The Good and Bad of Barry

Last weekend, I hit a Dodgers-Giants game in S.F. and took in SBC Park (I had to stop myself from typing "Pac Bell") for the first time. I gotta say, with all due respect to my all time favorite (and soon to be demolished, which is killing me), the place I call Busch Stadium… Dude, this may be the best place in America to see a game!!! Right smack dab in the heart of the city. Water behind you. Great sightlines. Big frickin’ glove in center. Awesome energy. (The Braves have dominated the East since the first Clinton Administration, and their crowd doesn’t have half the spirit of a bunch of fans watching their team battle it out to finish sub .500) All they gotta do is lower the food and beer prices a smidge ($6.75 will only get you the basic cable nachos), and it’s basically beyond criticism.

            We also got to watch Barry’s first homer this season since getting off the gimp list. Say what you wanna say about the guy (I have before, and will continue to do so, most likely in the next paragraph), but seeing him jack one into center (#704) right in front of your eyes is an amazing sight. I was there with a bunch of friends, a couple who are die hard Dodger fans, and even they were up on their feet, high fiving folks in orange and black hats. The smiles forming across their faces- once their jaws rose from the ground- said everything they’d never come out and admit: They were dying to see Barry go long. Even while playing against their beloved Blue, currently battling (I use the term very loosely) for a spot in the playoffs. The sight of this once in a lifetime player (Even if you think he juiced- as I, for one, do- here’s the thing. You could juice the rest of baseball’s past, present and future, and 99.999% of them still couldn’t create his resume) is so awesome to behold, it brings kidlike excitement to those whose sole purpose for attending is to heckle him. He’s just that good. He’s the kind of player people will tell their grandkids about having watched, and the joy it brought to their lives. Even the most casual baseball fans appreciate this greatness.

            Which says a lot about how big a $@^& this guy is, when you factor how despised he is anywhere outside of a 415 area code. Not disliked. Despised. Of course, if you take his media berating sessions seriously, which I don’t, he’s just a guy who plays the game and is getting taken down by a bloodthirsty press. He’s actually a terrific teammate. He’s really a good dude. Why doesn’t anyone understand this? Well, Barry, if you’re Jonesing for an image makeover, I might start with your clubhouse persona. I’ve been in various locker rooms for different sports throughout many parts of the country. I’ve been around some big time superstars. And I can honestly say, I’ve never seen anything as ridiculous and off putting as Barry Bonds’ set up and demeanor. He basically has his own VIP lounge off in a corner of the clubhouse, as far away from the rest of the guys as possible. He has two lockers. A big, cushy velvet chair, lest his precious *** get damaged by the standard folding chairs the other shlubs roll with. A private TV, larger than any of the ones stationed around the clubhouse for his peons- my bad, teammates- to share. Plus an understanding that unless you’re part of the circle of reporters he accepts (During my visit, there were two), don’t dare come near. Granted, I had nothing to really ask the guy, other than genuinely wanting to know how he and his dad ended up playing golf against Steve and Rush Sanders in that episode of 90210 (You think I’m kidding, but I’m not), but that’s beside the point. Nobody else in professional sports sequesters themselves off like this. It’s like entering Camp David. I wonder how many guys on the roster he can actually identify by first and last names. I’m setting the over-under at 12.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve never been in the position to have my butt kissed in such a blatant manner. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been remotely as good at anything as Bonds is at baseball, even on a day when he goes 0-4 and commits an error. Walk a mile in another man’s shoes, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. But I could never look my teammates in the eye if I paraded myself around like this. Bonds likes to play the “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” card, but he blatantly displays an attitude of “You’re s%*t compared to me.” And that’s his prerogative, I suppose.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s not earth shattering. But while that may not make you Satan, it doesn’t exactly make you a sacrificial lamb, either.

                

One Man Gang?

136 games in, and we may get a slice of what the NL West could have been like this season.

Word on the street is that Barry Bonds, who’s been working in a little BP, may be activated from the DL, possibly as early as any day now.  Bonds, of course, has yet to take a swing this season, missing out on what has been a humdinger of a race to win the NL West by default. And without anyone really noticing (myself included), the Giants are suddenly only 5 games behind the Padres, who are rolling along at a blistering .500 pace. With this literally being anybody’s division (mostly in the sense of, who’d go out of their way to claim it?), all of a sudden, the Giants, after spending most of the season as nondescript as possible, could be heading for the playoffs.

And if it happens, it would be hard to imagine Barry not being the guy who got them over the hump.

