Another reason GMs are reluctant to sign Bonds
I neglected this in my writeup the other day, but there’s a huge reason that teams are reluctant to sign Bonds, no matter if he’s a bargain and if he’s a perfect fit: they’re human, and the sports press will absolutely tear into them for it.
A lot of the weird, small moves we see at the edges of transaction wires are due to things we don’t know about: some guy is such a colossal jerk that the team waives him even though he’s a left-handed hitting backup catcher who can steal 15 bases a year. A minor league organizational soldier is called up for a week and given spot at-bats until he gets a major league hit. Two teams that could make a mutually beneficial trade won’t even talk to each other because one side’s still too angry about being dealt a pitcher with a bum shoulder years ago.
No GM wants to have to deal with hordes of national press calling him, clogging the clubhouse interviewing all the players trying to get dirt on Bonds. It’s probably not a big factor — a GM, after all, is supposed to take the heat if it’ll improve the team — but I can see where it would make a big difference in whether they lobbied their owner hard over it.
And for that matter, it’s probably even a bigger deal for owners, who look at the franchise’s marketability and long-term reputation.
As a cautionary tale, I present Tampa Bay. By all indications, some Tampa Bay people, including the manager, talked about Bonds. There’s no evidence they said “I wonder what it would take” or even contemplated what they’d do to fit him into the lineup. And we know that Bonds’ agent’s been actively lobbying teams to bring his client in, so the conversation probably went
“You think we should sign Bonds?”
“What’s the point? We’re the Devil Rays.”
“Just the Rays now.”
“Sorry, I keep forgetting.”
“No Bonds, then?”
“No, we’re rebuilding and we’re already going to end up doing a lot of roster juggling, let’s pass.”
For this, Tampa Bay became the story of the week. I present this SI.com article as an example of its kind.
“Bonds’ bat not worth taking on his baggage”
There’s a lot in the article about how Bonds is a jerk, a bad clubhouse presence, and then Omar’s quoted –
“Nothing against Barry, but having all the things that come along with having him here sometimes made it hard to concentrate on baseball,” says shortstop Omar Vizquel. “We’ll definitely miss a lot of the things that he brought to the table, but there’s a feeling now that we’re a normal baseball team again.”
That’s… well, I would have said nothing.
Do you hear that, Rays? A normal baseball team. There is absolutely no shot at normalcy for any team that signs Bonds.
What does normalcy get you, exactly? A congeniality pennant?
Which takes us to this gem:
For all the pop and on-base percentage he brings to your lineup, for all the fannies he puts in your seats, he brings more negatives.
I know we can argue about chemistry forever, but… really? If you’ve got a crappy DH and you put Bonds in and he’s only healthy enough to get to 300 at-bats and hits a little worse than last year, your team will win three, maybe four more games than they would have.
I don’t understand how you can possibly reason that press attention and having a surly guy in the clubhouse possibly outweighs that kind of contribution. Even if you want to say “it’s not worth it” or “you have a moral obligation not to sign him” I can’t see a reasonable weighing of the evidence that would lead you to the conclusion that adding Bonds to a team that needed him would make it worse.
To find players like that, you have to go back to the totally corrupt days of baseball and look to Hal Chase and Buck Weaver — people who were so dirty they threw ballgames for money.
But not to dwell on this particular article too much — I wanted to look at the larger point. You can find dozens of articles like this. It was an easy column for writers to churn out this week, and they took it.
My point is that Bonds has never had a good relationship with the press. Even when he’s tried to do better in interviews, make himself more available, the detente collapsed pretty quickly. His place as the lightning rod for steroid discussions is due in no small part to the obsession with making him out to be the worst villain.
Every team knows that Bonds’ signing will create exactly this kind of national story, multiplied — the Rays barely talked about Barry, after all — and that no matter how tame the local press is, Bonds and his successes, failures, and his effect on his teammates will be the story that’s told and retold, all season long.
If you’re a GM, or an owner, the possible payoff for signing Bonds and being right has to be immense for you to risk that kind of continual negative attention, knowing the only way you could hope to be redeemed in the public’s eyes would be to get to the playoffs – never a sure thing – and have Bonds perform extremely well in post-season play. And only a World Series victory would assure forgiveness from some fans.
The number of teams with strong ownership groups unafraid of that kind of sustained attack is smaller than the number of teams that could use Bonds. And moreover, you can understand why teams on the edge would be extremely reluctant to make it known that they were even mulling it, given the treatment Tampa Bay’s received for doing nothing.