OpinionApril 27, 2008

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Cleat Marks #7

By Madison Jones

Short turnaround this time for Cleat Marks, but I figured I’d jump on the hot topic. The day after I wrote my last edition, Frank Thomas signed a deal with The Oakland Athletics. Reports are that the contract is for under $400,000 for Thomas to finish this season, which makes it a very nice signing by Oakland in my opinion. Of course, with The Big Hurt being released and then signing a new contract in only a matter of days, the big talk is people wondering why Barry Bonds is still available.

According to Barry’s agent, Bonds is fit and ready to go. All he needs is a couple of weeks of facing live pitching and he’d be ready to smash balls out of the park again this year. So why is Barry still a free agent?

Rumors suggest collusion among the owners, but if the answer can’t be that simple. The Player’s Association (MLBPA) would have blown this sky-high already. Not to mention that some owners have a “win now no matter what it takes” mentality, so I really don’t believe all 30 major league teams made a gentlemen’s agreement to blackball Barry Bonds. And again, take into account that the Player’s Association is closely monitoring this entire situation looking for such evidence. So no, I have a hard time believing it’s collusion. It just doesn’t really make sense or fit.

Money has been tossed around, as there was a rumor that Barry would want $10 million to play, but his agent shot down that rumor publicly on Wednesday. Also, according to his agent, no one has even offered the league minimum. Can’t say I’m surprised by that, the league minimum would be an insult to a player of Barry’s ability. Oddly enough, I’ll say that part of why no one has made an offer is simply that they didn’t want to risk offering too little and offending the slugger. Time will tell on that since the money situation has been cleared up, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that’s part of why he hasn’t received an offer yet.

One other quick note about money/salary is ticket sales. I’m sure there are tons of people who have not seen Barry Bonds play in person who would buy tickets to a game to see him at least once in their lifetimes. Barry would also generate more wins for the team that signs him, as even at this stage of his career, his ability at the plate must still be respected. On the flipside, some fans will completely boycott their team for signing Barry due to the steroids and negativity surrounding him. So what’s the financial balance sheet going to read? Judging by the fanfare in San Francisco, I’d say a team would sell more tickets on the overall, but at the same time that was during the chase to break the biggest record in all of baseball and the government hadn’t said they had failed steroid tests as proof that Barry was guilty. Would the fans still turn out in droves with the chase over and the government’s evidence? I don’t know, but I’ll bet you at least a few teams have someone making big bucks to get them an answer to that question.

The “Clubhouse Cancer” tag has been thrown around, and yet for every bad thing I’ve heard about Barry in the clubhouse, I’ve heard something on the other side. Anyone remember Barry dressing up as a female during spring training? How about the “Ask Barry” shirts both Barry Bonds and Barry Zito wore in spring training? Both of these events were quite recent in the scope of baseball. Don’t misunderstand at all, I’m not trying to paint Barry out to be a great guy or anything, just that he really doesn’t typically seem to get a truly objective look at things. Either someone is lauding him or they are trashing him, there are very few opinions in the middle. Is Barry a “Clubhouse Cancer”? I don’t know, and neither do you. We’ve got opinions based on what we’ve read and seen, but none of us have been in the clubhouse with him, so none of us knows for sure. I’m sure quite a few owners are in that boat as well. An unhappy clubhouse isn’t good for any team, regardless of the talent in that room, so I’m sure a few might be concerned for that very reason.

The biggest and most logical thing that makes sense is simply the PR hit that a team will take by signing Bonds. I’d say by now all fans have their opinion on Barry and the vast majority is dead-set in their beliefs. Of course, there are two sides. One side thinks it’s fine that Barry did steroids because so many players were doing it and there were no explicit rules stating steroids were banned from the game of baseball. The other side believes it was against the spirit of the game and Major League Baseball shouldn’t have had to have it explicitly written into the rules that United States law overrides MLB’s rules, so breaking the law is against the rules of the game. Neither side is going to change their opinion or stance at this point. The entire game of baseball took a black eye due to steroids, and Barry Bonds is the poster boy for the whole thing. Like it or not, right or wrong, when people think baseball and steroids, Barry’s name is the first one they say. That is a nightmare for teams looking to sign a player. Some grown adults would be disgusted with their team’s owner (like I am about the Dallas Cowboys acquiring Adam “Pacman” Jones a couple of days ago), and the kids get the message that: “It’s ok to break the law, just so long as your boss hasn’t given you explicit directions not to do it.” Now as I said, some people believe what Barry did was fine and dandy, so not everyone would be upset, but enough people would be that team owners have to take that group of people into consideration when making a decision on whether or not to sign Barry Bonds. Like it or not, right or wrong, that is a decision teams have to deal with. The rewards are great as Barry being accepted by their fans and the team winning more games would be the perfect scenario, but on the flipside, if the majority of that team’s fans revolt, the team will take a huge financial hit and no telling how many years it would take to get those fans back.

We can play armchair GM all day long as to what we think teams should do, but none of us are in control of multi-million dollar baseball empires, so we’ll all just have to sit back and see what owners think the risk is worth the reward. I think if Barry truly wants to play this year, there’s at least one team owner willing to roll the dice. Time will tell.

Madison Jones is always lurking in the shadows of the Cafe. When he does venture into the forums, you can find him posting as Madison.
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