Bonds Away!

Whether it's ESPN or any other major news media outlet, Barry Bonds has been the entire story of the 2007 San Francisco Giants. And as news stories go, this one is being covered as though it were an imminent natural disaster, another longsimmering hurricane about to wreak havoc on the lack of integrity in the foundation of today's game.

Let's pretend we work for ESPN.

Barry Bonds, Barry Bonds, Barry Barry Barry Bonds Bonds Bonds.

Barry Bonds. Home runs. Hat size. Steroids? Definitely. Home run. Probably. Home run. Maybe. Home run. Barry Bonds. Home runs. Home runs. Home runs. And now a live breakaway as we watch Barry Bonds hit a home run. And back back back back back to the studio. And we're back. Barry Barry Barry Bonds Bonds Bonds.

In other news, A-Rod.

Barry Bonds. Hall of Fame. Barry Bonds. Hank Aaron. Barry Bonds. Babe Ruth. Barry Bonds. Pete Rose. Barry Bonds. Bud Selig? Bonds Bonds Bonds. Grand Jury testimony. Home run Barry. Doping cycles. Home run Bonds. Home Barry run. Bonds run home.

Fantasy alert, other baseball players not named Barry Bonds.

Also, Barry Bonds. Barry Bo. Bondsy. Son of Bonds. The Bondsman. Barrissimo. El Bondo. Boo Yah. Splashdown. Countdown. Shoutdown. Bonds Barry Bonds. We don't need no water let the Barry Bonds burn. Burn Barry Bonds, Burn. Burn burn Bonds Bonds Barry Bonds Bonds.

Bar-ry! Bar-ry!

Whether it's ESPN or any other major news media outlet, Barry Bonds has been the entire story of the 2007 San Francisco Giants. And as news stories go, this one is being covered as though it were an imminent natural disaster, another longsimmering hurricane about to wreak havoc on the lack of integrity in the foundation of today's game.

It is the perfect storm in a way, a combination of one of the game's most hallowed records, one of today's greatest media villains, and the ultimate bugaboo: cheating and steroids. Already a legend of the sport has fallen (again), as Babe Ruth falls one more notch on the list. The man who personified every romantic element of the game, from the pitching prowess to the offensive brute force to the ridiculous trade to the Curse to the ultimate snapshot of a baseball man's man: cheerful laziness, beer, hot dogs, showmanship and love. He falls down the list once again, and we furiously re-polish his legend, as though no one could ever be the third-greatest home run hitter like he was, as though Bronze was the new Gold.

The storm has powered through every weakly-held defense of sandbags and barrier islands. The Grand Jury testimony could not stop it. The Game of Shadows could not stop it. Bad knees could not stop it. An independent investigation by George Mitchell will not stop it. The Commissioner of Baseball is not stopping it. His own team's increasing irrelevance in their division is not stopping it. And most of all, opposing pitchers cannot stop it.

The storm will wash over us all, as baseball fans, and everyone will be scurrying for the high ground. 73-year-old Hank Aaron is already there, having repeatedly said that he will not be watching when (and not if) his record is broken. Meanwhile, at 75, Willie Mays is more stubborn. He's digging in for the onslaught against his godson, as he awaits the news of home run No. 756. No less a legend in San Francisco, and acting in his capacity as "Senior Advisor" to the Giants, Willie McCovey has also been stalwart.

The storm will hit soon, and right now we are in the eye of it. As it hits, and after it has passed, it will shake our trust in the game's leadership. Just as our nation's president took heaps of abuse for the aftermath of Katrina, for our forces' lack of preparation and lack of response, so will Commissioner Selig take heaps of abuse. Perhaps in the spirit of charity you can give our twice-elected leader a pass, since he was not elected to be a weatherman, and could not possibly have had foresight that such a storm was coming. (Besides, there is no shortage of other contributing factors to slag him on.) But Selig knows that this storm is approaching, and has known for years. His lack of leadership on this has been as appalling as it has been predictable.

In a way, Selig is just like the rest of us. He's hoping that the noise and fury will wash over and eventually subside. He's hoping that something else will happen to make us forget. (For example, there is a strong possibility that a less-obviously juiced Alex Rodriguez will pass him in the next ten years.) Like many of us, he is just hoping that the whole thing will go away quietly.

But it won't. Maybe in another sport, but in baseball we have too much time to think. In baseball, heroes and villains are forever, and once cast, they cannot be recast or reborn. The legend of Ty Cobb is every bit the bastard today, long after his death, as the living man ever was. Shoeless Joe Jackson is still a tragic figure, whose flaws just barely outweigh his merits, and the scales of baseball justice will permanently keep him out. Hustling Pete Rose has been pushed to the sidelines and forced to watch as lesser players leapfrog him into the Hall, as he will forever more.

We know of these men through their deeds, by their stories. The story of Bonds is being written, but it has already been long cast by the deeds which we suspected, and which we now know without needing definitive proof.

Our resident cartoonist, Jeremy Pratte, has made this topic a prevailing theme for the entire run of The First Pitch, even in its incarnation as Game Time last season. And the way he draws it is illuminating. Much like Doonesbury's talking cigarette who gives straight-faced press conferences, the Syringe and the Asterisk follow Barry onto the field, into the dugout, into and out of the clubhouse, and have become just as real as the player himself.

But unlike other similar comic characters (like the angel and devil who pop up occasionally on either side of Porky Pig's shoulders), these aren't figments of Bonds' imagination. He isn't the only one who sees them by his side, or who hears them talking.

We all do.

Perhaps desperate to give San Francisco fans something else to talk about, Giants general manager Brian Sabean went out this offseason and signed the worst contract of the year: writing a seven-year contract for $126 million dollars to a faded lefthander, the last of the "Big Three."

This contract, the biggest ever for a pitcher, looms on the horizon, dooming not only the Giants to irrelevancy, but also teams like the Cardinals who have made hay in the past by signing veteran pitchers. Even if we have not reached up to the top shelf, this kind of contract pushes everyone's price tag up a bracket or two. (Jeff Suppan: $10 million/ year. Gil Meche: $11 million/year.)

Unequal Time

Every marginally talented pitcher about to hit free agency before his thirties – and Mark Buehrle comes immediately to mind – comes with the caveat that he will want "Zito money." Carlos Zambrano will hit the market this year. Johan Santana will hit the market next year. "Zito money" will push the contracts of these men well into the realm of financial lunacy, particularly for our suddenly thrifty franchise.

The men who originally set the bar for lunatic contracts, the demonic combination of Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez, are already not only planning to opt out of their $250 million deal, they are already floating "$30 million" as the new annual asking price.

And as investments go, it's a classic example of success being a terrible indicator of strategy. The Giants are well below league average in runs allowed, and have given up the thirdfewest home runs, but nearly all the credit goes to everyone not named Barry. Among the team's regular starting five, Zito has the highest ERA, the most home runs allowed by far, and the second-most losses. All the credit for the Giants' pitching success goes to the emergence of rookie flamethrower Tim Lincecum and sophomore (and future Cy Young candidate) Matt Cain, as well as the pleasantly surprising starts by Matt Morris and Noah Lowry.

Lincecum, Lowry and Cain are the story that Giants' faithful would hope that we write in the years to come. "The emergence of young pitching," we should call it. (This story would have been even better had they not traded away Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan to the Twins in the disastrous A.J. Pierzynski deal.)

And maybe, one day, we will. But not on this day, not with this storm approaching.

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