Friday, September 28, 2007

Barry the Giants – Tossing out the bathwater

The San Francisco Giants bid farewell to Barry Bonds Wednesday night. The Giants will finish their 2007 this weekend at Dodger Stadium, but Barry won’t be making the trip to Chavez Ravine. One of the more interesting relationships between a sports organization and an athlete, ended with a long fly ball hit in the six inning Wednesday night at San Francisco’s AT&T Park – the house that Barry Built..

It isn’t an understatement to suggest Pacific Bell Park (Pac Bell Park) was built directly as a result of Bonds signing with the Giants as a free agent in 1993. And calling it “as it is” – the Giants might have left their hearts in San Francisco if it wasn’t for Barry.

With the Giants poised to be sold to Tampa Bay interests in 1993, Peter Magowan led a group of 20 investors who paid $100 million for the Giants from Bob Lurie. The Giants sold 1.8 million tickets in 1992. A year later the Giants attendance increased by close to 40 percent to 2.6 million, something Magowan noted in an interview with The Sporting News following the 1993 season, along with how his purchase of the Giants and the organization signing Barry Bonds were directly tied together.

“Last year we sold 1.8 million tickets. This year we sold 2.6 million. First, there was a honeymoon period (because) baseball was still here; people were thankful and wanted to show their support. Second, there was a lot of excitement generated by the signing of Barry Bonds. Third, there was a lot of curiosity about the changes that we made to the marketing of Candlestick Park. Fourth was the conversion to day baseball: We draw much better in the day than we do at night. And fifth, and certainly very important, was the success we had on the field.

“I remember when we signed Bonds and the next day in Louisville the previous ownership (Bob Lurie) did not want to sign him. We had to somehow find a way to promise Bonds that he would get the $43 million that we had agreed to pay him and promise Lurie that in the unlikely event that he ended up with the team back, he would not end up with that contract. It meant going back to all the partners and saying: "If Lurie ends up with the team, and the agent ends up with Bonds, the agent will try to peddle Bonds to one of the other 27 teams. Any monies short of $43 million over that six-year period, we will have to make up the difference - even though we have no ownership interests." That was the way it got done.”

In the 15 years Barry Bonds was a member of the San Francisco Giants Peter Magowan paid Bonds close to $197 million, twice what he paid to buy the Giants. Bonds was the highest paid player in the National League in five of those 15 seasons, including $22 million in 2005.

When PacBell Park (the stadium’s first corporate name) opened on March 31, 2000, the ballpark was the first Major League park built without public funds since the completion of Dodger Stadium in 1962. However, the Giants did receive a $10 million tax abatement from the city and $80 million for upgrades to the local infrastructure (including a connection to the Muni Metro). The Giants have a 66-year lease on the 12.5-acre ballpark site, paying $1.2 million in rent annually to the San Francisco Port Commission.

The Giants have played at or near AT&T’s Park seating capacity since the ballpark opened eight years ago, selling more than 95 percent of the stadium’s available tickets. The Giants won the National League pennant in 2002 coming within five outs of wining the World Series. Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001 (the single season record) and hit home run number 756 at AT&T Park on August 7, 2007. As is the case with many relationships this one didn’t quite end the way it started; the two sides going their own separate ways destined to never speak to each other again.

“I don't have nor do I want any ill feelings towards the organization,'' the 43-year-old Bonds said, adding that he plans on continuing his playing career. ``I just wish I had known sooner so we had more time to say our goodbyes and celebrate the best 15 years of my life.”

“There comes a time you have to move, I think, in a different direction,” Giants managing director Peter Magowan said. “I do believe he is the greatest player of his generation, one of the greatest players of all time and it was a big advantage to have a player of that caliber in a Giants uniform over these last 15 years.”

How bad a break-up is this going to be? After missing most of the Giants games over the last two weeks (his big toe hurt) Bonds was the starting left-fielder and hit clean-up in the Giants home finale Wednesday night. Bonds last appearance in a San Francisco Giants uniform was an at bat in the sixth inning against the San Diego Padres Jake Peavy (Bonds flew out to deep to right-center). A tip of his cap to the sold out crowd, a few comments to interested media members, Barry Bonds left AT&T Park for the last time as a Giant long before the Giants – Padres game ended.

Ponder that thought for a moment. Barry Bonds played for the San Francisco Giants for 15 years and that relationship ended with Barry not even bothering to wait until his teams game had ended. The Giants end their 2007 season in Los Angeles with three games against the Dodgers this weekend but Barry has already told the Giants he won’t be playing in any of the games. A better question – will Barry even bother making the trip to Lotus Land this weekend?

