Stay in the yard

The last time we saw the Phillies they couldn’t hit or score runs unless it came on a long ball. In fact, I even hatched up some harebrained idea that the Phillies’ brass should go out and shore up the offense by signing Barry Bonds to some type of bargain basement deal.

But rather than dig into the T.J. Maxx of all free-agent signings, the team was reportedly kicking the proverbial tires around the Colorado Rockies and All-Star Matt Holliday.

Holliday ain’t no T.J. Maxx or even Filene’s Basement, you know.

Anyway, the Phillies’ hitting and more to the point, it’s so-called “situational hitting” was so freaking lousy that skipper Charlie Manuel called out his hitters by telling them how much they stunk.

“You’ve got to really concentrate on moving a runner,” Charlie vented last Sunday in Miami after an extra-inning loss. “You’ve got to want to move him. Sometimes they feel like we’re giving up an at-bat. No, you’re not. There’s hits all over the field. If you hit behind the runner, you can still get hits. That’s just called execution and hitting the ball in the right direction. When we don’t do that, I was telling some of our guys around the cage, it’s going to be hard for us to win.

“I hear everyone [praise] our lineup, but people don’t realize, we’ve got a different lineup than we had last year. We’ve got three or four top-notch major-league hitters. Have they had better years? Yes. At the same time, they’re still good hitters. But if you follow our team, we’ve got different people. Sometimes, one guy makes a difference.”

Was that one guy Aaron Rowand, the gritty and playoff-tested centerfielder who took a multi-year deal from the Giants last winter? Or maybe past league MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins had grown complacent with the fundamentals? After all, the national TV media digs the long ball.

Regardless, it’s difficult to get the fawning attention the ballplayers crave without the October spotlight. After all, that’s where the real legends are made and the statistics really matter. To feed the narcissism, the Phillies need to score runs and that just isn’t going to happen if they decide to wait around and hope someone hits one over the fence.

It ain’t beer league ball, folks.

But maybe the Phillies finally got it during the ninth inning of last night’s improbable comeback at Shea Stadium to knock off the Mets, 8-6. Sure, Johan Santana leaving the game after eight stellar innings of work probably spurred the Phillies in the six-run ninth, but it wasn’t so much about the finish as it was the journey.

Sure, So Taguchi and Jimmy Rollins drove in the biggest runs with extra-base hits, and some mental errors by the Mets clearly helped the Phillies in the big ninth inning, but look at what they did to set the table for the game-breaking hits.

Look:

• Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs and Shane Victorino singled to start the ninth and load the bases.
• Carlos Ruiz reached on a fielder’s choice when Jose Reyes inexplicably missed stepping on second base. One run scored.
• Taguchi tied the game with a two-run double. Still no outs.
• Rollins drove home the go-ahead runs with a two-run double. No outs.
• Chase Utley advanced Rollins to third on a ground out.
• Pat Burrell walked.
• Ryan Howard drove home Rollins for the sixth run of the inning on a ground out.

What’s missing? You guessed it, the home run.

See how fun that was without a homer.

Anyway, the important part was that the Phillies kept the lead in the NL East and should return to Philadelphia for the weekend series against the Braves no worse than a game out of first place. Prodigal right-hander Brett Myers makes his return to the big leagues tonight at Shea…

It should be interesting.

Barry Bonds, anyone?

barry_bondsIt’s gotten to the point where manager Charlie Manuel will use utility outfielder So Taguchi only if he has no other choices. In fact, Taguchi has just six at-bats in the last month and seven going back to May 30, which was the last time he started a game.

It seems as if the manager is loathe to use Taguchi even as a late-inning defensive replacement for left fielder Pat Burrell after the former Japanese star misplayed a few fly balls in a couple of losses. Even in pinch-running situations Manuel has turned to infielder Eric Bruntlett or sometimes pitcher Adam Eaton.

No, Charlie probably isn’t going out of his way not to use Taguchi, but it sure does seem like it.

Meanwhile, right fielder Geoff Jenkins’ season batting average has dipped to .237 thanks to getting just five hits since June 7, and 11 hits after May 28. Over the last month, the left-handed hitting outfielder is batting just .089 (5-for-56) with one homer, one double and 16 strikeouts.

Some say the Phillies’ offensive swoon has come because of a power outage. Even Manuel and some of the Phillies brass have been critical of the team’s inability to score runs without the long ball as well as its reluctance to manufacture runs with situational hitting. Since scoring 20 runs against the Cardinals in St. Louis on June 13, the Phillies have lost 15 of 22 games. Worse, they have averaged just 3.74 runs per game during that stretch. With a lineup featuring the past two NL MVPs – Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins – as well as perennial All-Star Chase Utley and slugger Pat Burrell, the Phillies should score runs by accident.

But they don’t.

“The biggest problem we have is situational hitting,” Manuel said. “Moving runners or knocking in a guy from second with no outs or from third with one out. We definitely have to have more of that.”

If there is one player to symbolize the Phillies’ feast-or-famine offense, it’s Jenkins. This season he has seven home runs, which account for 12 of his 24 RBIs. Howard, too, has personified this symptom by getting 49 of his league-leading 78 RBIs on 24 homers. Howard is also on pace to shatter his single-season Major League record for strikeouts in a season. With 124 whiffs in 91 games, Howard should be the first man in Major League history to eclipse the 200 strikeouts barrier.

Feast or famine.

“Our offense is generated by the top of our order. We manufacture runs by getting (Jimmy) Rollins and (Shane) Victorino on base with (Chase) Utley. Usually from Howard and (Pat) Burrell that’s where our RBIs come from – that’s where we get our runs. Sometimes some guys pick up the slack, but we’re not doing that right now. We’re not getting too much from the bottom of our lineup.”

