Tag: Barry Bonds

Would Bonds, Clemens Entry Open Up Hall of Fame Floodgates?

How much juice can the National Baseball Hall of Fame hold? We’re going to find out.

The sea change in the voting for the Hall of Fame can’t be ignored. It first became apparent when Mike Piazza, long suspected of needing performance-enhancing drugs to slug more homers than any other catcher, got into Cooperstown with 83 percent of the vote in 2016.

Now the revolution is projected to continue in 2017.

The latest Hall of Fame class won’t be revealed until January 18, but all the votes were in on December 31. And thanks to Ryan Thibodaux, the tireless Samaritan who aggregates Hall of Fame ballots, we already know how the votes are trending:

With the cutoff for induction set at 75 percent, Vladimir Guerrero is too close to call. Otherwise, it looks like congratulations will soon be in order for Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez.

This trio’s induction would draw applause from plenty but also raise eyebrows from others. Bags, Rock and Pudge come with big numbers but also with suspicion and/or baggage.

Bagwell was a muscly steroid-era slugger who admitted to using androstenedione to the Houston Chronicle (via Sports Illustrated‘s William Nack and Kostya Kennedy)—the stuff Mark McGwire was on.

Rodriguez, another steroid-era star, once gave a curiously vague response when he was asked about PEDs, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). Raines was in the back end of his career during the steroid era, but he did use cocaine during his prime with the Montreal Expos in the 1980s.

This is neither here nor there for those of us (hi there!) who see the scuzzier portions of baseball’s past not as parts to be shunned but as those to be discussed and examined. But all should be prepared for the rabble about to be raised by a small army of handwringers. They’ll echo the Hall of Fame’s insistence on integrity and character and wonder if nothing is sacred anymore.

A word to the hand-wringers: If you don’t like how those three are trending, you’d better not look at how Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are doing.

Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run king, and Clemens, its only seven-time Cy Young winner, debuted with just 36.2 and 37.6 percent of the vote in 2013. By last year, they had only climbed into the 40s.

Never mind the argument that Bonds and Clemens may be the greatest hitter and pitcher ever, respectively. This seemed to clarify that their status as poster boy 1A and 1B for the steroid era weighed more heavily.

But look! Now they’re tracking at darn near 70 percent. “How about that?” says Mel Allen’s ghost.

Although Bonds and Clemens will likely fall short of their current marks in the end, this is still writing on the wall that says their support is in for a major boost. With five years left on the ballot after this one, they finally have a light museum at the end of their tunnels.

Some things are random. Like lottery numbers. Or Bryce Harper’s year-to-year performance.

But Bonds and Clemens’ push to Cooperstown? That’s not random.

This is an effect of the Hall of Fame’s purging inactive baseball writers from the Baseball Writers Association of America voting bloc in 2015. That did away with a lot of older and out-of-touch voters, giving younger and more progressive voters more influence.

This is also an unintended consequence of the Hall of Fame’s welcoming legendary manager Tony La Russa in 2014 and former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig this year. Juiced players (McGwire included) helped the former win 2,728 games and three World Series. Juiced players did the latter a huge favor by putting on a show that erased the 1994-1995 strike from memory and ushered in an era of unfathomable prosperity.

Selig’s induction seems to be the real kicker for many voters. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently offered a sampling of their thoughts, with the consensus being it’s no longer fair to scorn the juiced-up labor of the steroid era while the beneficiaries of said juiced-up labor are going scot-free.

“When Bud was put in two weeks ago, my mindset changed,” veteran Philadelphia sportswriter Kevin Cooney wrote to Passan in an email. “If the commissioner of the steroid era was put into the HOF by a secret committee, then I couldn’t in good faith keep those two out any longer.”

Clearly, the line in the sand has been redrawn. That doesn’t just spell hope for Bonds and Clemens, but it also does so for other steroid-era stars gunning for Cooperstown. That’s you, Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa. 

As for you, Manny Ramirez…uh…hmmm…

OK, you’re a tough one.

It’s easy to miss Ramirez on this year’s ballot, but he’s there. And his numbers loom large. He hit 555 dingers in a 19-year career and is one of only 13 players to accumulate more than 9,000 plate appearances and post a slash line better than .300/.400/.500.

The only number that matters, though, is the 26.7 percent Ramirez is polling at.

There’s no big secret for why he’s struggling. Ramirez enjoyed success during and after the steroid era but missed the memo when the era ended. Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times reported in 2009 that Ramirez tested positive for PEDs in 2003. He was then busted and suspended for PEDs later that year. When he was caught again in 2011, he ducked the consequences by retiring.