This is a rare chance to see how valuable a guy truly is. When you can see the before and after effects he has with his team. Pujols, for example, could easily get my vote for MVP this season (if for no other that my brother Brian – bk.mlblogs.com – would kill me if I didn’t). But we never got a real chance to see the shambles the Cards might have been without him. We can speculate that they might have been lousy without their best player. Or maybe think, “Well, the team’s deep, so they’d be good, but not great.” Heck, maybe someone might theorize that the rest of the team would pull together, So Taguchi would play outta his skull and Carpenter would do the rest, therefore the team would be even better without Albert. It’s an absolutely asinine argument, but somebody would spout it. We’d only know for sure, though, the effects of Pujols’ absence if he wasn’t around, and this is what we’ve witnessed all season with Bonds.

Granted, it’s a murky proposition, considering the Giants would have only been so good even if he played all season. They’re not an incredible team either way. But with Bonds around, they may have stood head and shoulders above the rest of the West (Hey, small achievements still count). And if they suddenly become a respectable team, even reasonably competitive, it doesn’t Magnum P.I. to solve the mystery of the improbably playoff bound Giants.

You may not like the guy. Get in line. Frankly, nobody likes the guy. And the Balco stuff will hang over the rest of his legacy. The words “Barry” and “juice” are connected like PB and J. But there ain’t a guy mixed up in any of this mess, Raffy, Giambi, Sosa, maybe even Big Mac, that’s mentioned so often as having the ability to deliver a win on his own. It’s a seriously impressive achievement, when you consider how few, if any, opportunities there are to take over a baseball game. People believe he can do it. Regularly. And if he does it fresh off a rehab stint, he’ll be accomplishing more at 70% than 99% of the league could dream about at 170%. 

THINGS THAT FEEL LESS FUTILE TO ROGER CLEMENS THAN TRYING TO INCREASE HIS WIN RECORD

Trying to cram his entire body inside a pint glass.

Betting the Royals money line.

Attempting to find the inner meaning behind “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Explaining to Steinbrenner that names don’t guarantee titles.

Going out for a night on the town with Wells and Giambi and swearing he won’t end up consuming alcohol or getting a lap dance.

Trying to start a new Expos franchise from scratch.

Uttering the phrase, “Chan Ho’s got this one in the bag” with a straight face.

Trying to team up Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent for a duet of “Ebony and Ivory.”

Believing Raffy if he said he had chicken for dinner the other night.

Trying to follow what the #%$& was going on during R.Kelly’s performance at the MTV VMA’s.

Attempting a full fifteen minute cell phone conversation without the signal getting dropped once.

Ordering a “Decaf White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino light blended coffee, extra whipped cream,” without feeling entirely girly.

Coaxing a smile outta Barry.

Finding an area of the strike zone that Vladdy can’t hit.

Coming up with three good Demi Moore performances.

Getting Mike Martz to just call a run up the middle on 3rd on 1. 

Convincing himself Kerry Wood really, truly, absolutely is back from injury this time.

Trying to spread Devil Ray fever.

Kids! Play Nice!

Guess Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent won’t be signing up as a doubles team for the Dodgers off-season tennis tourney (This competition doesn’t actually exist. I invented it for the sake of making a metaphorical point). Depending who you believe, Kent is an alienating loner who has a problem with black people, or Bradley will play the race card the minute anyone says anything negative about him, someone dares criticize his performance, or simply because the opportunity presents itself (Bradley himself said, “Me being African American is the most important thing in my life – more important than baseball,” a statement which, depending on how he applies that mindset, doesn’t bother me. It’s his right. And don’t give me the “As a baseball player, baseball should be his first priority” speech. We pick on athletes all time- Bonds, for example- when they claim to only care about their sport, calling them selfish and isolated, with priorities out of whack. Here’s a guy with an interest and conscious outside the game, and everyone will say he’s unfocused. That’s ridiculous. Whether Bradley’s applying his racial awareness in a rational manner is debatable, but don’t muck it into an entirely separate issue.)

            It’s hard to know which guy’s seeing the conflict through the most objective set of eyes. Kent’s told people to talk with Dusty Baker, Dave Winfield, and Joe Carter, among others, as proof that skin doesn’t matter to him. (I did hear one ***** counter that with, “I don’t hear him asking you to talk to Bonds,” an argument that barely qualifies as a flip side, considering you won’t find a guy in Major League Baseball who’d claim to have chummed up with Bonds.) But the fact remains Kent’s spent his career with a rep as a locker room downer. If Bradley’s not digging Kent’s vibe, he certainly wouldn’t be the first. This has nothing to do with whether Kent’s actually prejudice or not, but it could have something to do with whether the guy’s riding Bradley as if he were.