So while the Phillies acknowledge that the need help with the pitching and are looking to add a starter (and/or a reliever) by the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, maybe they ought to consider a hitter, too, as they cling by the edge of their fingernails to first place in the NL East.

And if the Phillies are looking for a power bat to come off the bench or to play some right field from time to time against right-handers since Jenkins is hitting just .249 against them as the left-handed bat in the platoon with Jayson Werth, we might have the guy for them.

The guy we’re thinking of has struck out just once every seven at-bats during the past two seasons. Also during that span, he has clubbed 54 homers – or one every 13 at-bats – hit a modest .273, but has a .467 on-base percentage.

Oh yeah, he also has nearly 2,000 career RBIs, seven MVP awards and 762* home runs.

Yes, we’re talking about Bonds…

Barry Bonds.

Yeah, Bonds brings a whole lot of baggage and that isn’t even bringing the upcoming trial for perjury into the equation. He is also two weeks away from his 44th birthday, which would help the Phillies corner the market on mid-40s lefties. And of course there are all the accusations regarding performance-enhancing drug use and all-around surliness. Bonds will never be a candidate for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given each year to a ballplayer who exemplifies character and charitable contributions to his community.

Yes, Bonds’ off-the-field situation is troublesome and quite serious, but the Phillies need a hitter. On Tuesday night Cole Hamels pitched yet another gem by holding the Cardinals to just a pair of runs and three hits in seven innings, but took a hard-luck 2-0 loss.

The lack of offensive support is beyond frustrating for the Phillies’ pitchers.

“Any time you don’t score runs it’s hard to win,” Manuel said. “I say it all the time, but when Hamels pitches like that we have to win the game. We came up short. We won four straight on the road and then came home and lost four straight.”

But enough of the hang wringing. If Bonds can play – and all reports indicate that he wants to – why not let him? Surely his skills likely have eroded a bit, but then again, Taguchi and Jenkins only have a combined six more hits than Bonds.

Heck, they have just six more hits than me.

If someone can explain how Bonds can be worse than Taguchi or Jenkins then call the whole thing off.

Here’s the good part – Bonds will work cheap. The Phillies are paying Taguchi $1.05 million this season with a $1.25 million club option for 2009 or a $150,000 buyout. Not bad work if you can find it. They are also paying Jenkins $5 million in 2008, $6.75 million in 2009 with a mutual option for $7.5 million in 2010 or a $1.25 million buyout. Again, not exactly chump change for a guy hitting .089 since early June.

Bonds’ agent Jeff Borris says his client will work for a prorated share of the league minimum, which is $390,000. In other words, the Phillies could have Bonds for the rest of the season for less than $190,000.

“The fact that no team in Major League Baseball has made an offer for Barry even at the minimum salary has created a level of suspicion that is currently being investigated,” Borris said.

“Let’s look at the facts. Barry performed admirably in 2007. Barry is healthy. Barry has been offered at the minimum salary and Barry’s trial date is in March of 2009, so there would be no interruption of the 2008 season. It defies explanation as to why he is not employed in 2008 with a Major League club.”

There have been grumblings that American League teams Tampa Bay, Seattle, Detroit and Boston have looked at Bonds as a possible designated hitter. There are also some rumblings about the Mets being interested in the star-crossed home-run king. But so far there have been no takers.

Perhaps Bonds could mentor young-ish slugger Howard? Maybe he could teach the Phillies’ first baseman that he can strikeout significantly less without compensating his home-run power?

And who knows, maybe Bonds can still play a little, too. Hey, he can’t be any worse than what they already have.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

Ryan Howard… get a blog. Or better yet, just invite the writing media over to the locker to chat instead of those pesky TV folks with their makeup and those white, hot lights and cameras. Besides, talking to actual humans instead of inanimate objects like cameras and TV reporters is much more revealing anyway. Sure, the fans might like tuning in from so far away to watch a guy talk with those lights and the microphones bearing down, but come on… no one really enjoys it.

At least that’s the way it was for Ryan Howard in Clearwater today. Rather than do the whole big ballyhoo and faux production of a made-for-TV inquiry about his contract and whether or not animosity has festered like a bad blister because the Phillies only want to pay him $7 million for 2008 instead of $10 million just chatted up a few scribes and some inanimate objects in the clubhouse.

It made for a more contemplative, more intimate, more revealing and perhaps even a more trenchant conversation. That’s the key word there – conversation. Look, when dealing with athletes, pro writers are dealing with a short deck mostly because they don’t know a damn thing about exercise or fitness or training or anything. But that’s beside the point. When the glare and scrutiny beats on a guy, it gets hard to explain things, so everyone loses.

Or something like that. Who knows. I’m just making this all up as I go along and I’m sure that five minutes from now I’ll have no idea what I wrote. But don’t let that stop anyone from acknowledging that sooner or later Ryan Howard will have to answer questions about his contract. What, do you think the writing press is a bunch of shrinking violets? Hey, they might not know the ins and outs of exercise or physiology, but that’s not going to stop them from using clichés oh so cavalierly.

You know, whatever.

***
Here’s a question: is it worse that someone made a typographical error in typing up a document filed yesterday in the Barry Bonds perjury case that erroneously stated the player tested positive for steroids in November of 2001, or is it worse that so many media outlets blindly jumped on the story without checking it out first.

Look, people trust the wire services and the big names in the media business without giving it much thought. But even the tiniest bit of research over the false Bonds report should have had folks scratching their heads a bit with wonderment over why the star-crossed slugger would have taken a drugs test in 2001.

Plus, knowing that there are no more secrets anywhere and that the truth always rears its troll-like face, the notion of a failed drugs test by Bonds in November of 2001 should have had the fact-checkers scrambling.

Alas…

Nevertheless, the underlying problem was evident: Media types are too worried about being first instead of being right.