Ramirez is the first superstar to have been caught riding dirty to appear on the ballot since Rafael Palmeiro in 2011. That doomed him to 11 percent of the vote that year and an early exit in his fourth year. Ramirez might last longer, but it looks like his fate will be the same.

Certainly, more players would have been caught and punished had there been rules and punishments during the steroid era. But it was a different time.

“There were no rules before 2004,” wrote Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “No signs in clubhouses banning PEDs. You were free to take whatever you desired with no testing, no penalties, nothing.”

The shorthand: There’s a difference between breaking “rules” and breaking rules. As MassLive’s Nick O’Malley‘s helpful compilation makes clear, this is a common refrain for voters regarding Ramirez.

Earth to Alex Rodriguez: This concerns you.

After retiring in 2016, Rodriguez isn’t due on the ballot until 2022. Like Ramirez, he’s an all-time great producer who had success during and after the steroid era. Also like Ramirez, he was on the 2003 list and later busted and suspended in 2014. 

For now, he’s screwed. As much as the Hall of Fame voters are loosening their standards for PED guys, they still have some standards. They came for Palmeiro and Ramirez. They’ll come for Rodriguez, too.

Unless, of course, another unexpected sea change comes along.

Before long, the effect of the Hall of Fame voting bloc’s getting younger and more progressive will go from minor to major. As Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated pointed out after A-Rod’s retirement, there will be an influx of analytically minded baseball writers starting in 2018.

If for no other reason than to reverse the effect of “small hall” thinking—MLB.com’s Mike Petriello has a good article out on that—these voters could be more inclined to vote for Ramirez and Rodriguez. Modern times need more representation in Cooperstown. Like it or not, they’re two of the biggest stars of modern times.

They also still have time to repair their images. Ramirez has already begun with his work with the Chicago Cubs. Rodriguez, meanwhile, played the good soldier on the field following his suspension and has since emerged as an extremely likable television analyst.

The other thing time can do is thin out the competition. In contrast to the tidal wave of superstars of recent years, the future should see only a slow drip of superstars onto the ballot. In the meantime, the 10-year limit will push some off the ballot. Others will get squeezed by the annual 10-player voting limit. Others still, such as Bonds and Clemens, will get voted in, leaving fewer titans to contend with.

This is better news for someone like David Ortiz, who was flagged for PEDs in 2003 but was never busted in 13 fruitful years after that, than it is for Ramirez and Rodriguez. But if nothing else, this is all basically Lloyd Christmas telling them there’s a chance.

For good or ill, the Hall of Fame’s days of just saying no to PED guys are over. We’re in new territory, and the task of charting it is just beginning.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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These MLB Stars Are the Only Ones Worthy of 2017 HOF Enshrinement

The first year Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, I voted “not now.”

OK, technically I just didn’t vote for them, but as I explained then in a column for CBSSports.com, it was more of a “not now” vote than a “not ever” vote.

“They may never get in,” I wrote, “but my guess is eventually they will.”

Eventually is coming.

It likely won’t happen this year based on early voting numbers tracked so carefully by Ryan Thibodaux. But Bonds’ and Clemens’ numbers went up last year after the Hall of Fame made changes in the electorate, and Thibodaux’s tracking numbers suggest they’ll rise even more significantly this time around.

Some votes switched after a Hall of Fame committee decided to enshrine Bud Selig, the commissioner who oversaw baseball’s steroid era. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports talked to some of those voters and explained why they switched.

The Selig decision didn’t affect my vote. I’ve voted for Bonds and Clemens since 2014 for reasons I explained then on Facebook.

Three years later, I feel the same way. And just as I did in 2014, I used the maximum 10 spots on this year’s ballot.

Here they are in alphabetical order (as they’re listed on the ballot), with the reasons why each one belongs.

Begin Slideshow

Barry Bonds Fired by Marlins: Latest Comments and Reaction

Barry Bonds‘ tenure with the Miami Marlins is over after just one season.

The Marlins confirmed Wednesday that Bonds would not return next season after Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball cited sources on Monday who said the team elected to let the hitting coach go.

Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald confirmed the report and noted the team was also getting rid of third base coach Lenny Harris and bullpen coach Reid Cornelius.

Craig Mish of SiriusXM reported owner Jeffrey Loria was previously the only one blocking the dismissal of Bonds, but that was “apparently no longer an obstacle.”

Mish pointed out there was a disconnect with the franchise’s premier offensive star, noting Giancarlo Stanton “tuned out” Bonds, who was critical of the slugger within earshot of his teammates at times.

