McCovey Cove Musings

A long, strange offseason is coming to a close and what shapes up as a year-long battle for the NL West crown is about to begin. In this installment of McCovey Cove Musings, we take the pulse of all aspects of the team, from Barry and BALCO to a review of spring training and the outlook for the 2004 season.

Barry and BALCO

I have avoided commenting on steroid-gate so far, but it's the topic that just won't seem to go away and it threatens to follow Bonds, and therefore the Giants, all season. Unfortunately, a series of milestone moments—Bonds passing Willie Mays early in the season and then making a run at the most rarified of air, the 700 HR plateau—will only add fuel to the debate over the actual merits of the accomplishments.

Let's get one thing straight—nobody knows whether he did anything except Bonds himself and perhaps his trainer, Greg Anderson. Anderson, currently under indictment for distributing illegal steroids, has made one statement on Bonds' use or non-use, and he insisted that Bonds was offered steroids but refused them.

Incredibly, that important statement received a mere fraction of the press compared to a Chronicle report citing government reports indicating Bonds had received steroids. The Chronicle report listed no confirmed sources yet it was regarded as fact. But when the trainer at the center of the scandal makes a statement-- during which, by the way, he further implicated himself by admitting he offered Bonds steroids and even had a complete schedule outlined on a calendar—few seemed swayed.

The bottom line is that we do not know whether Bonds took conventional steroids, the new designer steroid THG or human growth hormone. We do know there is circumstantial evidence on both sides:

For the prosecution:

  • Noticeable size increase from early in his career
  • Power surge in 2001
  • Personal trainer's clear involvement with steroids

    For the defense:

  • Size increase was relatively slow over 5 or 6 years
  • Power surge in 2001, but general yearly power output virtually unchanged from ten years ago as much less muscled player
  • The number one side effect of steroid use is breaking down and being injury prone (see exhibits A and B: McGwire, Mark and Canseco, Jose). Yet Bonds, at age 40, with an incredibly violent, powerful swing, has had excellent health and durability and has healed quicker than expected even when injured. Does not synch up with general side effects of steroid use.
  • Bonds, media-weary to the core, posed arm-in-arm with his trainer and the head of BALCO for a magazine article, in which he praised their efforts for his training. If Bonds knows these are his sources for illegal steroids, is he really likely to so openly publicize his connection to them? Everyone will have their opinions and many will say simply that where there is this much smoke there is almost certainly fire. Perhaps, and I admit to having no real clue, just like the rest of us. But my core point here is, if we are going to convict Bonds in the court of public opinion based on such circumstantial evidence, then at least we need to evaluate the circumstantial evidence that he is clean as well. As outlined above, there is plenty out there to make a case for either side.

    At the end of the day, as a fan, you have to hope the truth comes out and that the focus can return to baseball. Sure, as that same fan, I hope that that night in 2001 when I sat with my pregnant wife and friends in the arcade and watched Bonds make history with homers 71 and 72 will be vindicated and there will be no need to mutter anything about steroids under my breath when I tell my son that he was there (not yet born, but there) for history.

    But most importantly, as fans, you are only cheating yourselves if you let unsubstantiated speculation tarnish your enjoyment of one of the best players of all time as he (again) makes history this season.

    Splash Hits & Tidbits

    Tidbits From the Desert

    To help get a handle on the prospects for the regular season, a good place to start is a review of the lessons learned from the just-completed 6 weeks of spring training in Scottsdale, AZ.

    As everyone knows, as Barry goes, so go the Giants, so it's little surprise that the team seemed to follow Bonds personal success during spring training. After a sluggish beginning, for both Bonds and the team, there were signs in the final two weeks of Cactus League play that the veteran, like his veteran team, were rounding into shape just in time for the season. After being held homerless for the first half of the spring, and missing almost a week with a strained back, Bonds went on a homer spree that seemed to suggest he would not need very much time once the season starts to amass the 3 HRs he needs to pass his godfather, Willie Mays, into 3rd place on the all time career HR list.

    The Giants as a team also showed signs of badly needed life down the stretch, though warning signs certainly remained. Those signs can be summed up in one word: injuries.

    Closer Robb Nen, despite some positive steps in his rehabilitation from career-threatening injuries to his precious wing, will open the season on the DL and does not appear likely to return before May at the earliest. Ace Jason Schmidt, also coming back from an arm injury that required surgery, will begin on the DL as well, though the reports in the past few days suggest his return will come very early, possibly in the second series of the season in San Diego.