***
Pedro Finally, my favorite story of the day comes out of the Mets’ camp in Port Saint Lucie where Pedro Martinez rightfully claimed that he stared down the so-called Steroid Era and plunked it on its ass.

According to Pedro, “I dominated that era and I did it clean.

“I have a small frame and when I hurt all I could do was take a couple of Aleve or Advil, a cup of coffee and a little mango and an egg – and let it go!”

It sounds like Pedro (and Cole Hamels) are wannabe marathon runners who wake up every morning with everything hurting, shuffle stiff-legged downstairs for some coffee, a vitamin, maybe a Clif Bar or even an ibuprofen with the thought of visiting the chiro for some Active Release Technique therapy before heading out the door for the first of two brutal workouts.

Drugs tests? Where the cup…

“I wish that they would check every day,” Pedro said. “That’s how bad I want the game to be clean. I would rather go home (than) taint the game.”

Here’s a theory: the pitching during the so-called “Steroid Era” wasn’t so bad. Oh sure, certain media types — blabbermouths on certain radio stations in particular — are quick to point out how today’s pitchers can’t throw strikes, won’t work deep into games and how some of them shouldn’t be in the big leagues. Expansion, they say, has watered down the game.

Maybe so. But try this out: in facing hitters with baseballs that are wound tighter and who are using harder bats made of harder wood against a tinier strike zone in ball parks that are smaller still, pitchers have to add guile to the repertoire. And we didn’t even get into the performance-enhancing drugs part yet. Nonetheless, pitchers just can’t lean back and huck it up there as fast as they can — pitchers have had to pitch in the post-modern era of baseball.

***
Jamie MoyerSpeaking of doing it the right way for a long time, Sully Salisbury turned in a great story on the meritorious Jamie Moyer, who is heading into his 22nd big league season.

A few minutes in the presence of Moyer makes it easy to believe that you never, ever have to get old. You never have to burn out, get tired, act old, compromise, get mediocre or slow down. Moyer turned 45 last November and be sure that there are players on the Phillies who are “older” than he is – they’ve stopped being engaged, they know what they know and they don’t want to be exposed to anything new. They are already completely formed and they might only be 23 years old.

Not Moyer, though. In a conversation last October, the pitcher says one of the best parts about playing for so long has been the exposure to new people and ideas.

“A lot of times, I just focus on the simplicity of things, and not be the focus of what should be going on here, and just keep things simple. I call it the K.I.S.S. factor — keep it simple, stupid,” he said last October. “I look back on instances in my career like that — good and bad – but things that I’ve learned from, and try to re-educate myself and rethink things, and reinforce what I already know. A lot of times, we can overlook things and forget, and after the fact, after the mistake is made, you’re like, ‘Oh, I knew that. Why did I do that?’ You can’t catch everything. But if you can catch some of it, hopefully, it’ll work out. What’s been fun is being around this group of guys and the energy they bring.”

As Moyer told Sailisbury yesterday:

“I’m not as proud of the age thing as I am of the ups and downs I’ve overcome to create some longevity,” Moyer said after yesterday’s workout. “I’ve enjoyed that part. I can smile and say I’m doing what I want to do.”

Who knew?

Bonds in courtGuess what? Alex Rodriguez dabbles in real estate. He’s also… what’s that term… a slumlord? Elsewhere, all-time home run king* Barry Bonds was arraigned in federal court for perjury and obstruction of justice charges stemming from his allegedly untruthful grand jury testimony in BALCO investigation.

Bonds pleaded not guilty.

Meanwhile, two players (Jay Gibbons of the Orioles and Jose Guillen of the Royals) were suspended 15 days at the start of the 2008 season for being linked to the acquisition of human growth hormone.

In other words, it was just a normal day for Major League Baseball.

***
It’s good to see The Onion had something to offer on the Winter Meetings.

It fits!

Brad LidgeJust one time I’d like to see a player try on a jersey that doesn’t fit during those ceremonial press conferences for newly signed players. Like say for instance the Phillies signed Barry Bonds and trotted him out with the whole jersey thing, but when he tries to slip his arms in it goes nowhere because it’s one of Jimmy Rollins’ shirts.

That would be funny to me.

The Phillies did their little dog-and-pony show with Brad Lidge yesterday where they made him fly to Philadelphia to answer a few questions and try on a shirt. Then maybe he had dinner, watched a little TV in the hotel before flying back home. Apparently everything fit and checked out fine for Lidge and the Phillies. The shirt looked good.

While all of that was going on in Philadelphia, the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez (sans agent Scott Boras) were working on a new deal that would give him a small percentage of a raise and bonuses for breaking records (more on that in a moment). Apparently, A-Rod and the Yanks are just crossing the Is and dotting the Ts on a 10-year contract. Rodriguez, of course, is the player that opted out the last three years of his current deal that was paying him more than $25 million for a shade more than 162 games. It’s just a shade more than 162 games because unlike ex-Yankee third basemen like Charlie Hayes, Scott Brosius or Graig Nettles, A-Rod has never made it to the World Series.

Better yet, any person who willingly opts out of a contract in excess of $25 million for 180 days of work is an [bleep]hole. I wish I could be a little more graceful, but I can’t. Seriously. Worse, there will be people going on and on about how A-Rod did the right thing because he got more money and more years by opting out… yeah, well, so. Does that much money matter anymore or is just about his ego? It’s kind of like the time we were all together talking about the shoddy work of a well-paid media type when someone butted in with a, “Yeah, but he’s making six-figures…” You know, as if that were impressive enough to change opinion. After a second or so, someone countered with, “Yeah, he might make six-figures but he’s still a bleeping hack.”

In other words, A-Rod might make all the money in the world but he still hasn’t played an inning of a World Series game.