Mish added that manager Don Mattingly called out Bonds during a road trip this season, noting the hitting coach’s commitment decreased over the course of the season.

While there were reportedly some issues with Bonds that go beyond the box score, one of the concerns was likely the lack of offensive production for the team. The 79-82 Marlins finished in third place in the National League East despite ranking sixth in the National League in team ERA.

The Marlins were an abysmal 27th in the major league in total runs scored with 665 and failed to capitalize on many of their impressive pitching outings.

Heyman acknowledged that some of the statistics were solid, and the Marlins improved their overall batting average by three points and their run total by 42 under Bonds’ tutelage. However, the lack of slugging and runs proved costly in Miami’s postseason push:

Bonds came to the Marlins with a head-turning resume as a player. The seven-time National League MVP, 14-time All-Star and 12-time Silver Slugger boasts the all-time records for career (762) and single-season home runs (73).

When the team hired Bonds, USA Today recognized his career was “tarnished by steroids,” but Bonds said, “I know hitting, and I know it better than anybody.”

The 2015 season wasn’t his first time working with younger players in a teaching role. According to USA Today, he served as a guest hitting instructor for the San Francisco Giants in spring training two years ago and previously tutored players on an individual level.

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Barry Bonds Ejected for 1st Time as Coach vs. Giants

Barry Bonds was known for his selective strike zone as a player, often demonstrably disagreeing with strike calls he perceived as being incorrect.

Well, it appears that has carried over to his coaching career.

Bonds earned his first career ejection as the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach on Wednesday, getting tossed prior to the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants. He had disputed a called strike on Marlins first baseman Chris Johnson from the dugout.

Umpire Cory Blaser heard Bonds and tossed him from the game. Bonds then left the dugout to discuss the matter with Blaser, though it was more of a calm discussion than anything reminiscent of Bonds’ most heated moments as a player.

The MLB home run king is in his first season as the Marlins’ hitting coach. Miami ranks third in batting average and fifth in on-base percentage.

Bonds discussed his new role in May, per Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Bay Times:

I’m enjoying myself a lot. I didn’t know what to expect out of it. But I honestly am having a great time. I have a great group here, too. We have a lot of fun, we laugh, they call me names … B.B., some say “Kid,” I guess you get a lot of nicknames when you’re a coach. If I was playing, and they did that, I’d probably fight every one of them. I’m not playing, so it’s all good.

Despite getting on base at a prolific clip, the Marlins rank 21st in runs scored. They’re nonetheless still in the hunt for the National League East and a potential wild-card berth.

Miami lost Wednesday’s game, 1-0.

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Barry Bonds Comments on Portrayal by Media, Playing Career, More

All-time Major League Baseball home run king Barry Bonds was often viewed as antagonistic toward the media during his playing career, and the current Miami Marlins hitting coach is taking full responsibility for that perception. 

In an interview with Terence Moore of Sports on Earth released Wednesday, the former Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants All-Star showed regret for his unpleasant demeanor over the course of his 22 years as an MLB player:

Me. It’s on me. I’m to blame for the way I was [portrayed], because I was a dumbass. I was straight stupid, and I’ll be the first to admit it. I mean, I was just flat-out dumb. What can I say? I’m not going to try to justify the way I acted toward people. I was stupid. It wasn’t an image that I invented on purpose. It actually escalated into that, and then I maintained it. You know what I mean? It was never something that I really ever wanted. No one wants to be treated like that, because I was considered to be a terrible person. You’d have to be insane to want to be treated like that. That makes no sense.

Bonds said he took steps to change the way the media viewed his personality at times, but he eventually always went back to the cantankerous persona it had grown accustomed to:

Hell, I kick myself now, because I’m getting great press [since being more cooperative], and I could have had a trillion more endorsements, but that wasn’t my driving force. … So I just said, “I’ve created this fire around me, and I’m stuck in it, so I might as well live with the flames.”

Bonds told Moore his issues with the media began as a young player with the Pirates because of the pressure on his shoulders to lead the Bucs to greatness.

While the manner in which Bonds carried himself off the field often made him a target for criticism, he was among the greatest all-around players to ever set foot on a baseball diamond.

He is a seven-time National League MVP and the all-time leader in both home runs (762) and walks (2,558), and he easily would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer if not for questions regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Although Bonds is now seemingly remorseful for the way he acted, he has no qualms about the work he put in to become a dominant player:

The one thing that I would never, ever reflect on and talk about changing from the past is my ability with what I did out there on the field. When it came to [preparing for and playing the game], I did that right. But as far as my attitude and the way I handled things, I just didn’t do it the right way. 

