Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Center Fielder of Dreams

Scene: A Hollywood set with faux wood-paneled walls, painted white with free-form day-glo colored blotches used as decoration. Three Sky Blue barstools sit on one side of a partition while a single Spring Green barstool awaits a person on the other side of the partition.

Cheesy 1970s game show music fades in and tacky audience clap track follows a few seconds behind. A man with a cream colored leisure suit walks out onto the stage holding a microphone longer than his arm and is followed to a podium in the corner by a single spotlight.

The music fades out and the man starts talking...

Flip: Hello everyone. I'm Flip Weebank. Welcome to another exciting episode of the General Manager's Dating Game, the show where we try to pair up one executive with the player of his dreams. But to find that perfect match, the GM must wade through a group of three likely free agent candidates while factoring in his current roster, his team's pressing needs and the potential fall-out from the Lunatic Fringe if he makes the wrong choice.

Today we have a special show for you on the fringe, one that is going to create more friction than a Hot Stove in December. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to today's mystery contestant - Brian Sabean.

Free agent Number One is a 40-year-old basher from Phoenix. Please welcome Steve.
Free agent Number Two is a 5-tool player prone to injury whose agent is the most hated man in baseball. Please say hello to JD.
Free agent Number Three is actually a right fielder, but his Bay Area ties and low-risk, high-reward potential make him a continuing topic of discussion Please put your hands together for Jermaine.

Free agent #1, if I were to put Free agent #3 in my outfield, what would the fan reaction be?

Steve: Well, Brian, do you remember Kevin McReynolds? Audience laughs... Either that or you could just slap one of Michael Tucker's spare jerseys on that guy. No one would notice.

Brian: Thank you #1.
Free agent #2, what would happen if I put Free agent #1 in my outfield?

JD: Well, Brian, I am a God-fearing man and cannot allow myself to degrade other people. But I can say that you would make a killing selling your outfield to Geritol. Plus, to get him, you'd have to outspend the Tigers. There are only so many 3-year deals you can hand out to the 40-something set before at least one set of dentures bites you in the ass.

Brian: Thanks #2. Now, #3, can you tell me the fan effect of having free agent #2 in my outfield?

Jermaine: Well, Brian, for the 85-to-100 games you'd have him each year, he would be a good fit. But if you want to spend 162-game-a-year money on a 100-game-a-year ballplayer, that's your choice.

Flip: OK Brian, now onto your final round of questions.

Brian: Thanks Flip. Free Agent #1: My ultimate goal is to get a World Series ring in the next two years, but my boss likes to make things difficult. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, how can you help me reach my goal?

Steve: Well, Brian, I really enjoy getting outrageous contract offers from teams that have no chance for the postseason during the life of my contract, but I really want to win it all again.
I would be willing to accept a third year on my deal but reduce the total cost of my contract. Plus, with me on your team, you wouldn't have to worry about me killing your playoff hopes with huge grand slams late in the game.

Brian: That's good. #3, what could YOU do to help me reach my ultimate goal?

Jermaine: Well, Brian, I would be willing to take a 1-year deal with an option for year 2 just like every other right fielder you've signed in the past decade. Plus, being fully recovered from my freak injuries, I would hit 20-25 home runs a year, giving you a legitimate #5 hitter.

Brian: OK, #3 that's good. Finally, #1, can you tell me what it is you would do to help me achieve my goal while staying under my boss' constraints?

JD: Well, Brian, I would love to -

JD's microphone suddenly turns off and a man dressed in an expensive suit with money dropping out of every pocket comes running out to the studio floor. He grabs Flip's microphone and commands that every camera in the studio focus on him and him alone. He starts talking...

Hello. My name is Scott and I "represent" JD in all matters. Right now, I am instructing my client not to answer that question. He does not play games and make concessions for anyone, especially when I can hire an army of statisticians to draw any conclusion that will get my client top dollar. This charade is over. If you want to choose Free agent #2, you can do so through my office.