            On the other hand, when hasn’t Milton Bradley had a problem with somebody or something? The dude isn’t even a year removed from a bottle-throwing incident that landed him into anger management therapy. Combine that with a self described hyper-sensitivity towards racial issues, and misinterpretations are a given. Bradley’s made real strides this year, according to everyone around him, and even the L.A. media, who always look for a chance to pounce. But he still doesn’t understand the value of putting his emotions in check, at least momentarily, until he can bring it in up in private to Tracy, DePodesta, or whomever he deems the best option, as opposed to a bunch of reporters, where the odds of good results are small at best. (It mystifies me how athletes never seem to get that. The media is a horribly destructive sounding board for their problems. Although, if they did get it, I might not have a gig, so I guess I’m thankful.)

The whole thing seems pretty silly, and it’s a little odd that nobody’s told them to shut their yaps or get fined. I would imagine the truth lies somewhere between Jeff Kent making Russell Crowe look sunny and Milton Bradley being more sensitive than a six-year old girl. Honestly, the real problem lies with whichever ***** determined putting these two on the same team as supposed co-leaders was a recipe for success. That’s a decision that makes Knicks rosters look well thought out by comparison.

On the plus side, this feud is pretty entertaining.  And it’s really about the only thing that could make The Dodgers remotely exciting right now, aside from their middling battle to finish first in an absurdly weak division. Even a lame soap opera is better than watching static.

Man, Are These Cats Losing!

On July 21, I posted an entry about opening up the paper and really noticing for the first time that the Royals were 28½ games back. (http://ak.mlblogs.com/my_weblog/2005/07/28_games.html)

I’m not quite sure how this flew under my radar (outside of possibly having forgotten the Royals were still in the majors), but it blew my mind that a team could be so far out, and wondered more how a team wouldn’t simply lose hope altogether. Whether it was even possible to salvage a little pride, throw on that blue cap, and say, “%$@* it! We’re still a baseball team, and we’re going out there and taking it to these guys!” At 28 ½ games out, I called B.S. and said, “Can’t be done.” Well, what a difference a month can make.

These guys would now kill to be 28½ games out.

Currently in the middle of an 18 game losing streak, a franchise record, which began on July 28th against the D-Rays (talk about adding Everclear to a gaping wound), the team’s currently 0 for August, with the high point coming on the 12th and 13th, when their games against Detroit were postponed. And let’s be honest, Day-Twah would have smoked them, more than likely, certainly if you’re a guy who plays the odds. At a now staggering 36½ games behind the Chi-Sox, the rest of the season couldn’t come quick enough.

Before, I wondered how these guys dealt with the psychology of knowing you’re showing up to play a bunch of meaningless games to help a meaningless team finish out a meaningless season. What I wonder now is, how do these guys even find the motivation to show up at all? Seriously. Why would you? What’s the brass gonna do? Suspend you? Now I’m being told not to show up. Bonus! Yeah, yeah, you’d be losing some dough while you’re suspended, but you’ve already played two thirds of the season. The majority of your salary’s already banked by now. These guys lose more in a Vegas weekend than they’d forfeit pulling a T.O. for the rest of the season. I’d be like, “Bill me, dude. I’m outta here”

But this mindset, while totally understandable, wouldn’t be good for the team, the fans (both of them) and baseball’s image. Despite all obstacles, the show must go on, as they say. But let’s make it as pleasant a stay in purgatory as possible. Thus, I’m offering the following suggestions to help the men of K.C. ride out the rest of their sentence before getting paroled into the off-season.

1) Team tequila shots after every run given up. Granted, blackouts, vomiting, alcohol poisoning and dugout blackouts could increase, but I’m not sure how much that would affect the on-field performances.

2) Everyone starts switching positions each game. Ever wanted to pitch? Now’s your chance?

3) Casual Friday. Losing’s fun in a Hawaiian shirt!

4) If the game’s against Tampa Bay, Texas, Seattle, or anyone else that doesn’t really need to play either, just trade off conceding losses during the series, then bust out a game of kickball. At 6’10”, 270, Andrew Sisco’s a big boy. Guarantee he could knock the snot outta that red ball.

5) Open mic sessions. The players are frustrated. Let them vent a little by doing their variation of “The Aristocrats” before each plate appearance. It would certainly be more entertaining than the actual game.

6) Forfeit the game, then just do a game tape screening of an actual 2005 win for the crowd. Granted, they’ll have to air some reruns, but it still beats the alternative.

7) Play more “Kool and the Gang” during games. How can you stay depressed during that?

8) The Team Mom needs to kick it into overdrive. Orange slices. Brownies. Rice Krispie treats. Fruit Rollups. Coca-Cola by the bushel. In between each inning and after the game. If they can’t play well, they might as well have the best snacks in baseball.