But one of the more interesting elements of A-Rod’s new contract is that he will get a hefty bonus if he breaks the all-time home run record. Actually, according to Big Stein’s son, Li’l Hanky Steinbrenner, the Yankees are working on a “marketing plan” for A-Rod’s climb up the all-time charts.

“These are not incentive bonuses,” Steinbrenner said. “For lack of a better term, they really are historic-achievement bonuses. It’s a horse of a different color.”

But the color is still green. And here’s the thing – whose home run record does A-Rod have to break to get his horse? Will Major League Baseball still consider Barry Bonds the Sultan of Shots or will he get the big historical asterisk next to his name after yesterday’s indictment came down at around the time Lidge was trying on a shirt?

And we all know the Feds never get indictments for cases they could lose. They like to make it look like the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals…

Perhaps more interestingly, Bonds’ federal indictment for lying to a grand jury comes after commissioner Bud Selig announced that MLB’s revenues crossed over $6 billion. And, a day after The Washington Post offered readers a front-page story in which leaders in the anti-doping movement are convinced that getting indictments and launching investigations is a better tact than spending money to develop full-proof drug tests.

It looks like they got a really big fish.

More: The Bonds indictment (pdf)

Just Barry being Manny

Barry BondsAs far as updating his Web site goes, Barry Bonds is no Curt Schilling. Like a teenage girl with a Facebook profile, Schilling is always quick to update everyone on the latest news. Whether it’s revealing which teams called him during the preliminary stages of the free-agency period or what it feels like to win the World Series for the third time, Schilling has it covered.

In fact, Schilling updates his site so regularly that he supercedes the writers looking for fodder for those ubiquitous “sources” and “rumor rundowns” that have turned the sports pages into a glorified version of People magazine.

Sometimes the stuff doesn’t even have to be true.

But with Schilling, it goes directly to the horse’s blog… and when a horse says, “Nay,” it means nay. Schilling has always been known to say or write whatever is on his mind, unless, of course, he’s in front of a Congressional committee.

Bonds, on the other hand, used to do this, too. Because he chose only to speak to the press when he absolutely had to, Bonds posted all of his updates and news on his Web site, too. Unlike Schilling, Bonds updates his site like a teenage boy with poor grammar skills and trouble paying attention. But like Schilling, the so-called home run king (with his train wreck of a reality show) often provided his own scoops by going direct to his site instead of to the sporting press.

Frankly, I’m surprised more jocks haven’t copied this model… but then again, maybe they think writing is hard or something.

Anyway, Bonds appears to have given up on his site (unless he’s selling silliness like autographs or something) because he went directly to Jim Gray and MSNBC for an interview last night. Instead of saving it for a blog entry, Bonds told Gray that he “has nothing to hide,” and that the doping allegations are “unfair to me.”

He didn’t say whether the possibility for indictment by a grand jury for perjury in the BALCO case was “unfair” though.

The most interesting part of the interview – the part that the Associated Press grabbed onto – was where Bonds said he would boycott his potential induction into the Hall of Fame if the museum chose to display the ball his hit for his 756th home run. The reason is because the purchaser of the ball decided to affix an asterisk to it before donating it to the Hall of Fame museum.

Apparently, more than the possibility for indictment, the asterisk is offensive to Bonds.

“I don’t think you can put an asterisk in the game of baseball, and I don’t think that the Hall of Fame can accept an asterisk,” Bonds said. “You cannot give people the freedom, the right to alter history. You can’t do it. There’s no such thing as an asterisk in baseball.”

This is a cop out, of course. It’s just Bonds taking a pre-emptive strike against the Hall and the Baseball Writers Association of America, who (for some reason) are the electors for enshrinement. Perhaps Bonds is just saying, “Go ahead and don’t vote me in because I’m not coming…”

Then again, maybe it’s just Barry being Manny?

Anyway, Bonds is a free agent and is unsure where or of he will play next season. If he doesn’t play anymore, that means he would be eligible for election to the Hall-of-Fame in five years. Surely Bonds has the statistics needed to get into the Hall no matter how he achieved them. However, we all know that politics are just as important as mere numbers. Whether or not Bonds played that game well enough remains to be seen.

***
Brian Sell We’re quickly approaching the most-anticipated Olympic Trials marathon ever and the papers are loaded with stories and predictions It also brings up another point… with distance running as popular as ever and more people running marathons than ever before, why isn’t there more coverage of the sport? Oh sure, The New York Times and other big-city papers (excluding Philadelphia) cover the sport regularly, and so do the running hot beds, but what gives?

Anyone…

Then again, it seems as if there is a media overload of stories ahead of tomorrow’s big race. When the diehards are so used to getting next to nothing from the mainstream press, the recent coverage feels like standing next to a fire hose turned on at full blast.

Be that as it is, I enjoyed the one in the Times on current people’s favorite, Brian Sell. Read it for yourself here.

The quote I liked from Sell (a Pennsylvanian) is: “If you lose a race, that just means some guy worked harder than you.”

That sounds a lot like the famous quote from another Pennsylvanian athlete known for his heavy-volume workouts:

There’s only one rule: The guy who trains the hardest, the most, wins. Period. Because you won’t die. Even though you feel like you’ll die, you don’t actually die. Like when you’re training, you can always do one more. Always. As tired as you might think you are, you can always, always do one more.

Yeah.

Was this Bonds’ farewell to Philly?

Road weary and worn out as the clock closed in on midnight and the prospect of yet another all-night, cross-country flight loomed, the 41-year-old ballplayer sat in a room full of people he didn’t really want to talk to following another losing ballgame.