While a certain degree of pressure comes with being a big league hitting coach, it pales in comparison to the expectation of leading a team to a championship every year.

The 51-year-old Bonds has seemingly mellowed since becoming Miami’s hitting coach, and while he may never fully erase his previous reputation, his comments may help people understand his actions.


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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Minus Fanfare, Conforto Becoming Star Mets Need

Got your graduation gifts all purchased? That time of year again….


1. Big Apples, Monuments and The Millennial Men

They are both 23, and each will play an enormous role as the summer heats up and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets duel in the National League East.

One is as flamboyant as a pink flamingo in the front yard, as ostentatious as a Porsche in the driveway. Yeah, you know all about Bryce Harper, who came in as one of the hottest prospects in the history of Major League Baseball and put his stamp on the NL MVP award last summer.

The other? As nondescript as a welcome mat at the front door, as plain Jane as a sprinkler watering the lawn. But know this: Despite the fact that his batting average dipped during the month of May, the Mets have gone 22-12 in 34 games in which Michael Conforto has batted either third or fourth in the lineup.

Yeah, Conforto. Oregon State kid. First-round pick in 2014. The Mets got him 10th overall. Spotted Harper a huge head start into the majors: Bryce debuted at 19, of course, in 2012. Conforto didn’t land in New York until last summer, though he zoomed all the way up from Class A St. Lucie in just four months.

Then, Conforto did something Harper still hasn’t done: stepped to the plate in a World Series game.

In fact, Conforto started all five games of the Mets’ Fall Classic loss to Kansas City last October.

Yes, they both are 23, and though the natural comparison/rival for Harper has always been the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout, Conforto is Harper’s intradivisional peer, and won’t it be a blast watching these guys jockey for position in what might become the most thrilling race in baseball this summer?

The three hole is where Mets manager Terry Collins and his staff envisioned Conforto would end up all along in the Mets lineup, though when they moved him there for good on April 15 at Cleveland, with Yoenis Cespedes hitting behind him, nobody knew then how it would solidify things.

“We talked about it in spring training,” Collins tells B/R. “We thought down the road, this guy’s going to be a three-hole hitter. Then when we looked at it early in the year we thought, ‘You know what? This guy is swinging the bat good right now, let’s put him in that spot and see how it goes.’

“And it’s paid off.”

Funny how “down the road” during spring training can suddenly translate into two or three weeks.

“It might have even been next year,” Collins says. “We just thought, this kid’s a good hitter and he’s going to produce runs. And we just said one of these days he’s going to be a three-hole hitter.

“We didn’t know if it was going to be this year, next year or two years from now. I just thought he’s going to be a guy with a high ceiling offensively, so we just took a shot.”

Despite hitting .169/.242/.349 in the month of May, Conforto, who swings lefty, is still hitting .261/.339/.503 overall with eight homers and 24 RBI.

Of Conforto’s 17 career home runs, 10 have either given the Mets the lead or tied the game (eight go-ahead, two game-tying). And for those of you who are Sabermetrically inclined, through Monday, Conforto had a well-hit average of .275 against right-handers, fourth-highest in the majors.

“He has the ability to drive the ball to all fields; he has power. And the good thing with this team is…it wasn’t like, ‘Isn’t so-and-so supposed to hit there?'” Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson says.

As Granderson notes, that’s the “cool thing” about the Mets: They have the ability to move guys around, which helps lessen the pressure on any one individual.

Tell Harper about it. Nobody in the game is under more pressure than him each night, given who he is and what he’s capable of. When he went 11 consecutive games in May without homering, let’s just say it was the loudest silent streak anybody has had in the majors this season.   

During that streak, from May 14-26, Harper was 4-for-33 with 11 walks. Overall this season, he’s still not exactly tearing it up, hitting .242/.415/.535 with 13 homers and 34 RBI.

Conforto is no Harper. Though he is capable of carrying the Mets on his back for a couple of games, he’s certainly not going to do so all summer. Nor is he expected to. But with Cespedes hitting behind him, he is one of New York’s keys, especially with David Wright facing another trip to the disabled list (herniated disk in his neck) and Matt Harvey’s struggles (through Monday, at least). Cespedes and Neil Walker can’t do it all themselves.

Conforto hit third in the lineup throughout high school, college and the minor leagues.

“It’s been my spot,” he says. “It’s where I want to be. But I felt it was something I needed to earn. I wasn’t going to have it right away.

“I still have to earn it.”

Part of that is hitting left-handers better: Against them in 2016, through Tuesday, he was hitting .118/.143/.118. As such, it was no coincidence that Collins gave him a day off Sunday, when the Mets faced Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

After Conforto hit .365/.442/.676 overall in April, rival pitchers spent much of May searching for holes in his swing. What he noticed was a steady diet of breaking balls and sliders, with a few changeups thrown in.

