Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giant left fielder, future home run king and, despite the steroid controversy that swirls around him, a Hall of Fame lock, broke out of his deep 0-21 slump Thursday by hitting two home runs—career numbers 752 and 753
But Bonds' aging Giant teammates still can't do anything right. The weekend after the All-Star Game, the Giants were swept by their hated rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and then lost three of four games to the Chicago Cubs. The Giants are solidly in last place with little hope of escaping
Watching Bonds and the Giants can be painful. Bonds will pass Hank Aaron's career home run total sooner rather than later. But his record will be kind of like hoofing it from Lodi to Seattle. If I were to start my journey today, I'd get there eventually. But it would hardly be stirring.
The Giants are going nowhere in the Western divisional race. Their mounting losses are boring.
Since Bonds gets so many intentional bases on balls in key game situations, I would like to offer a suggestion that might make watching the Giants—and Bonds' at bats—much more exciting.
When Bonds is about to get an intentional walk—which he knows is coming when he sees the opposing manager hold up four fingers—he should swing at the first two pitches.
The count then would be 0-2. Now what will the opposing manager do? Will he still be afraid to pitch to Bonds even though the count is well in his pitcher's favor?
And for Bonds a 0-2 count would mean the next pitches should be in the strike zone. Good pitches mean more home runs for Bonds.
If Bonds, or any other slugger, waves at the first two pitches, a moment of truth would be created that would immediately catch the fans fancy.
Nothing in sports bores fans more than an intentional walk. By comparison, football's fourth down punt is thrilling. At least during a punt, several things can happen that might turn the game around: a bad snap from center; a muffed catch by the punter; a blocked kick; or a roughing the kicker penalty that means lost yardage and a first down for the kicking team.
As could be expected with a hitter who generates so much fear among pitchers, Bonds was involved in a unique situation regarding the intentional bases on balls strategy.
On May 28, 1998, Arizona Diamondback manager Buck Showalter ordered Bonds walked in the top of the ninth inning even though the bases were loaded. With the Diamondbacks clinging to an 8-6 lead, the walk narrowed the margin to 8-7 with the bases still loaded.
Luckily for Showalter, the Diamondbacks held on.
Bonds, a home run threat every time he steps to the plate, holds every record for intentional walks. In 2004, Bonds once received four intentional passes in a nine-inning game, and 120 during the season.
In his career, Bonds as of July 19th has been walked an all-time high 2,615 times. Bonds averages about 500 at bats per season.
Stated another way, pitchers have walked Bonds the equivalent of five years worth of at bats.
No baseball fan can discuss Bonds without speculating how history will judge him. Is Bonds a surly, steroid-abusing player who doesn't deserve the Hall of Fame? Or is he one of the greatest players ever to don a uniform?
Here's how Bill James, baseball's keenest mind, sees it. In his Historical Baseball Abstract, James ranks Bonds as the game's third-best all-around left fielder behind Ted Williams and Stan Musial, and its best fielder.
Bonds is, concluded James, baseball's "most unappreciated superstar."
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.