He didn’t want to, but his life has become a bunch of have to things these days. Obligatory kinds of things that normal people have to deal with everyday, only his are a little more high profile, to say the least. Have to fly across the country after midnight; have to pander to the sycophants producing your “reality” show; have to put in the work just to make it through the grind of a season; have to listen to total strangers scream unpleasantries at you ever time you show your face in public; have to answer questions from a grand jury investigation; have to go to work and chase some guy named Babe.

Have to.

“It’s draining,” he said. “It is. It’s a little bit draining. But I have to stay focused for my teammates.”

So there he was, fulfilling another have to. Tersely answering the inane questions from a few while almost lighting up and becoming engaging at a few queries that seemed interesting. Like the one about which ballplayer has the chance to be chasing the Babe or Hank some day?

“Alex Rodriguez. I don’t know about Albert (Pujols),” he said. “Albert’s going to have to deal with a lot of walks. He’s going to get walked a lot, unfortunately. He’s that good. Unfortunately, he plays in the National League, and when you’ve got pitchers coming up, and in a different league, it’s a little bit different. If he was in the American League, we might be saying something different, but in the National League, if he keeps going the way he’s going, he’s going to be walked a ton.”

That was his longest answer in the 19-minute-and-51-second give-and-take with the press that was beamed worldwide on live television from the tiny conference room in the basement of Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. But there was more, too. Like the part about the chat he and his mother Pat had before Sunday night’s nationally televised game. For a little while, at least, the conversation rejuvenated him. Made him feel good and forget about have to, and the shouting, accusations, big signs with asterisks and others calling him a fraud and worse. The books and the grand juries and the investigations all went away for a little bit.

“It helped me get my head twisted back on,” he said about talking to his mom, adding that he was missing his dad, Bobby, a lot these days.

“I wish he was here,” he said.

Hearing that and watching his world seem to implode all around him and bear down, like an anvil, onto his coat-rack shoulders and softening eyes and face makes it easy to feel sympathy for him. Human emotion is a difficult thing to ignore when it is truly genuine. It’s hard to judge someone so harshly when they glowingly talk about their mom and want to be able to talk to their dad, who is no longer on this earth.

But then reality steps in and delivers a cold, hard haymaker to the solar plexus. You remember who it is – who it is that has seen his world turned into something he can no longer control the way he once did an at-bat in a baseball game or turned a crowd of people into slack-jawed wonderment.

Sometimes people have to reap what they sow.

Right?

So after a weekend filled with yelling and screaming, where signs made of old bed sheets were waved for all to see and the anticipation for a milestone in which the regular folks hoped to one day say “I was there,” the old, tired ballplayer answered one more question, posed for one more picture, forced a smile, and walked as fast as his creaky knees would carry him to a bus that would take him to a chartered flight waiting at the airport.

Barry Bonds was on the way out, and it doesn’t look like he’s ever coming back.

One circus leaves another one coming to town

As Barry Bonds and his traveling sideshow get ready to move out of town, another one is moving in, and this one, well, let’s just say it’s kind of personal with this one.

According to Jim Salisbury’s story in the Inquirer this morning, Billy Wagner said he did not feel very well liked by his teammates, who were overly sensitive to criticism and afraid of media scrutiny.

It all in the story, including the part where Pat Burrell apparently called Wagner a “rat.” But better yet, the story simply shows how good a reporter Salisbury is. If there was ever anyone with tons of fascinating baseball stories it’s Jim. He’s definitely one of the best.

He can write a baseball story the way regular people can rack up out-of-control, spiraling credit debt.

On another note, I imagine there will be a few extra security folks stationed along the visiting bullpen for the Mets series, which starts on Tuesday.

Fun. Fun. Fun.

Hey look… writers!
There’s nothing like a slow zoom past the press box during a sporting event. Better yet, there’s nothing like knowing someone who recorded the scanning shot, put it on YouTube and then sends you the screen shot. So thanks to Dan McQuade, here’s a view of the press box from last night’s game. It also looks as if I’m hard at work and very busy… now you just have to figure out which one is me.

More Bonds all the time

A live update of all of Barry Bonds’ plate appearances in Saturday night’s game at Citizens Bank Park.

First inning
Amidst cascading boos, Bonds strolled to the plate with two outs in the first to face starting pitcher Ryan Madson, though it was hard to tell whether the fans were greeting the star-crossed slugger or letting right fielder Bobby Abreu have it for allowing Pedro Feliz’s soft fly ball to drop in for a single.

With a sprinkling of boos, Bonds trotted to first after drawing a five-pitch walk. The fans couldn’t have been that angry, though. The flashbulbs from cameras popped like lightning bugs as Madson delivered every pitch.

As Bonds led off first base, he likely heard the “Barry cheated!” chant that made it through three rounds before running out of steam.

Not surprisingly, Bonds was booed as he settled into his position in left field. A small pocket of fans shouted “Cheater!”but there were no banners like on Friday night, and the crowd is relatively behaved. Even the loud chorus of boos from when Bonds robbed Jimmy Rollins from an extra-base hit weren’t very heartfelt.

Then again, steroid accusations or not, Bonds was probably the best fielding left fielder in baseball history. Those days have passed, though.

Inning highlights: Carlos Ruiz, in his first ever inning of Major League ball, threw out Randy Winn attempting to steal second base for the second out of the inning.

Between Bonds AB press-box banter: Cole Hamels gets called up after Sunday’s start. Geoff Geary heads down. Ryan Madson moves to the ‘pen and Hamels first start is next Saturday at Cincinnati.

Third inning
Guess what? Bonds gets booed as he walks to the plate. The umps stop the game to put special, authenticated balls in play. Madson promptly throws one of them and gets Bonds to ground into a 6-5-3 double play with Pedro Feliz on first.

Between Bonds AB press-box banter: Who is the Kansas City Royals’ All-Star right now?

