Giant's 2004 Season In Review: Just Short

I think that says it all. I think enough time has passed to honestly reflect on the season and the lessons learned. Basically, we need a Big Bopper behind Bonds! Also, I rant about the owners needing to do more to make the Giants more competitive while Bonds is still around and producing, and that they should invest money like Giants fans are doing every year.

Like Maxwell Smart used to exclaim, "Just missed by THAT much!"
One win from a tie breaker...
Two wins from making the playoffs outright...
Every player, including Bonds, could spend the winter thinking "If Only..."
If only I got a hit then...
If only I threw a strike...
If only I caught the ball...
If only I fielded the ball...
If only I didn't leave my tired closer in to walk in a run...
If only I kept a key reliever that we could have used in the last weeks of the season instead of trading him away for a backup outfielder...

It's a Wonderful Season

I think enough time has passed for the sting of the disappointing ending of the season to fade away enough for honest reflection. It was a good season for the most part. But like a lot of things in life, it depends on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty. As I wrote in a previous article, F- the half glass, I want a full glass (-orget, that is :^)! I've been accused by some of being an apologist for Giants management but I am also one of those that Brian Sabean called the "Lunatic Fringe" for suggesting - and, I believe, proving in my pre-season article - that the Giants could have signed Vladimir Guerrero and still keep most of the key additions for 2004.

This season the Giants scored more runs than any team except for the megawatt St. Louis Cardinal's lineup and the Giants management and many newspaper writers cite this as proof that the Giants didn't need a player like Vlad. First, let me cite Vlad's stat line for the 2004 season: .337/.391/.598/.989 with 39 homers and 126 RBI. Plus he was just named the MVP of the American League. The point about Vlad, or any hitter extraordinaire like Vlad, is not to protect Bonds but to accomplish a number of other important objectives. We all know that no one can protect Bonds. But a Big Bopper can do more than that.

Big Bopper Insurance

First and foremost, the Big Bopper needs to drive Bonds or whoever in for a run. And he needs to a lot of power if he is to drive Bonds in from 1B. Second, he is there as another power source when Bonds is merely ordinary or less. When Bonds is sick and old, the offense gets sick and old. Third, the Giants need to have a player in place who can shoulder some of the responsibilities of driving the offense. Lastly, he hopefully will lead the team offensively when Bonds has finally retired.

Bonds has now passed 40 years of age. As he often complained this season, he's tired. He's not going to be less tired next season, so he is going to be playing less games. Did I mention that he says he's really, really tired? Nothing against the players on the Giants, I like them as a team and as people, but we all saw how bad the offense was in early May when Bonds was either out or severely affected by his illness or in the last weeks of the season.

Lastly and relatedly, there are two looming potential risks for a 40 year old plus player. One is that he could get injured and be out for an extended period. This is because when a player is tired he might injure himself while compensating for his tiredness while doing an ordinary play. The other is that there has never been a position player who played past 40 and not have a bad season at some point. Bonds may prove to be the first in baseball history to do otherwise but, if not, as the aforementioned May swoon showed, the Giants offense will be sunk, as well as the season.

Unlike the closer position - there can only be one closer - the Giants can get someone to back up the possibility that Bonds will not be the Bonds of the past five years. Instead of the offense going straight into the dumper, it will be at least competitive. Just think, Barry missed 15 games this season. Don't you think that costed us at least 2 victories while Hammonds came in to play for him early in the season? Plus this player will carry the team offensively after Bonds is gone, another plus, and Bonds would have taught him his techniques and tips to do that in a similar way.

Here are the sad stats on the Giants offense sans Bonds: from May 4 to May 20, while Bonds was either sick or not 100%, the Giants averaged 3.2 runs per game and went 5-10. During the 8 other games he did not play, the Giants scored an average of 3.9 runs per game. For the total 23 games he was either out or sick, the team averaged 3.4 runs/game, 8-15 record overall (.348 winning percentage). However, during the 139 games Bonds was healthy and played: 5.6 runs scored per game, 83-56 record. You cannot tell me that having Vlad in the lineup would not have swung the 8-15 record at least 2 games. And the Giants are one bad hamstring or one bad sinus infection away from .348 for a full season instead of just 23 games.

