Have the Giants' Owners Lost Their Balls?

Maybe we should start testing baseball owners for steroid usage. One of the big side effects of steroids is that the gonads of the steroid user shrivel up and retract back into his body. And that appears to have happened to the Giants' ownership.

Wimping Out

What happened to the owners who, even before the league had approved their purchase of the Giants, had negotiated with and signed Barry Bonds to the richest contract in the game? MLB management was so pissed off by the effrontery of these upstart proposed Giants owners that Czar Bud was ready to stop the approval of the sale to Magowan and Company. The then prospective owners were able to calm down MLB management enough so as not to lose the purchase as well as work out with Barry the necessary arrangements so that he would stay a free agent until they could officially sign him once the purchase went through.

What happened to the owners who took the bold step to self-finance what eventually became beautiful Pac Bell Park (now SBC Park)? This in the face of the other owners who were screaming, "Are you freaking crazy? We need to convince our city to finance our park for us but now they will say 'Hey, the Giants self-financed, why don't you pony up some money yourself?' and what are we owners suppose to say to our city then?" The Giants owners took this bold 20 years at $20M leap of faith to do this when there is no guarantee that fans will continue to help them pay for the park throughout the 20 year period if the Giants should falter competitively at some point. Even last year, with a team just one year removed from the World Series and on their way to leading from start to finish with a 100 win season, attendance was down most of the year and just about broke even only at the end. What's going to happen if the Giants don't run away with the division, as many fans are fearing, or counting on, in future seasons, especially 2004?

The Answer WAS Vlad

Alex, what is "How do the Giants transition from Barry Bonds to next superstar cheaply while Barry is still Barry?" At $14M a year for 5 years, Vlad is cheap, especially compared to Miguel Tejada at $12M a year and Jim Thome at $14M a year. How cheap is that for a player with stats comparable to Willie Mays at a similar age? How cheap is that for a player hitting .323/.390/.588/.978 lifetime (vs. .274/.348/.440/.787 league average) and averages 39 homers in a full season?

And Barry's not getting any younger either. Next season he will turn 40 years old. He is not only on the downside of his career but approaching his final descent. Via an exercise regimen that only Marines, SEALs, and the truly dedicated and disciplined could do, Barry has been able to stave off the decline that most baseball mortals and immortals encounter in their 30's, especially their late 30's. Not only that, but he was also able to ratchet up his performance like Hank Aaron and Ted Williams did, in their late 30's, to put a nice finishing touch on his career. However, even Barry cannot continue to defy Mother Nature like this forever.

Barry's performance in 2003 suggests that he should still be Barry Good in 2004. That's why the Giants should have bit the bullet this year and next and take a bigger hit to their P&L by signing Vlad to a contract. Cash flow wise, they could have ended up net zero outflow by signing on a new investor or two to cover the negative cash flow due to the losses (assuming even baseball's convoluted accounting rules cannot cover that big a negative cash flow). By signing a Vlad they would have taken advantage of "Super Barry" for at least one season before age starts to kick in.

And though Vlad may have a very worrisome back problem, look at his stats after he came back: studly! Plus he was diligently doing exercises designed to strengthen the back muscles around the herniated disc. The risk for a five year contract for Vlad could not have been much worse than signing Barry to a $90M contract for 5 years extending to when Bonds turns 42 years old. The history of players hitting well past 40 years of age is rather sad and discouraging. And still the Giants signed him for his run for Aaron's home run record, despite the odds being greatly against it, at least for all major leaguers who have ever existed. Signing Vlad would be taking on equivalent risk, at worse.

The Giants can still surprise fans and somehow acquire another premiere player somehow. Maybe the bad back was the deal breaker for the Giants. But really, what other player out there who has gone through free agency has Vlad's stats and for only $14M per year? He hits for both power and average and he gets on base a lot. He has a strong arm from RF. The Giants should have took the leap of faith with him instead of holding back and talking about cutting the payroll and finding the perfect contract. $14M per year is damn cheap for a player like Vlad, a deal on par with the money that the Giants paid Bonds during most of the 1990's.

Vlad Will Be Sad

Vlad is making a mistake as well because, as a The Sporting News article on Vlad noted, he said that he was not interested in fame as it brings problems. He should have worked harder to be reunited with Alou and Pujols then. San Francisco would have been an almost ideal situation for him. Jeff Kent had seasons that only Rogers Hornsby could compare to and he was overshadowed by Bonds. Vlad could have come here and stay in Barry's shadow for the next three seasons and escaped "fama" for a while more, until his 30's. And there are plenty of Dominicans on the team, both players and coaches, to help with the transition.