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

Fifth inning
Before the top of the fifth started, Aaron Rowand had some very harsh words for home-plate umpire Greg Gibson after he grounded out to third base to start the bottom of the fourth. In fact, Rowand was so incensed that he dashed out of the dugout to take up his case — filled with curse words, of course — with the ump.

Not shockingly, Rowand was ejected. It will be interesting to hear what the loquacious center fielder has to say about his ouster following the game.

Back to Bonds:

Boos for Bonds. No signs, though. New, authenticated balls, too.

First pitch fastball for strike one… breaking pitch inside for ball one… high and outside with flashbulbs popping for ball two … changeup a little high, but Bonds seemed to swing late and sent a high fly just short of the track in left field where Pat Burrell catches it. Third out.

Bonds should get at least one more at-bat, but the national media horde chasing the slugger around is preparing to send their stories about how the chase for Babe Ruth’s mark will have to wait at least another day.

Eighth inning
Charlie Manuel says that it appears as if Bonds does not have his timing down yet. Battling injuries and other sideshow-type things — if one wants to call a federal grand jury inquiry a “sideshow” — Bonds’ swing isn’t where he wants it to be, Manuel said.

He’s close though.

“His timing is off. He needs to play a bit more,” Manuel said. “He’s close though. He can get it back as soon as he leaves here.”

He gets to test his timing against lefty Arthur Rhodes following Pedro Feliz’s leadoff single, but falls in the hole, 0-1, after Rhodes drops a fastball on the inside corner… a breaking pitch misses outside for ball one … big swing from the slugger for strike two… another huge swing sends a high fly into center. Shane Victorino settles under it and then gives chase. The winds wreaks havoc with it and sends it to short left field where it oddly drops in for a single.

The hit brings the tying run to the plate with no outs.

That very well could occur now after Steve Finley’s hot grounder heading toward Ryan Howard at first for a probable double play, strikes Bonds on the leg for the first out. It could have been unintentional, but Bonds thwarted a potential rally-killing double play.

The smart play is greeted with some halfhearted boos when Bonds casually walked off the field.

So aside from a few “Barry Sucks!” chants (yes, we know… lame), the evening ended without incident. Based upon last night’s post-game I’d say it’s a better than 99.9 percent chance that Bonds skips out without talking to the press.

Oh well. Let’s do it again tomorrow night.

A Night of Bonds

As far as circuses go, this one was hardly any fun. In fact, when I asked Larry Shenk, the Phillies’ vice president of public relations, if the there was going to be a big top installed, all I got was a terse, “No.”

That doesn’t mean there weren’t moments of levity. For instance, upon arriving in the Phillies’ dugout after listening in with the media throng in Giants skipper Felipe Alou’s office and checking out the scene in the visitor’s clubhouse, some wise writers staying along the fringes asked me what was happening on the other side.

“It’s just a whole bunch of guys over there watching another guy listen to his iPod and mark his bats,” I answered.

“Yeah, and you were one of them,” hooted Jimmy Rollins.

“No, it was worse than that – I was watching other guys watch him,” I shot back.

That’s the way Rollins and I talk to each other sometimes. But I digress.

Him, of course, is Barry Bonds, and what everyone was watching and making all sorts of clever remarks about was the wild and wacky atmosphere around the star-crossed slugger’s parade toward Babe Ruth’s career home run total of 714.

Will he hit the two he needs this weekend in Philadelphia? Well, there are about 250 extra writer-types hanging around for the three games thinking he has a shot.

But surely, there has to be some inconvenience to anything worthwhile. I bet the number of media credentials for the Gettysburg Address numbered in the thousands. Think of how crowded the press box must have been for Nixon’s farewell.

“It’s history,” Ryan Howard said. “This kind of stuff doesn’t happen that much.”

But…

“I bet it’s kind of a pain for you guys,” said Howard in as close to commiserating tone an athlete will ever get with the press.

Just to show it was a two-way street, we let Howard know that we felt bad about all of asinine questions he has to field nearly everyday from folks who don’t show up at the park everyday. It was especially bad after he smacked that home run over the batter’s eye against the Marlins a few weeks back.

Nonetheless, in the time that I have written about the Phillies, which dates back to the middle of 2000, I have never had the chance to see playoff baseball in person nor a real media throng. There was a time when I went to Yankee Stadium to write about Scott Rolen soon after he departed for St. Louis, but what I saw as a media frenzy was a regular old Saturday afternoon in New York City.

They do throngs for lunch. We just wonder what it’s like to go to a playoff game.

Anyway, I’m one of those expect-the-worst, but hope-for-the-best kind of guys, so I did my best to get to the ballpark as early as possible to see if I had been bumped out of my regular seat (thankfully no) or just how wild the circus was (not that bad, actually).

In a nutshell, Friday night’s game was kind of like a convention for the Baseball Writers Association of America. You name him, he was here.

OK. Without further ado, here’s the day in Barry excluding the nightmare of a drive to the park on the Schuylkill Expressway.

4:32 – Enter Giants clubhouse to find that everyone has camped out in the rare hope that Bonds might say or do something. Quickly, word trickles out that Bonds will say and do nothing. Everyone leaves the sauna that is the visitor’s clubhouse for the apron of the field. Highlights include Marcus Hayes hijacking a package of Certs from Rob Maaddi, and Dennis Deitch offering $100 for anyone who chooses to take a drink from the industrial-looking faucet in the hallway in the basement of the stadium.

4:46 – The first of many Jack McKeon references is flung toward Jim “Stansberry” Salisbury.

5:00 – Meeting time in Felipe Alou’s office where the Giants’ writers have to deal with the Philly and national guys (as well as a camera crew from ESPN – a faux pas in normal times) hoping for a nugget about Bonds. Because the room is so crowded, it gets pretty warm and unbearable. Upon walking into the hallway to chat up the Giants’ PR guy, I catch a glance of the man himself less than 10-feet away. Dressed in workout gear with black headphone buds in his ears attached to a black iPod on his right arm, Bonds quietly marks his Sam Bats with a Sharpie. Just from a cursory view, Bonds looks like a veteran baseball player – nothing more, nothing less.