“When I first got there, it was clear I was getting an extra fastball a game, or a pitch that they would have buried in the dirt before, they weren’t,” Conforto says of the move to third from lower in the order.

No small part of that, of course, was that pitchers wanted to take their chances with him rather than with the big bopper hitting next, Cespedes.

So now, for both his sake and that of the Mets, it’s time for Conforto to again start turning some of those sliders and breaking balls around, a lot more frequently than he has of late.

“You’ve always got to be cognizant of what they’re trying to do,” he says.

And if he happens to chat with Harper behind the cage during batting practice one of these days when the Mets and Nationals next meet later this month, the Washington megastar undoubtedly will tell him, “Yes, you do.”


2. Messing With the Strike Zone

Look out, the MLB Competition Committee is at it again, and the resulting changes could mean a remapped strike zone and the extinction of the good old-fashioned four-pitch intentional walk.

The first idea is questionable at best.

The second idea stinks.

Where the strike zone is concerned, the competition committee agreed on a motion to raise the bottom part of the strike zone from below the knees to above the knees. Given that almost 30 percent of at-bats are ending in a strikeout or walk this season (and that’s not even when Kershaw is pitching; see next item), it is worth discussing ways to lessen the dead time in games and put more balls in play.

The problem is beware the laws of unintended consequences: If the strike zone is raised, many players and managers think all it will do is turn some of the strikeouts into walks, not help hitters put more balls in play.

Why? Because it is far easier for a hitter to drop the bat head down on a 95 mph fastball than it is for him to get around on a higher fastball. So, in theory, this change could cause hitters to stop attempting to swing at the low fastball, figuring it will be called a ball.

So now you may not be doing anything but ladling more walks into games.

Nothing will change until approved by the playing rules committee. So while we continue to mull the strike zone, here’s hoping that committee quickly shoots down the idea of abolishing the four-pitch intentional walk.

Look, pace of game is an issue, no question, with games this season averaging just over three hours, per Baseball Prospectus. But a manager holding up four fingers instead of a pitcher lobbing four balls? Saves maybe 20 seconds, tops.

And it completely eliminates a part of the game that requires execution. There are times when a pitcher tosses a wild pitch…or leaves an intentional ball too close to the plate and the hitter reaches out and swats it.

Eliminate the four-pitch intentional walk, and you’ll deprive people of entertaining (and potentially game-changing) moments like this:


3. Clayton Kershaw’s Dead Time

That 30 percent of at-bats in today’s game ending without the hitter putting the ball in play?

That’s low when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw pitches.

When he’s on the mound, a whopping 36 percent of at-bats end without the ball being put into play.

Following his last start, Sunday night against the Mets, Kershaw entered this week with the astounding strikeout-to-walk ratio of 21-1. He had 105 whiffs against just five walks. He also had hit one of his 309 batters faced.


4. The Life and Times of Yankees Pitching

The New York Yankees optioned young prospect Luis Severino to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Monday, another significant move for a club stuck carefully juggling starting pitchers as if they were knives.

Severino was viewed as a potential savior this spring after going 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 11 stretch-run starts last summer. This year, he is 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA.

With him gone, all eyes turn to the enigmatic Michael Pineda, who next starts Thursday in Detroit. Into that start in the Motor City, among qualifiers, Pineda ranks last (52nd) in the AL in ERA (6.92) and second-to-last (51st) in opponents’ batting average (.322).

But just when things look bleak for the Bronx Bombers, check this out from Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, started by Nathan Eovaldi and then turned over to bullpen stars Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, as Inside Edge noted:

That’s some serious cheese right there. Wow.


5. Cheating With the Dodgers Outfielders

More than once this season, alert fans have posted brief videos or photos on Twitter showing a Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder dipping into his pocket and checking what looks like a cell phone:

What gives? Have we finally reached the point where even players cannot go half an inning without checking for messages?

Are there pressing dinner reservations? Social arrangements for tonight that cannot wait until after the game? What?

Well, none of the above, it turns out. Rather, Dodgers outfielders now take their positions with cheat sheets for their intricate shifting patterns. There is so much information to remember for each hitter that sometimes a guy like Howie Kendrick needs to fish some of that information out of his pocket to see where to station himself because he can’t remember it.

In fact, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Mets complained to MLB officials last Friday after learning that Los Angeles intended to mark prearranged defensive positions on the CitiField grass. The Dodgers now use a laser rangefinder before games to determine certain fielding positions. Were they to use it in-game, it would be a violation of rules.

