

Bonds did chat at length before today’s game. Say this for him, he does have his moments. I spoke with him for about 10 minutes after the morning media horde had dispersed about all sorts of topics non-baseball, and he was perfectly pleasant.

Anyway, the Bonds Watch for me last year lasted 25 days. I don’t anticipate this one lasting quite that long, but you never know. Bonds has struck out and grounded out weakly to the pitcher in his first two at-bats today, and he was pretty awful last night. Hank Aaron’s record is safe for another day.

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The Bobby Crosy dilemma

Very good column by Tim Kawakami in the San Jose Mercury News this morning regarding A’s shortstop Bobby Crosby. Essentially, it says that Crosby must produce for the A’s to win, because there are no other shortstops in the pipeline. Thus, he reasons, the relief associated with Crosby’s effort in the A’s 6-0 win over Texas that snapped a nine-game losing streak.

I had a long chat with Billy Beane on Tuesday about many subjects, including Crosby. He remains adamant that Crosby is a special talent, and that “when it clicks for him, it’s going to click big.” But even Beane acknowledged that the team can’t wait forever for it to happen.

Thus, the dilemma. How long to the A’s give Crosby to show that he indeed is more J.J. Hardy than Angel Berroa. Obviously, Crosby gets the rest of this season to prove that there’s more to him than has met the eye to this point, and that’s fair. Don’t forget, Crosby missed almost half a season and got a late start in spring training because of a misdiagnosed back injury.

The fact that there aren’t any shortstops knocking on the door also likely ensures that Crosby will hold down the spot next year, too. But eventually, whatever Beane expects to click has to do so, because the A’s have too much invested in Crosby being successful to ignore alternatives if he continues to show that a) he appears to be a .250 hitter at best b) his power is questionable and c) he strikes out too much and is far too vulnerable to the breaking pitch.

But for one day, those issues were put to rest. Crosby had a huge day, and the A’s finally get to sleep on a win.

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Trading season has begun

Interesting to see that while the Giants continue to preach their new philosophy, the A’s very quietly began their summer sale Monday. Jason Kendall should be an excellent addition to the Cubs. He doesn’t need to hit much in that lineup, but just a change of scenery and home ballparks should turn him from a .220 hitter into a .250 one, and if the Cubs get that out of him, great. All he’ll need to do is bring along young Cubs pitchers Rich Hill and Sean Marshall and coax even greater dominance out of ace Carlos Zambrano. Certainly seems doable.

A’s general manager Billy Beane said the trade should not viewed as a signal the A’s have given up on 2007, but let’s face it. Only the biggest miracle this side of the 1914 Boston Braves brings a playoff spot this year. I’d imagine Beane is looking forward to restocking and retooling. He has told me several times that is one of his favorite parts of the job. And he’s always proven excellent at it; his acquisition of Dan Haren from St. Louis two winters ago kept the rotation afloat and made the A’s run at the 2006 ALCS possible.

Kurt Suzuki gets the catching reigns now for the A’s, and though he looked like the second coming of Ramon Hernandez with the bat when he first arrived, he’s cooled off considerably since. He’s in an 0-for-12 rut since July 1, he was 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Very Kendall-like.

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The Losing Locals

Best thing that could’ve happened to the Giants occured this weekend when they were swept by the Dodgers. The worst thing that could’ve happened to this franchise was to win all three games in this series, and give themselves the false hope that they could make a run in the NL West. By losing three and falling more than a dozen games back, no need to worry that newly extended general manager Brian Sabean and his bosses, Peter Magowan and Larry Baer, will have any illusion that their product needs to be blown up.

The general consensus around the Bay Area media has been that signing Sabean was the right move, and that the Giants deserve to be praised for finally admitting their plan has not worked. It also seems to be assumed that Barry Bonds will definitely be gone after the season.

But I’d like to see what they do at the trade deadline, and then I’d like to see what they do to tweak the eyes and ears around Sabean. I remain skeptical that Bonds won’t be back (I’ll finally believe it when I don’t see it), and my opinion is that a philosophy of “win and develop” is doomed to failure, because the farm system is so barren of everyday prospects (thus, the reason the trade deadline will be so telling), and because the front office as currently constructed has not shown the ability to develop great everyday players. If Magowan and Sabean had deemed it a philosophy of “develop and win,” I’d feel better, because developing leads to winning (just look at the Brewers). If the Giants win and develop, they may sacrifice development (and the future) at the first glimpse of light in this dark tunnel.

Meantime, Bonds was self-critical in a way that I can’t remember after finishing his hitless series against the Dodgers. I’ve heard him say he stinks before but never that he’s an “embrassment” to the uniform. Normally, I’d expect him to respond with a huge series in Wrigley Field, but now I’m not so sure.

