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The Derby

OK, now can you see why Barry Bonds begged out of the Home Run Derby?

As you surely know by now, the Angels’ Vladimir Guerrero won the thing for the first time in his magnificent career. But to me what made it really impressive were not some of the majestic blasts he hit, but rather, the fact that he endured through more than three hours of the event to win.

That’s just flat-out too long for everybody. Too long for the players. Too long for the fans who want to watch the whole thing. Too long for the quality of the event. And ultimately, like he said, too long to expect an older guy like Bonds to participate willingly. Don’t know if the fans will forgive him after watching the tedium that is three hours of watching batting practice home runs, but if you can’t understand where Bonds was coming from now, you simply don’t get it.

Anyway, Guerrero needed to hit only three home runs in the final round, because the other finalist, Toronto’s Alex Rios simply ran out of gas. Rios, by the way, is 17 years younger than Bonds.

Here’s how I would tinker with the Derby to make it more fun, and a lot livelier in the final round. You still can take eight participants, but limit the first round to 3 outs. Increase that number to 5 outs for the second round. Then go up to 10 outs in the final round. That way, guys will be likely to get locked in during the final round, and that could make for some compelling viewing. As it is now, most of the participants go nuts in Round 2, and then have nothing left for the final.

Also was wondering. Does winning a Home Run Derby add to a guy’s star credentials? I’d argue that it does. Not that guys such as Guerrero and 2006 champ Ryan Howard weren’t stars before winning the Derby. But by winning the event, they kind of cement their standing in the upper tier of the game. Just my feeling. I could be completely off base.

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A few All-Star thoughts

Blogging live from the Westin-St. Francis Hotel near Union Square, sight of the All-Star media activities, and gonna keep it quick this morning, because media duties will soon call.

— Great choice by AL manager Jim Leyland to start the A’s Dan Haren in the All-Star Game. I know there was some sentiment for Vallejo’s C.C. Sabathia, but the majority of Bay Area baseball fans care about their teams, not invididuals from their area. Haren has been the AL’s most consistent starting pitcher this season, and he also lives year ’round in Walnut Creek. Last I checked, that’s a lot closer to San Francisco than Vallejo.

— Interestingly enough, the last A’s pitcher to start an All-Star Game was Mark Mulder in 2004 at Houston. Funny how Haren has become everything Mulder was supposed to be, and Mulder’s career is in limbo pending how effective he is upon his return from shoulder surgery.

— The AL showered Mulder with six runs in the firset inning of his start. Haren won’t get the same. Not with San Diego’s Jake Peavy throwing his darts at the AL. With all the news over Haren starting, Jake Peavy might’ve had the most peaceful morning an All-Star starter has ever had. He won’t make things peaceful for the AL hitters. I can guarantee you that.

— Barry Bonds hitting second in manager Tony La Russa’s National League lineup was the subject of much news. But does it really matter where a guy hits in an All-Star Game? I mean, Willie Mays once hit leadoff.

— Eavesdropped on a portion of Barry Bonds’ press conference, and he is nothing if not entertaining. Talked to and observed several of the press confererences between the NL players and media, and save for perhaps Ken Griffey Jr., none had the give-and-take that the Bonds one had.

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Barry and the Derby

My phone rang early this morning, and when I answered it, my longtime Giants-fantatic buddy Buzz was on the other end.

“Is this guy really that stupid?!” he asked me, referring to you-know-who.
And my answer to that is simply this:

Barry Bonds is not stupid. He just doesn’t care. Never has, never will.

The outcry stems from Bonds’ decision not to participate in the Home Run Derby. And while I can understand reactions like my buddy’s, I can’t help but wonder why anybody is the least bit surprised.

You see for Bonds, the game has never been about romance. Remember, this is a guy who was schooled by his father, Bobby, and Willie Mays. And lord knows how bitter those two must’ve been at times during their careers. I’m sure each felt unappreciated, underpaid, etc., and no doubt that rubbed off on Barry and taught him that players really don’t owe the game anything.

The reality, of course, is that they do. Baseball has afforded Bonds the opportunity to live a life of privilege and leisure that few of us can imagine. If he really got it, or if he had advisors who told him what he needed to be told rather than what he wants to hear, Bonds would say thanks to the organization that has over-indulged him and, more important, to the fans whose last-second ballot push got Bonds into the starting lineup in the All-Star Game.

Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan said as much this morning, expressing his disappointment in Bonds’ decision during a KNBR interview. Too bad Magown doesn’t have any guts. If he did, he’d tell Bonds to participate or pack his bags.

As my friend said, this would have been the perfect cherry on top for his 15 years in San Francisco. It’s the only city that has supported him through the sordid steroids mess. Showing his appreciation by putting a few in the drink would’ve been an extremely small gesture of appreciation. If he was so worried about the physical toll, then bow out after one round. Bonds is certainly gifted enough to “miss” enough pitches to do that.

Instead, he’s thumbing his nose again. He’s done it, oh, probably his entire life, so it’s anything but surprising. Makes me wonder if he’ll get booed when he’s introduced on Tuesday. If San Franciscans have any guts, that’s what they’ll do. That would be the perfect cherry on top.

Not that Bonds will care. He never has, never will.