Stay tuned.


6. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Memorial Day: Finally, summer (unofficially) begins. Put those cheeseburgers on the grill and cue up some Jimmy Buffett.

2. Matt Harvey: Not only did he fire seven shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox on Monday, he even spoke with reporters afterward. Maybe he’s not washed up, after all.

3. Indianapolis 500: Other than a hand-scooped milkshake, the best reason to drink milk.

4. Golden State Warriors: Did you see those pregame aerial shots of the Oakland Athletics’ home field? You couldn’t even see any leaking sewage. That’s how impressive Stephen Curry is.

5. Julio Urias: Dodgers wunderkind debuts at age 19 on Friday but is dispatched back to Triple-A Oklahoma City in time for Saturday’s Thunder-Warriors Game 6. I know they say teenagers have short attention spans, but, man, that was quick.


7. Bat Flip This

Et tu, Mickey Mantle? Wonder how Goose Gossage would frame this!


8. Chatter

• The Miami Marlins are thrilled with some of the things Barry Bonds is doing as hitting coach, most notably in reaching outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Things between the Marlins and Ozuna haven’t always been copacetic, but that’s changed this summer. Ozuna’s on-base streak reached 36 consecutive games, longest in the majors this season, before finally ending Monday. “It meant a lot because it meant that I maintained my swing and showed a lot of patience at the plate,” Ozuna, 25, told Miami reporters (via MLB.com). “Now it’s a matter of maintaining that and moving forward.”

Look out for the Pittsburgh Pirates: They’ve won 11 of 16 to shave the deficit between them and the first-place Chicago Cubs from a season-high nine games on May 14 to 6.5 through Tuesday’s games. We knew Pittsburgh had one of the game’s best outfields in Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, and the trio is hot: Pittsburgh outfielders lead the majors in batting average (.301) and extra-base hits (72) and rank second in on-base percentage (.371), slugging percentage (.500) and OPS (.871).

Good move by the New York Mets to acquire James Loney, who was languishing in El Paso, San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate. He’s a perfect place-holder for the injured Lucas Duda. Loney, 32, was hitting .342 with a .373 on-base percentage. A scout who saw him last week praised his offensive work and noted that his defense was Gold Glove-caliber.

No question, sources tell Bleacher Report, the San Diego Padres absolutely would love to trade right-hander James Shields and unload a contract that pays him $21 million this year, $21 million in 2017 and another $21 million in 2018 with a $16 million club option or a $2 million buyout in 2019. Shields has an opt-out option after this season, which could discourage potential trade partners.

The Chicago White Sox are among the teams talking Shields with San Diego, sources say. The Sox could use an upgrade in their rotation over Mat Latos, who started 4-0 with a 0.74 ERA but is 2-1 with a 7.21 ERA since, and Miguel Gonzalez.

Of course, after their weekend series with Kansas City, the White Sox look like they could use some bullpen reinforcements, too. They blew a 7-1 ninth-inning lead on Saturday, one of three staggering bullpen losses, and their relievers combined to surrender 17 runs, 15 hits and eight walks over 6.1 innings to Kansas City in the three days. Ouch. And that was only the start of a 10-game trip to KC, New York (Mets) and Detroit.

One of the issues with Tim Lincecum, says a scout who was at his showcase in Scottsdale, Arizona, a couple of weeks ago, is that his stride toward the plate has shortened significantly. That is likely a result of his hip procedure, which is a contributing factor as to why his fastball no longer sizzles. There was little interest in Lincecum after the showcase, except from the injury-depleted Los Angeles Angels of Our Rotation Is Broken. Lincecum is next scheduled to start for Triple-A Salt Lake at Tacoma on Thursday and, if all goes well, is expected to join the Angels in 10 or so days.

Great news, Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman confirming that he will return to Cincinnati’s booth in 2017.

Here’s why it is imperative the Cleveland Indians get their pitching sorted out. Through Tuesday, Cleveland had played 50 games—tied for fewest in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles, Cubs and Rays—yet scored 238 runs, fourth-most in the American League. There’s an opportunity here…if manager Terry Francona can get all the pieces moving in the same direction.

Speaking of the Indians, it still could not be more fitting that a slugging designated hitter named Carlos Santana plays in the city that houses the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum.

Thursday’s Arizona-Houston match features two of the most disappointing starting pitchers in the land: the Diamondbacks’ Zack Greinke, whose 4.71 ERA ranks 78th in the majors (you sure couldn’t tell by that $206 million contract) against the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel, whose 5.58 ERA ranks 97th (nowhere near last season’s Cy Young form).