The undoing of the relationship between Barry and the Giants began with the release of Game of Shadows in March 2006 (some might argue it really began the day the Giants signed Barry, but for argument sake we’ll point to the releasing of Game of Shadows).

Published on March 23, 2006 the book written by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle focused on the use of performance enhancing drugs, particularly allegations based on leaked Grand Jury testimony that Bonds had used steroids and other banned drugs.

The book remains among the most damaging accounts of reported steroid use by Bonds. According to the authors, Bonds began using stanozolol, the same drug for which Ben Johnson tested positive after winning the 100 meters at the 1988 Summer Olympics, starting in the 1999 season. By 2001, the year Bonds broke Mark McGwire's single-season home run record with 73, he was alleged to be using the following performance-enhancers:

"The cream and the clear," two alleged designer steroids distributed by BALCO (Victor Conte), and this laundry list of performance enhancers:

Human growth hormone allegedly sold on the black market by cancer patients to whom it was legitimately prescribed
Insulin, which reportedly enhances the bodybuilding effects of growth hormone
Testosterone decanoate, a steroid often nicknamed "Mexican beans" or "Red beans"
Trenbolone, a steroid typically used in livestock, especially cattle
Stanozolol, sold under the brand name Winstrol

According to the book, Bonds was inspired to use steroids after watching McGwire's 1998 home run record chase with Sammy Sosa. He began working with Greg Anderson, who would later be hired by the Giants. Anderson reportedly received the substances from BALCO.

Anderson also kept meticulous records of Bonds' program; the authors report that Anderson's records indicate that Bonds took up to 20 pills a day and learned to inject himself. The book also claimed that the Giants chose not to confront Bonds about his change in physical appearance, fearing that they would alienate their star slugger, or worse from the team's standpoint, create a drug scandal immediately before the opening of their new stadium. And let’s remember Peter Magowan’s bankers owned a $300 million mortgage on PacBell Park.

Bonds sued the authors and publisher of the book over its use of grand jury documents and tried to block the publishers and authors from profiting from such documents.

On March 24, Judge James Warren denied the request, citing free speech protections for the authors and that the lawsuit had little chance for success. On June 12, 2006, Barry Bonds dropped his lawsuit against the authors. Michael Rains, Bonds’ attorney, stated that he dropped the lawsuit because the authors had been subpoenaed to be part of an investigation into who leaked the secret grand jury transcripts, which is what Bonds wanted all along.

Baseball did react to Game of Shadows – announcing the Mitchell Commission that continues to look into the use of performance enhancement drugs in baseball. Senator Mitchell is expected to release the findings of his two-year study sometime during the off-season.

Over the last two baseball seasons the media’s full frontal assault on Barry Bonds has at times been never-ending. Just before the 2006 Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 11 – the New York Daily News initially reported before month’s end Bonds would be indicted by a federal grand jury currently in session at the Philip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco. The report suggested the indictment will be announced on a Thursday. 14 months later, tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money spent, several Grand Jury’s later – nothing has changed in regard to Barry Bonds being indicted.

More often than not Barry has been his own worst enemy in dealing with the media, and a great example of Bonds hate/hate relationship with the media took place after Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling appeared on Bob Costas’ HBO program.

Schilling as he had been earlier this year was critical of Barry Bonds and other baseball players tainted with allegations of performance-enhancing drugs, Bonds choose to direct negative comments at Costas, not at Schilling. Bonds referred to Costas as “a midget who knows nothing about baseball”. Bob Costas remains one of the most respected sports journalists in the industry, respected for his love of baseball. What makes Bob Costas so successful is his overall knowledge of sports and his balanced opinions. There was no rationale for Barry Bonds’ disparaging comments about Bob Costas, other than to serve as an opportunity for Costas to offer Costas a platform to offer his opinions on Costas – in of all places on CNN’s The Situation Room Friday night with Wolf Blitzer.

And as Blitzer had been promoting throughout Friday night’s program – Costas is certain Bonds has used steroids during his baseball career.

“Absolutely. There is no conclusion other than that, that any reasonable person could possibly reach. If you gave him the benefit of every doubt, there is no longer any doubt to give him the benefit of. Absolutely he did.”

That said – there is no proof Barry Bonds has used performance-enhancing drugs even though there is no reason whatsoever to not believe what Bob Costas believes.

“He has passed every possible test; baseball had no significant tests until 2003. And then they upped it in subsequent years. Most of the juicing that Barry Bonds did, which is specifically incredibly detailed in the book "Game of Shadows," took place prior to that, as did his greatest seasons.