Scott hands the microphone back to Flip and drags JD off the set like a 4-year-old after being told he could not have that new toy.

Flip: Well, Brian. You have to make your choice. Will it be Free agent Number One, Free agent Number two and his overbearing Gorilla agent, or Free agent # 3?


Stay tuned to the offseason madhouse for the stunning conclusion.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

An inauspicious debut

I've been thinking for months about starting my own blog. Every now and then, a creative thought would pop into my head and I longed to have a place where I could record that tiny bit of inspiration before it was swept away, either by the rigors of work or by the sudden screams from the munchkins that I call my children.

But it took the events of the past 24 hours for me to convince myself that this was a good idea. On a day when chaos reigns supreme in the sporting world and the focus of every eye and every news camera is on Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants, that is the day I felt the need to start. And what better place to start than the center of the storm itself.

Grand Jury testimony was leaked to journalists working for the San Francisco Chronicle Friday - information which says that Barry Bonds did take steroids although he denies knowing that what he was taking was an illegal substance. Let me say that the writers of the Chronicle did a solid job writing the article, although I think they were used like pawns by their "source" and have taken journalistic integrity down a notch with their acceptance of what amounts to sealed testimony and, be extension, theft.

This news was not unexpected. Barry actually testified before the Grand Jury in December and with his connections to some of the key figures in this case, speculation was the Flavor of the Week whenever the Giants were in town. But in the absence of evidence, it was easy for me to believe that he could have been clean the whole time.

When Sammy Sosa said that he failed to realize that he was using his "batting practice bat" during a game, I laughed so hard that my back hurt for a week.

When Gary Sheffield allowed the Sports Illustrated writer to paint him as a martyr and an innocent pawn, I wanted to glare at Sheffield with that same menacing stare he uses on pitchers and call him a liar to his face.

Then Thursday, the San Francisco paper revealed that Jason Giambi has also admitted to taking steroids. Yeah, big shock.

But how could I justify the cynical opinions toward every other sports guy caught in a lie, but somehow believe Barry? It's not possible...right?

Well, explain the 494 career home runs from 1986-2000? He averaged 38 HR a year from 1990-2000 while reaching at least 100 walks a year in 8 of those 10 years (he failed to reach the century mark in 1994 and 1999 having missed a combined 110 games in those two years).

How about the methodical weight training sessions, the meticulous diet, the superior hand-eye coordination, and the hitting instruction from his father Bobby and the Say Hey Kid?

What about the consistency with which he has gone about his job for the past 15 years? Sure he jumped from 49 home runs to 73 round-trippers in one season. A jump like that is not possible for a ballplayer, is it?

Dear Splash Landings -

We must agree with you that Barry Bonds' miraculous increase in the number of home runs he hit versus his previous high could not have been possible unless he was cheating. We should know.


Brady Anderson (+26; +35 from '95 to '96)
Luis Gonzalez (+26)
Hack Wilson (+18)

Of course, I realize that blindly accepting Barry's words places me in a category with those who looked up at Jim Jones at the People's Temple in Guyana and said, "Hey, this Kool-Aid is delicious. But there is a slight after-taste. I'm dying to know what that is."

I am prepared to drink the Kool-Aid because I believe that Barry - regardless of his admission in the once-sealed testimony - is the greatest ballplayer of my generation. With or without the cream or the clear, it is clear to me that watching Barry Bonds swing a bat is like watching Michael Jordan drive to the hoops and dunk; like watching Joe Montana lead his team on a 91-yard drive in the biggest game of their lives while calmly noticing John candy sitting in the stands; like watching The Great One circle around behind the net, set up shop, and then gracefully and effortlessly bounce the puck off the goalie's back into the net.

Barry Bonds is special. And - to me - so are the Giants.

So if you enjoyed these words, sit back, buckle up and prepare for more to come. The wit, the wisdom and the insane ramblings are all inside - waiting to come out. Come back often to find out what I've conjured up and if you like what you read, tell a friend.