9. Andrew Miller IS Going to Throw the Slider

The New York Yankees’ ace setup man, into last weekend, per Inside Edge:


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Paul Simon’s new record, Stranger to Stranger, drops June 3, and the man who gave us the immortal line “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you” goes back to baseball again with a song called “Cool Papa Bell.” Hall of Famer Satchel Paige once said, in one of the greatest quips in the history of baseball, that Bell was so fast that he could click off the light and jump in bed and be under the covers before the room got dark.

“Have you all heard the news?

“‘Heaven finally found!’

“OK, it’s six trillion light-years away

“But we’re all gonna get there someday

“Yes, we’re all gonna get there one day

“But, but not you!

“You stay and explain the suffering

“And the pain you caused

“The thrill you feel when evil dreams come true

“Check out my tattoo!

“It says ‘wall-to-wall fun’

“Does everyone know everyone

“Mr. wall-to-wall fun

“We got the well, well, well

“And Cool Papa Bell

“The fastest man on Earth did dwell as

“Cool Papa Bell”

— Paul Simon, “Cool Papa Bell”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Barry Bonds Comments on Bryce Harper Walking 13 Times in Series vs. Cubs

After Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper set a major league record by drawing 13 walks in last weekend’s four-game series against the Chicago Cubs, all-time MLB walks leader Barry Bonds weighed in on the reigning MVP’s plight. 

Despite the frustration that can come with being pitched around, the first-year Miami Marlins hitting coach urged Harper to avoid doing too much at the plate, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald: “He’s going to have to stay disciplined—a lot.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon instructed his pitchers to intentionally walk Harper three times Sunday. He also drew three additional walks and was hit by a pitch in that game, meaning he made seven plate appearances without recording an official at-bat, which also set a new record, per Spencer.

Bonds’ 2,558 career walks and 688 intentional walks are both all-time records by a significant margin, so nobody understands what Harper is going through more so than MLB’s home run king.

Rather than taking issue with the idea of pitching around a dangerous player, Bonds put the onus on Nationals No. 4 hitter Ryan Zimmerman to pick up the slack and make the opposition pay:

They’re playing to win. The same thing happened to me. The guy behind has got to hit, has got to do his job, basically. That’s what it comes down to.


[The strategy backfired] plenty of times. They caught days sometimes when [Jeff] Kent wasn’t hitting. And they caught days when Kent bombed them. It can backfire on you. It’s the price you’re going to pay. They just got Zimmerman on a cold weekend. Doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work all the time. They just got Zimmerman on a bad weekend. We’ve all had those.

Jonah Keri of CBS Sports noted the best solution might be for the Nationals to get someone other than Zimmerman to protect Harper:

The Cubs swept the four-game set with the Nationals, during which Harper went a mere 1-for-4 at the plate.

Major League Baseball is a copycat league, as evidenced by the rise of strategies such as defensive shifting and the close monitoring of pitch counts, and that means Harper could be in for more of the same moving forward.

Bonds still managed to put up monster numbers despite being in a similar predicament, but he was a wily veteran by the time his intentional walk totals started reaching extreme levels in 2002.

Harper is just 23 years of age and likely eager to swing for the fences every time he steps into the batter’s box, but if he takes a page out of Bonds’ book and remains patient, he will put his teammates in position to do plenty of damage over the course of the season.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Barry Bonds Given Standing Ovation, Video Tribute in Return to AT&T Park

For the first time in nearly a decade, baseball legend Barry Bonds stepped back onto the AT&T Park field.

And although the home run king was representing the Miami Marlins outfitted in silver and teal, San Francisco Giants fans hardly treated him as an opponent.

In fact, it was entirely the opposite.

As he made his return home, Bonds was received as a hero, beginning with a standing ovation prior to the game’s start when the longtime Giant delivered the Marlins’ lineup card to the umpire.

Later, watching from the visitor dugout, Bonds was honored with a tribute montage saluting many of his career-defining moments—most notably his record-breaking 756th home run.

And while it was evident the Bay Area still harbored cherished feelings for their former franchise-defining player, with the salute of his hat, Bonds made it clear the feeling was mutual.


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Barry Bonds Returns to San Francisco in New Uniform, Embracing Coaching Life

Barry Bonds needed San Francisco, back when he didn’t really have anywhere else.

He needed San Francisco, because nobody should have to deal with being hated everywhere. He still needs it now, even if so much of that hatred seems to have faded into history.

“That’s my home,” Bonds said. “Nothing in the world takes that away from me. Those are my people, my friends, my family, my history.”

