Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Harder to Like Than A-Rod

What a sweet guy. So shy.
I know what you were thinking when you read this title. How, in the world, could anyone be harder to like than Alex Rodriguez? It is just not humanly possible.

Yes it is. Read Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams about the BALCO steroid users and suppliers and you will be able to answer the question in two words. And the words are ... Barry Bonds. He was such a contemptible jerk he makes A-Rod seem like a prince.

Bonds was a terrific ball player. His dad Bobby wasn't too bad either. Barry took advantage of his dad's fame to get him things, such as the privilege of doing less work than every other player on his little league and college teams, while at the same time resenting him. "What bat did he ever swing for me?" he told a Playboy interviewer in 1993 when he went to the Giants.

In high school the other players would always run out to their positions. Barry would saunter out, fiddling with his glove or sunglasses. "I'd work half as hard as the other kids," he admitted, "and I was better. Why work hard when I had all that ability?"

An attitude like that did not endear him to anyone at Arizona State. "I never saw a teammate care about him," said his coach Jim Brock. "Part of it would be his being rude, inconsiderate, and self-centered. He bragged about the money he had turned down. He demanded and got a whole different set of rules than everyone else.”

The first time the players saw Bonds' new Pontiac Trans Am, it was parked in Brock's parking space. When Bonds and some other players got in trouble for missing curfew he mouthed off at Brock who kicked him off the team. A vote was held to decide if he should be allowed to return. Every player voted No.

Pre-juice Barry Bonds.
When he played for the Pirates he quickly developed a reputation for not running out groundballs, for not signing autographs, and for not being polite to reporters, He seemed to care only about his personal stats. The fans considered him greedy, unpleasant, and a choke artist. After Bonds won his second MVP, the writers voted him MDP, Most Despised Pirate.  

"Why should I buy my grandmother a wheelchair you can drive like a car when she's gonna die anyway?" he told one reporter. 

After Bonds threatened a TV crew in Spring Training the Pirate press secretary tried to smooth things over. "I'll make my own rules," he told him. Bill Virdon tried to calm him down and was told, "Nobody's going tell me what to do." 

Bonds then got in the face of the beloved hero of 1960 which brought Jim Leyland out to intervene. "I've kissed your butt for three years. No one player is going to run this camp," Leyland yelled. Of course Bonds yelled back at him, to which Leyland said, "Don't fuck with me, I'm the manager of this fucking team!" 

"Everybody makes me out to be the bad guy," said Bonds. Then he accused the Pirates of baiting the TV crew to bother him.

In 1990 he hit .167 in the playoffs and drove in just one run. In '91 he batted .148 with no RBIs. In '92 he did better, hitting .261 with a home run. In Game Seven the Pirates were an out away from beating the Braves. Andy Van Slyke, their center fielder, motioned for Bonds, who was playing in left, to move in and to his left. Bonds always called Van Slyke the Great White Hope. He looked at Van Slyke and stayed put, deep and guarding the line. The next batter hit the ball right where Van Slyke had wanted Bonds to be. One might suppose that the Pittsburgh fans were not overly upset when Bonds went to San Francisco.

Before getting him fired, Bonds made Giants manager Dusty Baker's life hell. Players were not allowed to have anyone in the clubhouse. Bonds had three of his own trainers there constantly (one was his steroid provider) even though the Giants could have been in big trouble if he got hurt and was not being handled by their trainers.

Bonds continually denied using steroids even though
his body had morphed into that of a comic book figure.
Bonds insisted on being pampered. He refused to run out routine grounders and wouldn't show up for the team picture. When Baker tried to give him a day off Bonds would throw a tantrum. "Baker is disrespecting a three-time MVP winner," he'd tell the press. Bonds wanted days off – but only when he dictated. 

He was irate when his teammate Jeff Kent won the MVP award. He complained to reporters who told him that he had lost because his manager had told everyone that Kent should win it.

In spite of all the money and attention and pampering Bonds got he still managed to play the race card. He believed Mark McGwire got more attention because he was white. He claimed he was a black man in a white man’s game.

San Francisco fans rooted for Bonds. No one else did.
There may be a small chance that it had something to do with Bond's personality. His handlers advised him to be a bit friendlier to reporters. When one said, "Barry they seem to be pitching around you. Are you getting frustrated by all the walks?" Bonds said, "Can we talk about something besides my fucking walks?"

He had to be paid to sign autographs so when a group of kids came up to him in Spring Training Bonds shooed them away and said, "What the fuck are you doing here? You're supposed to be in school."