Just Short

Just one or two fricking games! Lessons learned from such heartbreak like that or the 2002 season was invaluable to teams in the past because player movement was very minimal with no free agency. Today, the lessons learned from such disappointment gets applied with other teams, like Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Bill Mueller did for the Red Sox. Though there are some who never learn, like Reggie Sanders, replaced in the lineup once again late in the World Series for the third time, most players cannot help but learn something from the heartbreak of just coming short.

All the more reason why the Giants shouldn't have skimped in the 2004 season. Losing players is a given so why not go for it every year? Trading Felix Rodriguez to the Phillies for two players who would not contribute was pure and simple a salary dump to save $3M for 2005. You cannot tell me that the Giants could not have used F-Rod more than Ledee in September. You cannot tell me that Brower and Hermanson would not have been burned out and overused if the Giants had F-Rod.

And for what? $3M saved from the budget for 2005. It's not like they couldn't have traded him either this off-season or next spring training or early next season when a team loses a key setup man or their closer, either through injury or poor performance. In fact, the Phillies picked up F-Rod's option. Plus, where was the $6M offered Maddux? It could have paid for some of that. $3M separated the Giants from the playoffs and, as Sabean so often reminds us fans, anything can happen once you are in the playoffs.

I will be forever grateful to the Giants owners for stepping up to the plate and saving the Giants from Tampa Bay. It would have just killed me for them to move away and yet it would have killed me even more to have to root for the A's - I would sooner root for the Dodgers. They saved me and other fans from the disappointment of losing our franchise. However, the Giants owners need to step up to the plate once more.

Non-Profit Status: Investment Obligation

Baseball is not a business like other businesses. It should not be run on a strictly profit and loss basis. This is because fans invest their lifes into their advocation and thus they deserve the same from their team owners. Team owners should also be fans of the team and act like fans. And if the owners cannot run their business without occassionally taking an extra $3-5M loss, then they are in the wrong business.

This is so for the Giants owners too. For example, there are 24 owners listed in their media guide. Harmon Burns owns the most, most of the rest own 5% or less for the most part. A $5M loss translates to an average of $200K per owner to chip in, probably less than $100K when you consider that Burns and Magowan own a significant percentage of the team and KNBR and KTVU each own 5% each. What is that to them? If they are prudent, $100K should be less than 1% of their net wealth, and should be much less than 5% of what they earn every year from their other investments.

In contrast, a season ticket holder has to invest a lot more of their income every year. In the Bay Area, particularly the Peninsula that is suppose to be the main fan base, the per capita income was about $36,000 in 2003 according to the Census. A season ticket holder has to pay on average at least $2,000 every year for season tickets plus invested on average $4,250 as a charter seat holder. That's 6% of their income invested every year and 12% of their income invested up-front that fans are asked to invest in the Giants.

If Giants fans can invest that much every year, why can't the Giants' owners, who are also Giants fans presumably, do likewise? Because, in the end, the Giants owners will still own their chunk of a $350-400M business, whereas the fans will have only their memories and team ticket stubs for their money invested in season tickets, plus the t-shirts on their back, counting the paraphernalia bought by fans. And if the owners cannot afford that, then, like the fan who can no longer afford season tickets, the owner should step aside for another investor willing and able to invest in the team as much as a fan would.

And there should be plenty around the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Francisco peninsula and Silicon Valley is full of centimillionaires ($100 million plus in assets) from biotech and IT, and some of them must be Giants fans. They too need to step up and invest in the Giants so that the Barry Bonds era ends like the John Elway era and not like the Ted Williams era. Giants fans deserve to have Giants owners who are willing to invest in the team annually to help the Giants finally win a World Series championship here in San Francisco. And the window of opportunity, given Bonds stellar offensive performance, will be closing within the next few years when Bonds will either retire or finally succumb to age. Hopefully the Giants owners will bring us our first World Series championship soon.

Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for 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 (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.

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