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Baseball on the 4th of July

This probably won’t come as any great shock, but the A’s and the Giants might as well forget about winning the World Series this season. If the standings on the Fourth of July tell us anything, it’s that.

Used to be that the standings on the Fourth were quite telling. Where your team was on America’s birthday, the pundits always said, was a pretty good indicator of where they’d be come October.

Of course, that was long before there were six divisions and one wild-card. Still, I was a little curious to find out if the 4th is as much an indicator as it was once said to be. So I looked up the standings of the 4th for each of the 12 seasons (1995-2006) baseball’s divisions have been in their current forma (I discounted 1994 because of the strike that canceled the season).

In doing so, I found that 62 of the 99 teams either in or tied for first place or in a wild-card spot on the Fourth of July made the playoffs. The World Series champion was not among them four times, but the biggest deficit overcome to get to the playoffs by an eventual champ was five games by the 2003 Florida Marlins.

That’s not great news for the locals. The A’s were five games out entering play and facing a six-game deficit, thanks to a horrible outing by Joe Kennedy. The Giants, on the other hand, were 11 1/2 games out.

In other words, it will another parade-less October in the Bay Area. Count on it. And to look at my tallies, proceed into the “expanded entry” area of this blog.

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Bonds’ All-Star rally

Hate to drop a stink bomb into the love fest that has been the selection of Barry Bonds to start in the All-Star Game, but am I the only one struck by how convenient it was for him to earn 1 million votes in the final week of balloting and make up 242,000-plus votes on the Cubs’ Alfonso Soriano?

Now first let me say that I endorse Bonds as an NL starter. You can easily argue that he’s had one of the three best seasons for an NL outfielder — only Colorado’s Matt Holliday and Cincinnati’s Ken Griffey Jr. have been significantly better, and Griffey plays half his games in a band box — so good for him. Say what you will about the guy — and I’ve been a pretty harsh critic through the years — but he still belongs among the stars, not only for what he’s doing this season, but for what he’s done in his career.

But it just seems more than a little coincidental that the “Vote Bonds” campaign put on by the Giants was this effective. I mean, you’re dealing with a society that won’t get off its couch to find a remote control, so the thought of everybody coming together nationwide with such notice to vote in the man they love to hate seems, well, fishy.

Let’s just suppose Bonds didn’t win the vote. You think for one minute that MLB couldn’t manipulate the final totals if they had the whim? I mean, Bud Selig is no great fan of Bonds, obviously, but even he recognizes good business, and having arguably the greatest player in the history of the Giants’ franchise (Bonds and Willie Mays run neck-and-neck) on his home field for the Midsummer Classic constitutes good business.

Anyway, just wanted to see if anybody else had the same conspiritorial thoughts I did when I heard the news.

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My All-Star team

The All-Star ballots will be tallied this afternoon and the subs will be announced. In that spirit, I decided to pick a 25-man MLB All-Star Roster.

A few disclaimers: 1) Every team does not need to be represented. 2) The results are based strictly on this year’s performance 3) The DH is included, because I want as much offense as possible, and the DH can come from either league 4) Outfielders must play the positions they’ve played most this season. 5) I’ll carry 12 pitchers.

Here goes:

STARTING LINEUP
CF —Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners (A hitting machine)
SS — Derek Jeter, Yankees (For his stature, leadership)
LF — Matt Holliday, Rockies (.332, 31 HR, 119 RBI since 2006 break)
RF — Vladimir Guerrero, Angels (Most intimidating hitter in game)
1B — Prince Fielder, Brewers (Adds 27 HR’s, balances lineup)
3B — Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (Big-game resume not great)
DH — Magglio Ordonez, Tigers (AL MVP favorite)
2B — Chase Utley, Phillies (Flat-out stud)
C — Russell Martin, Dodgers (All-around ability sets him apart)

BENCH
C — Victor Martinez, Indians (All bat, no glove, but so what)
1B — Albert Pujols, Cardinals (He’ll be .330, 35, 100 by time ’07 is over)
INF — Carlos Guillen, Tigers (Switch-hitter, could play anywhere in INF)
INF — Jimmy Rollins, Phillies (Same qualities as Guillen)
OF — Barry Bonds, Giants (He could also DH)

ROTATION
RHP — Dan Haren, A’s (A sub-1.00 ERA in AL is filthy)
LHP — Johan Santana, Twins (Haren’s split followed by Santana’s change)
RHP — Jake Peavy, Padres (NL Cy Young winner if season ends today)
LHP — C.C. Sabathia, Indians (I want two lefties in my rotation)
RHP — Josh Beckett, Red Sox (Could be All-Star Game starter)

BULLPEN
RHP Swingman — Brad Penny, Dodgers (Need a guy to replace Beckett when blister troubles hit)
RHP Long — Chris Young, Padres (At 6-10, he is long)
LHP Long — Tom Gorzelanny, Pirates (Very good numbers in band box)
RHP Setup — Heath Bell, Padres (42 runners allowed in 48 1/3 innings)
LHP Setup — Hideki Okajima, Red Sox (4 runs allowed in 39 innings)
RHP Closer — J.J. Putz, Mariners (Not too soon to declare him game’s best)

I’ll take my shot with that club.