    Injuries are not the only red flag from spring, however. Rookie phenom Jerome Williams has raised real concerns about a severe sophomore slump with a brutal spring (0-5, 8.44 ERA). He looked lost, so much so that, combined with the Schmidt injury, it practically forced GM Brian Sabean into several deals for pitching help. Lefthander Wayne Franklin, acquired from the Brewers along with reliever Leo Estrella, may slide into the 5th starter slot by default, at least until Williams shows signs of righting his ship.

    Offensively, Bonds was not alone in surging late in the Cactus League schedule. Edgardo Alfonzo, who is again expected to protect Bonds in the lineup, looked far better in driving balls into the gap with authority than he did for most all of last season and he seems poised to pick up where he left off during a torrid stretch in the playoffs and pennant race. Ray Durham seems ready to start the season healthy and he made the first big statement of the SF campaign with a massive HR that hit the flagpole in the back of the arcade in the first exhibition game at SBC Park.

    Quick Spring Training note: Giants fans, if you haven't already, start thinking right now about making the trek down to Scottsdale for spring training next year. Baseball, beer, beef (steaks at Don & Charlie's, a local classic frequented by players and other baseball people, with incredible memorabilia, is a must) and beautiful weather, it's an easy weekend jaunt from the Bay Area. The perfect escape from what is usually the tail end of rainy season in SF.

    Tidbits From Around the NL West

    The games that actually count are upon us, so it's that time of year to make our fearless forecast for how things will shake out in the NL West. One man's predictions:

    1st: Giants. Yes, red flags abound. Even reading between the lines on the comments and actions from the front office, there seems a general reluctant acceptance that this team has holes that other recent Giants teams did not. And in pretty much every other division in baseball, those questions would make it impossible to choose them as the division winner. But in the NL West this season, barring an unexpected surge from a dark horse team, the Giants still have the largest margin for error and the most upside. And having the best player on the planet, even at age 40, doesn't hurt.

    Keys: Health. Bonds, simply due to his age, along with Durham, Schmidt and Nen, must all contribute and remain in the lineup. They could continue to get by without Nen for much of the season, but prolonged injuries to Bonds or Schmidt would devastate the team, while a full season of Durham getting on base in front of Bonds would add an element they expected but never really enjoyed last season.

    2nd: Padres. They are definitely improved and if absolutely everything breaks right (or enough breaks wrong for SF), they could steal the division in their first season in their new downtown ballpark. With a full season of Brian Giles to go along with Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin, they definitely have some pop. And adding clutch veteran David Wells, and welcoming back closer Trevor Hoffman, sure doesn't hurt their suspect staff of last year.

    But, again, the margin of error is definitely smaller than the Giants', and the smart money suggests that will catch up with them after what is likely to be a spirited run for much of the season.

    3rd: Diamondbacks. Richie Sexson adds an element they haven't had in recent years and, if Luis Gonzalez can rebound with another solid power year, they too will have some pop. But the loss of co-ace Curt Schilling, in a recurring theme for NL West teams, cuts their margin for error too thin. Remaining ace Randy Johnson is coming off an injury-plagued, mediocre season and would need to completely dominate to offset the Schilling loss and take the heat off a thin and vulnerable back end of the rotation. An aging squad, they appear headed further from contention every year.

    4th: Dodgers. An extremely odd Jeckyl and Hyde team in 2003 (the best pitching and worst offense in all of baseball), the 2004 version will feature significantly watered down and more vulnerable pitching and no clear improvement in their putrid offense. Ace Kevin Brown is 3,000 miles to the east wearing pinstripes, and Yankee cast-off Jeff Weaver looked no more effective this spring than he had been in NY. Nomo has looked fragile and Ishii ineffective. The bullpen also took a hit with the loss of key setup man Paul Quantrill, so the pitching appears weaker all around and the main offensive addition was Juan Encarnacion in RF. ‘Nuff said.

    5th: Rockies. A Mile High mess. Again. They may not actually finish in the cellar, as there are several teams in the division that could be really, really bad, but of all the teams in the West, they are the least likely to compete for the division crown. Shawn Estes, a non-roster invitee to spring training, is their scheduled Opening Day starter. Again, ‘nuff said.

    Now comes the best part—seeing how those spring predictions pan out once the first real pitch is thrown. Spring in San Francisco and baseball back by the Bay… Play Ball!

    John welcomes your feedback on the Giants, baseball or the best tasting beer at the ballpark and already looks forward to doing research on all three topics in April. He can be reached at: jfyearout@yahoo.com'

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