Monday, January 23, 2006

Shock and Awe

Ladies and gentlemen, you may find this hard to believe, but Barry Bonds is acting like a jackass. This is uncharacteristic for Bonds, who normally woos reporters with his witty rhetoric. But in this lovable bugger’s latest statement, he hints at undermining San Francisco Giants manager Felipe Alou’s authority.

When Alou spoke with the press on Friday, he mentioned an idea he had floating around in the old noggin. Instead of batting Barry Bonds fourth, how about batting him second? He’ll see more at-bats, which means more time spent on the base paths, which translates into more chances to score runs. The switch would also allow Alou to remove Bonds two spots earlier for defensive purposes – which could mean a full defensive inning.

In the mind of Barry Bonds, however, that logic doesn’t fly. “I am going to speak with Felipe, because at this point in my career it doesn't work for me to be the second bat," Bonds told a Caribbean newspaper.

Bonds hasn’t been the only athlete in the past week to define his own role on a team. Last Sunday, Peyton Manning waived off the punt team on a fourth and short play, clearly defying the wishes of head coach Tony Dungy. So now it’s okay for certain athletes to become larger than their team?

Everyone knows that a power struggle between the sensei and the student always favors the sensei. It’s a simple storyline formula: sensei and student have a falling out, student turns evil in order to gain revenge on sensei, student may succeed initially, but ultimately is worse off in the long run. See Wars, Star for more information.

This type of behavior isn’t exactly uncommon in baseball, but that does not make it more excusable. The manager’s job is to make the lineup card every day. The player’s job is to create runs. If a manager thinks that a certain player will create more runs in a different slot, then the player moves. Manager does his job by making a personnel decision, player does his job by continuing to create runs. Should the move not work, the manager will be held accountable (diminished job security), and the player will likely move back to his normal spot.

Sure, on paper it looks simple, but when you factor in egos that are directly proportional to a heap of statistical data and number of zeros per paycheck, chaos ensues. Now we have overpaid, under performing athletes parading around making ludicrous selfish demands that not only undermine team authority, but in many cases will hurt the team.

Don’t worry about Bonds hurting the team, though. "I feel positive about next season to be able to contribute to my team's cause," he said. Of course, if he actually meant what he said he wouldn’t be bitching about batting second. Even the least apt bullshit detector has to be on 10 right now.

Call me a hothead, but placed in that situation I would metaphorically kick Bonds in the teeth by penciling him into the second slot every game. What’s he going to do, act like a spoiled brat and boycott games? I’m sure his publicists would drool over that scenario. And do you think he’d really give up pursuit of Aaron’s record over a petty issue like the batting order?

His .500-plus OBP may help his team win, but his attitude negates some of that contribution. No one can say how much, since his attitude is rather intangible, but suffice it to say that Bonds’s words and actions certainly shift the focus of the team.

Then again, placed in the Giants front office, I probably wouldn’t have brought Barry back for 2006 at all. This year was an option for the Giants, and it cost them $18 million. Bonds is one of the top players in the league, and certainly his 2006 productivity could justify the contract number. But there are some times when you need to cut your losses, realize that this isn’t the guy that’s going to win it all for you, and pull the plug on the experiment. The crew in San Fan had the ability to sever ties with Bonds and start anew, but they decided that his bat overshadows his ego and exercised the 2006 option.

Players rule the game, though, and they have made that abundantly clear. No one goes to games to see the manager, thus his authority is easily undermined. It may be commonplace, but that doesn’t make it right, dammit.