9.22.2004

Walkgate



We've been talking about it for the last three seasons, originally as footnotes to the real records he was breaking. In Barry Bond's assault on the most prestigious numbers in baseball (single season and all time homeruns) he's been setting all sorts of records along the way. The one that has, at times, taken center stage, is the sheer volume of walks he generates. I think at this point it is fair to say that no hitter in the history of the game (rightly or wrongly) has been more feared. No one changes a game more than Barry Bonds. I have problems with the way he is treated, for many reasons. Firstly, I simply believe that this is not how the game should be played. Baseball is perhaps the most egalitarian (at least in the NL) game concieved and to take his at bats and turn them into the farce they've become is disgusting. Every man on the field get's his three a game, guaranteed and opposing managers have taken that away from him. Secondly, there is no one in the majors, not Vlad and his chiropractic gyrations, not Manny and his "Made-For-Slow-Mo" homers (and fielding), not Ichiro's Sixty Foot Sprint, not even the most determined looking man in baseball, Sammy Sosa, or Sheffield and his wrist-breaking waggle as impressive. For me, it's all about number 25, the most imposing force in sports, lurking in the on-deck circle, slowly striding to the plate like a gunfighter at high noon, waiting with the patience of a saint for a strike. It's the way he turns on a ball before I can even identify it with the help of the on-screen pitch speed. It's the simple grace, the effortlessness of the swing, the purest, cleanest, fastest swing in baseball. It is perfection.

Joe Morgan finally brought some sanity to this deabte. You can argue the benefit of giving a man over 200 free trips to first base, and man who in those at bats would have had less than ninety hits, likely less than eighty. You can argue the point of picking one guy on the team not to beat you. You could even forget to take your medication and pull a Jack McKeon and say that even if Ruth hit behind him you wouldn't pitch to Barry. Joe Morgan, a man for which I have tremendous respect, who I've even met, (although I don't remember it. I smudged his autograph as well) put it like this. If you tell a pitcher to walk him intentionally, you're telling him that you do not believe he can get Barry out and eventually, you are going to have to pitch to Barry Bonds. Now you've set up in the minds of everyone on the field that Barry is superhuman, that he cannot be taken down my mere mortal pitchers, and that if he doesn't hit a home run, it's because he was distracted by the things that Barry Bonds thinks about. God only knows what those are. Maybe he's wondering if he could do this with his eyes closed. The point is, this isn't good for the game, it isn't even good for the team. You need to build a team that believes it can win, no matter what. For as much as I hate them, that is how the Angels won two years ago.

And one other thing. I know that passions run high, and that everyone in a field as competitive as professional sports is going to want to win every night, but I think there's a moment when opposing managers, opposing players, even opposing pitchers stop and watch his balls go sailing into McCovey Cove. I think even they can appreciate that greatness for exactly what it is, if only for a second. But not for a second time. We all know what's coming in the next AB. 4 wide, take your base please. In the end, we'll only get to guess what might have happened if pitchers would throw to him with some consistency, or if the Giants had gotten two big bats to protect him, or if there were a limit on intentional walks. But for as hard as they make it, he's still at 701 and I don't think he's planning on stopping.

1 comment :

Jason Mulgrew said...

intense!

love,
jason mulgrew
internet quasi-celebrity