I could go on, but I think you are probably getting an idea of just how warm, kind, humble, and considerate Barry Bonds really was. As much as Yankee fans like me hate having A-Rod on our team, it could be worse. We could have Barry Bonds.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The most-storied trade of all times

I sometimes amuse myself (as many do, I’m sure) just cruising around the Internet. Often, it’s baseball related. You know the sort of thing: looking up interesting players’ histories, fact-checking something, reading coverage of classic games, etc.).

Well, this past week I hit the motherlode in a sense. It is the legal document trading Babe Ruth, hero and ace pitcher for the Red Sox, to their hated rivals, the Yankees. The rest, as they say, is history as the Bambino went from being one of the best pitchers in the game into the most feared hitter (arguably of all times).

What really makes the document interesting is the amounts of money involved. It was a lot in those days, but still not what you would have expected for such a game-changing player. No other player changed hands. Yes, you did read that correctly. The Yankees just paid cash for Ruth.

Now why would Boston trade away one of their most valuable players for just a bag of cash? There are two reasons (but I imagine one weighed much more heavily than the other). First, Ruth was a pain in the ass for Red Sox management. He had a bad temper. He smoked, drank and overate. Basically, they viewed him as an accident waiting to happen. When the team tanked in 1919 and ownership began getting rid of star players, it was the perfect excuse to jettison Ruth, too.

But why just cash? Well, that’s the other reason. Sox owner Harry Frasee needed money to finance a Broadway-bound show he was producing. The money he got for Ruth (and others, I’m sure) financed his show.

Obviously, Frasee wasn’t a baseball guy...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Falling Fast

The New York Yankees are falling faster than Kirstie Alley's weight during Dancing With the Stars. For their fans, their rapid descent invokes painful memories of 1965, a year in which the Bronx Bombers turned into duds.

The 1964 season had been yet another banner year. They had won the AL pennant – again, just as they had in 1960, and 1961, and 1962, and 1963, even though their margin over the second place White Sox was a scary one game instead of the 10 1/2 it had been in '63.

Mickey Mantle hit 35 home runs and Joe Pepitone hit 28. Elston Howard had emerged as a terrific replacement for Yogi Berra. Mick's outfield mates, Roger Maris and Tom Tresh, had done okay. The infield was solid defensively, even if Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek, and Bobby Richardson had not exactly torn the cover off the ball. Ralph Terry had slumped badly and been exiled to Cleveland but the team still  had solid pitching with Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, Al Downing, Mel Stottlemyer, and Phil Mikkleson.

In a bizarre move, the Columbia Broadcasting System who were the Yankees' new owners and obviously knew a lot about baseball, replaced pennant-winning manager Berra with Johnny Keane, the Cardinal skipper because he had won one more game than Berra in the World Series but six fewer during the regular season.

The wheels fell off in '65. The Yankees were ten games back by the middle of May and never recovered, finishing an embarrassing 21 1/2 out for sixth place. Ellie Howard hit .233. Roger Maris swatted eight home runs and hit. 239. (Hector Lopez took over for him.) Tony Kubek, who had hit .314 in '62 but was in his last year in baseball, batted .218. Bobby Richardson, who had hit .302 in '62, hit .249. Worst of all Mickey Mantle, who was now a very old 33, hit .255 with a paltry 19 homers.

But '65 was a dream compared to '66. They were ten games out by May 3rd this time. They finished 26 1/2 back. It was their worst year since 1925, the year of the Babe's bellyache.

Pepitone (35 homers) and Tresh (27) did all right but that was about it. Mantle went 23, 56, .288. Howard rebounded to just .256. Maris rose to 13 home runs and .233. The once mighty pitchers had seen better days. Ford was 2-5. Bouton was 3-8. Downing was 10-11 and poor Mel Stottlemyre, who had won 20 in '65 thanks to a whole bunch of double plays in '65, now lost 20.

In researching for this entry I saw how bad the Yankees had been in the early nineties. I'd mercifully forgotten. In '90 they won only 67 games and in '91 only 71.  That team featured perennial all-stars Kevin Maas, Matt Nokes, Andy Stankiewicz, Melido Perez (loser of 16 in '92), Scott Kamieniecki, Tim Leary (loser of 19 in '92), Jeff Johnson, who was having his best year at 6-11, and one-year wonder Wade Taylor.

By '94 they still hadn't improved, winning just 70. They recovered nicely from those painful seasons. And they certainly recovered in 1926. Maybe they'll do it again. But for now, the Yanks have won just six of their last eighteen games while Boston and Tampa Bay are absolutely tearing the league apart, these are indeed painful times. Just like the summer of '65.