And these are just for starters. If anyone else has any ideas, feel free to add a comment. They could certainly use all the help they can get.

It’s Time To Grandstand Again

            Thanks a lot, Raffy. Not only did your positive test help give Jose Canseco credibility as more than just a C-List reality TV star, but you’re sparking congress to start up that showboating thing they do so well, sticking their faces in front of the lens in the name of saving baseball.  "At this point I think [the chances are] getting better and better because of baseball’s inability to police their own players," Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said Saturday on the ESPN program "Outside the Lines."

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2127848

            With all due respect, Mr. McHenry, taking into account your years of faithful service and undoubtedly vastly superior knowledge of public policies and lawmaking… What are you talking about? Isn’t the fact that 2 players were caught in 24 hours proof positive that, in reality, baseball’s doing quite well policing its players? Two juicers. 24 hours. That’s pretty freakin’ good. The effectiveness of the policing should be judged on the merits of its ability to snare, not scare. If cops are catching criminals, that’s effective policing of said area. Whether folks continue to commit crimes knowing their criminal colleagues are getting caught is perhaps a matter of ineffective sentences, lax courts, or just simple indifference towards the consequences. But the policing was there, in any event. It’s the very definition of the word itself.

What Mr. McHenry, and all his TV-starved, opportunistic cronies need to realize, assuming they’re actually concerned about this problem and not just using campaigning (I know, I know, but humor me, for the sake of this blog), is that these players are grown men. You can warn them about the consequences. You can outline each banned substance, every ingredients, every questionable product. They can see with their own eyes that punishment suffered will be a public, humiliating one. And guess what? They may decide to shove a needle in their butt, anyway. In the end, they’re going to weigh the pros of enhanced performance vs. the cons of getting caught, and make a choice. They’re going to ask themselves if they’re smart enough to outwit a testing program, if they have enough buddies who’ll loan them a cup of urine, if enough people in their life and locker room are willing to look the other way.

And they’ll make a choice.

And that choice isn’t going to be affected one way or the other because a rep from NC (who, by the way, should be more concerned about policing his home state, considering only 3 years ago, **** and murder were on the rise in Tar Heel country. http://www.wral.com/news/2295840/detail.html) is on the warpath. I don’t remember March hearings in their entirety, so I don’t recall if this cat got his “allotted” camera time or not, but forgive me if I doubt the sincerity of his concern.   

I’m not saying the steroid situation isn’t a problem. I think it’s cheating, plain and simple, it’s bad for the game, and those indulging should be summarily punished. But let’s give MLB and Selig (who’s pushing for harder sentences as it is) at least a couple seasons to handle things in house before turning this into another C-Span sweeps week ratings stunt. Most of us don’t want the government in our living room. The idea of them on our diamond doesn’t sound much more appetizing.

This Just In…

Manny’s weird.

No. Seriously. He is.

Apparently, he and Francona just met the press together, practically sitting in each other’s laps, with Millar "translating" Ramirez for reporters.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2120933

Is it just me, or does Millar seem to be steadily steering himself towards an SNL tryout after his career ends? Or some form of acting career? I wouldn’t be shocked to see him on "Last Comic Standing" during the off season (assuming the show’s still even on the air. I’ve never actually seen it).

But anyway, I don’t know why the Sox even entertained moving Manny. Unless this stuff is, behind the scenes, much more disruptive and cancerous than outward appearances let on, why even blink? Every few months, like clockwork, Manny’s unhappy. He asks for a trade. He stays in Boston. And before you know it, he’s back to shaking his dreadlocks and smiling that slightly demented grin. And in the meantime, he never stops knocking in runs. So what’s the problem? Unless they really want his salary off the books, or again, it’s much more distracting than it seems, let the guy vent.

"That’s just _____ being ______" has become one of the most overused, clichéd and ridiculous statements in sports when it comes to managers, agents and owners excusing star players’ behavior. And I hate it as much as the next guy. I’m always thinking, "Yeah, it is _____ being ______. It also just so happens that _______ is a &*%$." And who knows, maybe Manny is a &*%$. I really don’t know. I’ve never met him before, and don’t know a ton about him, outside of bizarre statements.

But in Manny’s case, he’s become a parody of himself when it comes to expressing his "unhappiness." When it happens this often, this regularly, and so randomly inspired, it’s essentially like dealing with a toddler’s displeasure. You simply let the kid tucker himself out throwing a tantrum, and before you know it, he’ll be watching Spongebob on TV, happy as a clam. Manny’s just a rather wealthy three year old with one heck of a swing. Treat him as such, and in two weeks, it’ll be like this never happened.

Until it happens again.  But really, who cares?