“And he maintained some of the benefit into 2003 and 2004. So the fact that he took and passed tests later in his career, tests which still have holes in them, and there are no tests for HGH, and other possible designer steroids, proves very little.”

All great points made by Costas but it’s likely given the financial incentives attached to excellence on a baseball diamond – salaries linked to home run production, what Costas fails to point out the strong likelihood throughout baseball’s steroid era hundreds of major leaguers likely used performance enhancing drugs on a regular basis. If anyone is prepared to give Bob Costas the benefit of the doubt concerning the allegations directed at Barry Bonds it’s just as reasonable to believe at least half of Major League Baseball players used performance-enhancing drugs during baseball’s steroid era. Is it possible (all-right [probable]) Barry Bonds was a better baseball player than the others who allegedly used steroids and enjoyed greater benefits as a result?

“Because other players who are not as great and did not accomplish as much as Barry Bonds were also users. And I don't know how many of the home runs exactly could be discounted. But I think there's a figurative asterisk in the minds of knowledgeable and fair- minded baseball fans.

“Barry Bonds was, through the late '90s, a great, great player. Should have been a first ballot hall-of-famer. I would still vote for him if I had a vote -- broadcasters don't. It's only baseball writers. I would still vote for him because before there was any credible evidence that he used performance-enhancing drugs, he was a truly great player.

“But he went from a great player to a super human player. When you take a look at his statistics, and I'm not going to bore you with all the numbers, but he was a lifetime .290 hitter who had higher than .312 once in his career. At the age of 38, he then hit .370, he hit .340 and over.360 in the next two seasons. He had a lifetime slugging percentage, which is basically a combination of power and average, of .556 through 1998. He then slugged over .800 twice and over .700 twice, in a four-year stretch in his late 30s or early 40s. These are numbers that are almost cartoonish.

“And it makes absolutely no sense, that a player, no matter how great, could maintain his previous level of performance in his late 30s or early 40s, let alone take such a quantum leap. There is no other possible explanation.” Costas told CNN Friday night.

While Barry didn’t handle his last game with the Giants Wednesday evening very well, he did speak with the media Saturday expressing little if any bitterness towards the Giants.

"There always comes a time when time changes," Bonds said. "Change is happening. This is business. I'm not taking this personal. I feel I did what I could the 15 years I was here and I'm proud of that and I'm not disappointed in that.

"I can walk out here with my head high and I'm very proud. I know there was a left fielder in San Francisco and there was no one better. I'm proud of that. And I'm proud of the fans and my family here. I consider my fans part of my family. And this city, I grew up here. I have nothing to be ashamed of and they have nothing to be ashamed of or upset about. We had fun. For 15 years we had a great time."

Where next for Barry? A few issues Barry had better realize if he wants to play baseball in 2008.

His value as a baseball player – selling tickets and helping generate revenue is next to nothing. He’s at 762 home runs. He might have some value to the Oakland A’s. The A’s are averaging 23,525 fans per game, playing to about 53 percent capacity. Barry Bonds personality has made him one of the most hated players in all of baseball. Barry had a good 2007 season hitting a respectable 28 home runs and hitting .276 on a pretty terrible Giants team. But at 43 Barry Bonds no longer is an everyday leftfielder, his destiny if he hopes to play in 2008 is as a designated hitter. And before Barry gets too excited he would be well advised to check out the lay of the land.

Barry was paid $15 million in 2007. Sammy Sosa had a ‘respectable’ season with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers paid Sosa $500,000 this year. Sosa sat out the 2006 season. The Baltimore Orioles paid Sosa $17 million in 2005, after a long career with the Chicago Cubs. Between 1994 and 2005 Sosa was paid $104.95 million by the Cubs. Like Bonds, Sosa found himself caught up in the fallout from baseball’s tainted steroid era. Sosa played the 2007 season at bargain basement prices – would Barry Bonds ever consider playing for next to nothing. Bear in mind Barry Bonds has earned more than $187 million during his MLB career.

If Barry Bonds really wants to play baseball next year he had better realize he’ll command a salary somewhere between $2 million and $4 million, if that. Better for everyone concerned Barry Bonds hang up his spikes, and enjoy the rest of his life, or become a bargain basement baseball player.

As for the Giants – here’s what the teams’ owner had to say Thursday evening. “We always had three things in filling this place: a winning team, a star player and a ballpark,” said Peter Magowan, the team’s owner. “Next year, obviously that star player is gone. But I think the ballpark will stand the test of time.”

Just how many tickets will the Giants sell in 2008 their first in 15 years without Barry Bonds remains to be seen as is Barry Bonds baseball future.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Wikipedia

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