For all of their efforts last October when they wrestled baseball’s title away from allegedly more deserving teams, the San Francisco Giants earned the seventeenth slot in the recently released MLB rankings for 2015. Whether this painfully obvious slight to the world champions is a knee-jerk response to either the limited success on the part of Brian Sabean to accomplish a whole lot of anything this winter, or the lack of a high-flying, high-profile marquee player-or both-remains a carefully-guarded secret.
Allow me to pose one question for your perusal: How critical to a team’s success is a player whose talent/ability approaches stratospheric proportions, so that he can carry a team on his shoulders when it becomes necessary? Does a player of this heightened level of success in any way guarantee a team’s success on the ultimate stage of baseball, the world series?
If I now nonchalantly toss the name Barry Lamar Bonds out there, I think many of you reading this will immediately glean where I am heading.
How many world series rings did the greatest home run hitter of all time earn? None? How could that be?
I personally idolized the man for being as overwhelmingly dominant a player as ever there could have been, who influenced the outcome of countless games in favor of his team. I wrote
, in which I lobbied for a righting of the wrong being perpetrated by those keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.
Bonds, Meulens, Sandoval, Aurilla, Morse discussing mechanics at BP on March 11, 2014. Photo by Denise Walos.
I based my opinion on the fact that statistically Bonds outclasses most who are in the Hall already, but for purposes of the point I am trying to make in this article, all of Bonds’s stats did not amount to a hill of beans when it came to acquiring that which San Francisco has claimed three times in the last five seasons: a world series ring.
Bonds came within six outs of one in the 2002 postseason, during which he hit eight home runs and knocked in 16 RBIs. In the only world series he ever played, Bonds had thirty plate appearances, batting .471, with an on-base percentage of .700 and a slugging percentage of 1.294. You want impressive stats? These ought to suffice, but let’s look at one more: WAR.
Frequent visitors to Around the Foghorn know I have been engaging in “friendly” banter in the comments section, with those who hold saber-metrics in higher regard than I. Whereas statistics have an important role in baseball, like anything else which is inherently good, moderation is the key to success.
Unearth the numbers, examine them meticulously, extract from them anything that helps illuminate, illustrate or mitigate your perspective, and then move on. Inflicting stats on an unresponsive audience is as effective as providing iced cold beer at a blisteringly hot ball game to the Teetotalers of America. No one cares.
So with that in mind, Bonds had a WAR over his 22 seasons, fourteen as an All-Star, of 162.4. That is an average of 7.4 per season. Altogether, he had eleven seasons with a WAR of at least eight. That is so electrifying as to defy comparisons and yet, for all of his glitz and for both of the teams upon which he played, there was no ultimate prize.
If you have read accounts of Barry’s actions off the field, in both the dugout and the clubhouse, then you know Bonds was not a warm and fuzzy figure as a player. There was the prominent recliner in the clubhouse, Bonds did his stretching exercises prior to each game under the watchful eye of his personalized trainer, and not as a part of the team, and there was that pesky business of refusing to share what he knew about hitting with others.
Bonds did nothing to enhance what “chemistry” might have been brewing in the clubhouse, preferring to travel through the 162-game grind in as aloof of a manner possible, rarely condescending to even speak to media, let alone open up on any subject not likely to enhance the world according to Barry Bonds. As far as his teammates were concerned, Bonds obviously felt no inclination to help them with their mechanics, so there was little danger that he might effect positive change in this manner.
Oct 26, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) and catcher Buster Posey (28) celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Royals during game five of the 2014 World Series at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
No, stats are all well and good but ultimately, it is futile to ignore what Giants fans have known all along: the context of the game and the strength of the chain which keeps the players all connected is of far greater worth than who has hit the most home runs. Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence, the recently-departed Pablo Sandoval and any number of other Giants players have managed as a unit to accomplish what one of the greatest ballplayers to ever play the game was unable to do: win a ring.
They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. As powerful of a player as Barry Lamar Bonds was on a statistical scale, he just may have been the weakest link in San Francisco’s chain when it came to chemistry.
So, Giants fans, embrace number seventeen in the rankings, because it projects to a far greater rate of success than being ranked number one because a team has such a powerful figure as that of Barry Bonds.
Just ask the 2002 version of the Orange and Black if you do not believe me.