Instead, now he is THE star of the Anaheim Angels. The fans there will expect him to turn the team around from last year even though there are other big free agents signed. He is "Bad Vlad" and will be the player the fans will key on, especially since he plays everyday, unlike Bartolo Colon or Kelvim Escobar, who pitch every five games. All eyes will be on him and on everything he does.

Shrinking Violet Now in the Spotlight

And has he ever heard about "Fernando-mania"? There will be a media circus surrounding his every movement, just like Fernando experienced; Anaheim is not that far away from Los Angeles. There will be hordes of fans, especially Latinos, crowding him for autographs or just to talk with or see him. There will be hordes of fans surrounding his car as it enters and leaves the stadium. There will be hordes of fans wanting a piece of their Latino hero.

And this is a player who, not three months ago, when asked if he could handle the media pressure of playing in New York, could come up with nothing better than "I don't know." He had had months to prepare for that moment, his agents were (hopefully) preparing him for that moment, and that was the best he could do. How can a player, who is not even sure he could play under the intense media pressure in New York, hope to survive in the media jungle that is the Los Angeles area? And it could even be worse for him because the Los Angeles media scene has that many more Spanish speaking media outlets wanting a piece of him.

In an interview with ESPN, he said that he thinks the spotlight scalds more than it provides warmth. The Sporting News interview, as noted above, said that he is not interested in fame because it brings problems. He has turned down millions of dollars in endorsements that his agents could have delivered to him because he didn't want the fame involved with it.

Deep down he's not really sure if he can handle such a spotlight else he would have given a much better answer than "I don't know" in the question about his ability to handle the New York media. How can he expect to survive the media circus that will develop with the Anaheim Angels and the spotlight now shining brightly on him now that he has joined them? Unless, that is, he has matured greatly from the time of these interviews, the last of which was only three months ago.

Good Luck to Vlad

Despite the fact that I think he made a mistake, I really like Vlad from the articles I have read about him - most of the info here on him came from a ESPN spotlight article and a The Sporting News spotlight article on Vlad. He really does seem like a gentle soul, counting on the kindness of strangers to help him make his way through the world, as he is painfully shy and didn't go to school after fifth grade due to the fact that his family needed to eat so he had to work. He's a throwback to players the way they were when I was growing up, he just wants to play ball and battle and hustle 100% on the playing field. So I will be following his career closely wherever he goes in his career.

And I greatly respect the fact that he didn't abandon his slum neighborhood just because he became fabulously wealthy and still lives there, though that is also partly due to the fact that his mother steadfastly clings to her home there because it is good enough for her and she saw no reason to move away like other superstars have done in the Carribean. His home is just a shout away from his boyhood home where his mother lives, the same one that had its roof torn off by a hurricane, and is in the same neighborhood where he once had to drink from mud puddles to get water in a place that had no running water. And their houses fits in with the neighborhood, as one wouldn't know that a superstar baseball player lives there based on the exterior of the homes that Vlad, his mother, and all his siblings own in the neighborhood.

And it is not like he lives there isolated by his new station in life either. He shows his strong loyalties to his neighborhood in a variety of ways. He owns a business there and helps out philanthropically those who need help. He annually brings sporting supplies to the neighborhood kids, like Jose Uribe once did for him. In addition, he is building a stadium there for the kids and for him to work out there in the offseason. More significantly, he still hangs out with his same friends in the neighborhood, whether they are shoe shiners, scooter drivers, or whatever. These are his people and he is just a part of the neighborhood, no matter that he makes incomprehensibly more money just in one season than probably all of them will ever make in their collective lifetimes.

And like his mother feared in those articles, he will now play in a place where he will get a mega-dose of adulation and fame. And like his mother, I worry that he will lose his gentle and simple soul from the hero worship that will engulf him in Anaheim. But who knows, his mother has been intent on seeing her children do good work and become good people and so maybe his mother may be able to protect him while staying with him down in Anaheim, or even better he will mature under the bright lights that will now shine on him and be able to handle it fine. In any case, I wish him the best of luck, except, of course, when the Angels are playing the Giants, in which case I hope he goes oh-fer the series and commit some errors. I am a Giants fanatic, after all.

Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at BiasedGiantsFanatic@nospam.yahoo.com (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.

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