5:01 – PR guy says: “It would have been nice if [Bonds] would have done something in a big room beforehand so everybody could have gotten something in about 10 minutes. Sometimes logic doesn’t always win out.” It’s no big deal, I tell him. Besides, what can Bonds be asked or what can he say that he hasn’t been thrown out there already? Besides, isn’t a media frenzy fun by itself?

An aside: 12 years ago I nearly went to work for the Giants PR staff. The problem was that they wanted me to start before the semester was over and like a fool I stayed in school. Let that be a lesson to all you kids out there.

5:06 – Hey, there’s Tim Worrell!

5:11 – Back over to the Phillies’ dugout where Phil Gianficaro, Ken Mandel and Deitch are sitting with Rollins and Howard. They ask me what’s happening on the other side. I tell them. Rollins makes his crack.

5:17 – Decide to go to press box and get myself together and figure out what to write. Once there, Mike Radano asks me if I want to eat. Having had only two Power Bars and a banana to eat all day, I’m ready to swallow my computer bag.

 

5:22 – Chicken, green beans, a little macaroni, a salad with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, chick peas (no dressing), and the worst crab cakes in the free world. That’s a shame, too, because crab cakes are my favorite and the press dining room at Camden Yards has some of the best anywhere.

5:34 – Bonds! Live! TV! He spits! Turns around! Warms up before batting practice! Oh my!

5:37 – Bonds swing a bat! He takes BP!

5:40 to 6:00 – TV cameras follow ever move Bonds makes. He smacks some really long batting practice home runs all over the park, but they don’t count. There is no sound on the TV so we can’t here the

6:02 – Marcus Hayes appears on the TV screen. We scream. The others indulge me while I tell them what a good guy Marcus is. That gentle rant morphs into a general announcement of how much I enjoy the company of the other baseball writers. Mike Radano rolls his eyes and then repeats a funny story for Dennis Deitch.

6:11 – Comcast SportsNet’s Marc Caputo comes by and says something funny and then leaves. If only it were that easy…

6:14 – Another McKeon reference for Salisbury.

6:20 – Time to start writing. Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun is assigned the seat to my left. He’s from York, Pa. so we exchange some general baseball information and stories and discuss our South Central Pennsylvania-ness.

7:01 – Anthem.

7:07 – First pitch.

7:10 – Here comes Bonds. The crowd boos with some cheers sprinkled in, but not many. How weird would it be to get booed? Such an odd custom, but it gets it point across.

7:11 – Bonds swings at a first-pitch fastball from Gavin Floyd. He hits it straight up into the air in center field where Aaron Rowand waits for it and catches it.

7:15 – Bonds heads for left field where a big banner reading “Babe Ruth did it on hotdogs and beer” is unfurled. That’s probably true, but it isn’t exactly too healthy, either. Just think how good Ruth would have been if he did it on plenty of rest, a good diet, weight training and extra batting practice.

7:50 – Bonds draws an intentional walk from Floyd. People boo, but I’m not sure if they are booing Bonds or the intentional walk. A man holds a sign that says, “Pitch to Bonds.” After the game, Charlie Manuel says it will be hard to pitch to Bonds if first base is open.

8:03 – Moises Alou rolls his ankle in the right-field corner while chasing a foul ball. It doesn’t look too bad on the replays, but Alou gets carted off the field.

8:31 – Dan Connolly says Bonds is going to hit one this inning.

8:32 – Bonds taps into a 3-5-4 double play. Yeah, the old 3-5-4.

9:22 – Bonds strikes out on a nasty change up from Aaron Fultz. After the inning he stays in the dugout.

That’s pretty much the Night of Bonds. The mass media went into the Giants clubhouse following the game only to find that the slugger had left for the night. Meanwhile on the Phillies side, everyone is happy about the sixth win in a row. Ryan Howard was happy to hit two homers, win the game and meet Bonds. Charlie Manuel was cracking jokes at Mike Radano’s expense.

It’s now 12:01 a.m. I’m going to drive home to Lancaster, wake up for a 7 a.m. workout and come to the park in the afternoon ready to do it all over again.

All Bonds all the time

There will be an extra 300 media types hanging around the ballpark this weekend and they won’t be there to see if Charlie Manuel and the Phillies can keep the five-game winning streak going.

Needless to say, it’s going to be a mess where writer types will need to show up early, stay late and try to avoid the circus.

Yeah, we’re all really looking forward to it… nevertheless, if there is going to be a circus and I’m going to be in the Big Top, why not make the most of it? Check back here for a report on all of the wackiness that goes with a media scrum.

Bonds bringing circus (and reality show) to Philly

The next week is shaping up to be one of the more memorable weekends in Philadelphia sports in quite some time. At least from a national perspective, that is.

Aside from the potential Game 7 for the Flyers in the opening round playoff series against the Buffalo Sabres, as well as the afterglow of a strong draft for the beloved Eagles, the Phillies’ games and Citizens Bank Park could be in the national spotlight.

Huh? A 10-14 team struggling with its relief pitching and nearly every other aspect of the game – how are they going to find anything more than the ire of a handful of folks that call into sports radio shows?

It’s not them, it’s someone else. Like Bonds.

Barry Bonds.

With the dramatic, ninth-inning homer he slugged off former Phillie Billy Wagner last week, Barry Bonds, baseball’s Public Enemy No. 1, stands at 711 home runs in his now checkered big league career. Whether or not Bonds slugged the majority of those homers with the aid of illegal substances remains an issue for former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, commissioner Bud Selig and their steroids investigation. This weekend, Bonds has a chance to tie or surpass Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 career home runs.