The A’s, meantime, should view themselves in the same boat. In my opinion, they’re too far behind too many teams to view themselves as a contender. I’d like to see them try to restock their farm system with some good hitters, as well. Players of value they could move include outfielder Shannon Stewart, left-handed reliever Joe Kennedy (although he’s rapidly losing his value), first baseman Dan Johnson (that would open a spot for Daric Barton) and even center fielder Mark Kotsay. A’s GM Billy Beane always tries to add value even as he trades it, so this will be as interesting a trade deadline as he’s faced in a long time.

By the way, the A’s are below .500 after the break for the first time since they went 74-88 in 1998. And after their combined 0-7 weekend, the A’s and Giants are a combined 24 games out of their respective division leads and 23 out of a playoff spot.

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Sabean’s contract extension

Mentioned earlier that the Giant have extended general manager Brian Sabean’s contract through 2009 with an option for 2010. Just finished listening to the conference call, one that was dominated heavily by managing general partner Peter Magowan, and to read between the lines, it sounds like Magowan is going to give Sabean the freedom to rebuild in a sensible way.

Magowan told reporters that he “wants to win and develop” at the same time, and while that may sound painfully familiar, he also added the team will steer clear of the classic rent-a-player addition at the deadline; that the young pitching (read: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Noah Lowry) are untouchable; and that if the team needs to suffer through a couple of more difficult seasons for “a better chance to win and sustain winning,” he’d be fine with it.

In other words, it sounds like Magowan realizes it’s time for a makeover. This is good. The Giants have needed a facelift for a while, and no question his influence, as well as that of Giants president Larry Baer, has prevented one from happening sooner.

Now, the ball is in Sabean’s court. The last time he was in this situation, he pulled off the wonderful Matt Williams-for-Jeff Kent (and assorted others) deal that got the Giants on the longest run of success they’ve sustained since moving to San Francisco. Now, Sabean’s track record the last few seasons hasn’t been good, but who knows how much he’d been hamstrung from what he really wanted to do.

Keep an eye on what Sabes does at the trade deadline. It should tell us a lot.

Giants fans, you happy with this?

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Sabean contract extension

Just got word from the Giants that the team has extended Brian Sabean’s contract for two more seasons, with a club option 2010. Virtually no other details at this point, but the team will have a conference call at 1 p.m., and I’ll disseminate some information then.

Immediate reaction is that this only works if A) Sabean has more autonomy B) the Giants cut ties with Barry Bonds and allow Sabean to build a team in his vision and C) Sabean is given time to rebuild the farm system. Not sure all three of those things will take place, and honestly, if they don’t, then we won’t get a clear vision of Sabean as a GM. When he was left alone a decade ago, he rebuilt a decripid team and laid the foundation for the most successful period in SF history. It’s only recently, during the “Build Around Bonds” era dictated by Sabean’s bosses, Peter Magowan and Larry Baer, that he has struggled.

Anyway, Giants fans, this is the architect of your team until at least 2009. Are you happy about this?

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All-Star Impressions

The Giants deserve props. They put on a terrific All-Star show this weekend. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve got to feel jazzed. All that talent in one place. And a great game to boot. I only wish National League manager Tony La Russa had a sense of the moment.

Here are my impressions of the weekend.

— Ichiro Suzuki, when motivated, is as close as the game has to a modern-day Rickey Henderson. The havoc he causes with his speed. The power he can show when you make a mistake. The way he puts immediate pressure on a pitching staff. He’ll be a reason the Mariners stick around the race all summer.

— Barry Bonds, after a shaky beginning, emerged as a winner this weekend. His give-and-take with reporters at Media Day on Monday was not nearly as belligerent as in the past. The length of the Home Run Derby lent credence to his reasoning that he wasn’t physically strong enough to participate anymore (although, again, why not go up and hit 10 balls, just for fun). And he seemed to show a sense of genuine enjoyment. Thing about Bonds is, he can be extremely charming when he wants to be. And you can’t tell me he doesn’t care about being embraced at the moment of No. 756. He does, and perhaps that’s why he seems to be trying hard to be more human than ever.

— All it takes is a few minutes watching Derek Jeter in a clubhouse to understand his impact on any team for whom he plays. The man is the definition of presence.

— Then there’s Jerry Rice, who gets my vote for “Jackass of the Weekend.” Rice bullied his way to the front of media scrums to ask self-serving questions for Fox, inquiries that often started with statements about how great he was. Not to sound too self-important, but those actions are so disrespectful to those of us who have been legitimate members of the media. I wonder how Rice would’ve felt if I’d been allowed to pipe my opinion when the 49ers were in the huddle.

— Went to the Fan Fest and enjoyed it to an extent (the commercialism at the event was nauseating though). But baseball ought to think about finding a way to escort people through the interminably long lines quicker. Remember, a lot of these fans are kids, and to expect 8-,9-, and 10-year-olds to wait an hour for an attraction is a bit much.

— Having said that, the virtual reality hitting machine, which simulates batting against a Major-League pitcher, is one of the coolest gadgets I’ve ever seen. I don’t really get the whole I-Pod, I-Phone thing, and I’ve never been one to go ga-ga over toys for adults, but that’s something I’d buy if it ever went on the market for a somewhat decent price.