Babe Ruth, of course, is one of the most storied and beloved ballplayers to ever live. In the wake of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, it was Ruth and all of his home runs that not only saved the game of baseball, but also became the stuff of legend.

Bonds, not to rehash all of the building controversy, has always been the antithesis of Ruth. According to published reports as well as first-hand accounts from folks who have dealt with Bonds throughout the years, he has been rude, curt, mean and selfish. And that’s to the people who are close to him.

Ruth, according to legend, was always the life of the party. Where Bonds is surly, Ruth was gregarious.

Regardless, Bonds and Ruth could share the spotlight this weekend in Philadelphia.

The Giants have three more games until they arrive in Philadelphia, with only one at home against before the team hits the road, so obviously Bonds will not pass the Babe at the relatively friendly confines of San Francisco’s ballpark (whatever company it’s named for now). Still, after two games in Milwaukee and then the three in Philly, the Giants return home for a week. Therefore, it would not be too surprising if Bonds has some sort of injury when his team comes to Philadelphia even though Sunday’s game is scheduled to be telecast nationally on ESPN.

Bonds, of course, is taping a reality show for ESPN.

Anyway, Major League Baseball has already issued a statement that it will not formally acknowledge Bonds’ 715th home run, which is the correct move since Henry Aaron, not Babe Ruth, holds the record for the most home runs. However, that doesn’t mean the fans in the stands at the Bank won’t acknowledge the deed if it occurs here.

Certainly, the national media will have a field day figuring out how the fans in Philly will react if Bonds passes Ruth, so to take the tired, old Philly fan clichés out of the mix for a change, here’s my suggestion for how the fans should react to Bonds:

Don’t react at all. Don’t boo, don’t cheer, don’t guffaw. Just stand there and be quiet. Turn your back if you feel that’s necessary, but truly respond with no emotion whatsoever.

How cool would it be to see Bonds circle the bases after a milestone homer in total silence?

It’s also worth noting that Babe Ruth’s last game was played at the Baker Bowl, the Phillies old stadium that was located in North Philadelphia at Broad and Lehigh Ave. on May 30, 1935. As a player for the Boston Braves, the 40-year-old Ruth struck out in the first inning and then hurt his knee playing first base in the bottom half of the inning.

He walked off the field and never played again.

Bonds to chase Babe in Philly?

Here’s this weeks edition of my column for the CSN E-mail blast. To subscribe for the blast, click here.

The next week is shaping up to be one of the more memorable weekends in Philadelphia sports in quite some time. At least from a national perspective, that is.

Aside from the potential Game 7 for the Flyers in the opening round playoff series against the Buffalo Sabres, as well as the afterglow of a strong draft for the beloved Eagles, the Phillies’ games and Citizens Bank Park could be in the national spotlight.

Huh? A 10-14 team struggling with its relief pitching and nearly every other aspect of the game – how are they going to find anything more than the ire of a handful of folks that call into sports radio shows?

It’s not them, it’s someone else. Like Bonds.

Barry Bonds.

With the dramatic, ninth-inning homer he slugged off former Phillie Billy Wagner last week, Barry Bonds, baseball’s Public Enemy No. 1, stands at 711 home runs in his now checkered big league career. Whether or not Bonds slugged the majority of those homers with the aid of illegal substances remains an issue for former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, commissioner Bud Selig and their steroids investigation. This weekend, Bonds has a chance to tie or surpass Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 career home runs.

Babe Ruth, of course, is one of the most storied and beloved ballplayers to ever live. In the wake of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, it was Ruth and all of his home runs that not only saved the game of baseball, but also became the stuff of legend.

Bonds, not to rehash all of the building controversy, has always been the antithesis of Ruth. According to published reports as well as first-hand accounts from folks who have dealt with Bonds throughout the years, he has been rude, curt, mean and selfish. And that’s to the people who are close to him.

Ruth, according to legend, was always the life of the party. Where Bonds is surly, Ruth was gregarious.

Regardless, Bonds and Ruth could share the spotlight this weekend in Philadelphia.

The Giants have three more games until they arrive in Philadelphia, with only one at home against before the team hits the road, so obviously Bonds will not pass the Babe at the relatively friendly confines of San Francisco’s ballpark (whatever company it’s named for now). Still, after two games in Milwaukee and then the three in Philly, the Giants return home for a week. Therefore, it would not be too surprising if Bonds has some sort of injury when his team comes to Philadelphia even though Sunday’s game is scheduled to be telecast nationally on ESPN.

Bonds, of course, is taping a reality show for ESPN.

Anyway, Major League Baseball has already issued a statement that it will not formally acknowledge Bonds’ 715th home run, which is the correct move since Henry Aaron, not Babe Ruth, holds the record for the most home runs. However, that doesn’t mean the fans in the stands at the Bank won’t acknowledge the deed if it occurs here.

Certainly, the national media will have a field day figuring out how the fans in Philly will react if Bonds passes Ruth, so to take the tired, old Philly fan clichés out of the mix for a change, here’s my suggestion for how the fans should react to Bonds:

Don’t react at all. Don’t boo, don’t cheer, don’t guffaw. Just stand there and be quiet. Turn your back if you feel that’s necessary, but truly respond with no emotion whatsoever.

How cool would it be to see Bonds circle the bases after a milestone homer in total silence?

It’s also worth noting that Babe Ruth’s last game was played at the Baker Bowl, the Phillies old stadium that was located in North Philadelphia at Broad and Lehigh Ave. on May 30, 1935. As a player for the Boston Braves, the 40-year-old Ruth struck out in the first inning and then hurt his knee playing first base in the bottom half of the inning.

He walked off the field and never played again.