Oh yes, his history. We all know about his history.

He won’t enlighten on it now, but maybe he doesn’t need to. Maybe the early returns on his new life as the Miami Marlins hitting coach—great reviews from his players, little if any commotion among fans—are a sign the baseball world has moved on.

The steroid talk returns every year with the Hall of Fame voting, and no matter how smooth his new job is going, Bonds still isn’t getting in.

But even if he can’t get into Cooperstown, he has gotten back into baseball, so smoothly that it almost seems to have surprised him. He looks comfortable, not just around current players and former ones, but even around reporters.

He’ll look comfortable this weekend when he’s back in uniform at AT&T Park, even if that uniform now features the Marlins “M,” even if his boss is Don Mattingly, the former manager of the hated Los Angeles Dodgers.

Mattingly will have his Dodger Stadium homecoming next week, and perhaps that will be awkward. Bonds’ San Francisco homecoming won’t be, because if Bonds is now welcome in every big league ballpark, he certainly won’t feel out of place in the one place he could always go.

“I can’t say enough about how the Marlins have treated me, but San Francisco will always have my No. 1 spot,” he said. “I always say I don’t have fans in San Francisco. I have family. If you’re family, you’re always family, and that shouldn’t change. My heart will always be at home.

“I love them unconditionally.”

Other things have changed in the nine years since Bonds last wore a major league uniform. Yes, his body has changed, and you can make of that what you will. Bonds isn’t going there, and when he’s asked about his “legacy,” he deftly turns it back on those asking the questions.

“What do you think it should be?” he asked. “I entertained you guys, so why are you asking me? If you feel I did something that entertained you to the point you were happy, you should write that. If you feel I didn’t, you should write that.

“I gave all I had on that field, and I hope I did a good enough job for you guys to remember it or be happy. If not, God bless you. There’s another generation to worry about.”

In San Francisco, you know they felt entertained. It was true in a few other places, too, because no matter how you feel about anything he put in his body, Bonds the player was quite the show.

Bonds the coach is not, because hitting coaches are never the show. Being a hitting coach means showing up early and spending hours in the batting cage under the stands. It means leaning on the cage on the field during batting practice. It means standing in the dugout and cheering for others.

“You’re here for the players,” said Mattingly, a one-time hitting coach himself. “Your career’s over. Your success comes from theirs.”

Anyone who watched Bonds celebrate Marcell Ozuna’s first home run of the season from the top step of the Marlins dugout can see he’s taken to it quickly. He puts in the time, and the emotional commitment, too.

“I don’t know why anyone would question his dedication,” Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon said. “When you need it, he gives you what you need.”

Bonds works with assistant hitting coach Frank Menechino, a holdover from the previous Marlins staff. Menechino, who had an undistinguished seven-year major league playing career, has the traditional background for a hitting coach.

Bonds, a seven-time Most Valuable Player who holds baseball’s all-time home run record, does not. But maybe the old idea that great hitters can’t be great coaches is changing.

Mattingly was a great hitter, and so was Chili Davis, a respected hitting coach first with the Oakland A’s and now with the Boston Red Sox. So, for that matter, was Mark McGwire, a hitting coach in St. Louis and Los Angeles before he became the bench coach in San Diego.

McGwire, like Bonds, was out of the game for a while, with many believing that his steroid connections would always keep him out. There was some controversy when he did come back, in 2010 with the Cardinals—a lot more controversy than Bonds has faced so far this season.

It really has been smooth for Bonds, and if the Marlins players are tired of answering questions about him, they’re still excited to work with him.

“Before I worked with him, I was a fan,” infielder Chris Johnson said. “I thought he was the greatest hitter ever to walk the planet. Now I get to pick his brain.”

Johnson and other Marlins said Bonds doesn’t dwell on his own accomplishments. But he does draw on his own experience.

He can speak to Giancarlo Stanton about getting pitched around, because Bonds once walked 232 times in a season. He walked 2,558 times in his 22-year career.

“That’s a lot of missed at-bats,” Bonds said. “I missed five years of plate appearances.”

Stanton, the biggest threat in the Marlins batting order, doesn’t face anything near that. But Bonds was a master at being ready the one time a pitcher threw him a hittable pitch, and he has spent time with Stanton trying to teach him to do the same.

“He’s real knowledgeable, and he’s been a good presence,” Stanton said. “He’s told me that sometimes teams are going to come at me, and sometimes they’re not.”

A hitting coach can’t just deal with the stars, and he can’t just stick with the guys having success. The fear with a hitting coach who was a star is that he can’t get through to hitters with less talent, but Bonds insisted that’s not an issue for him.

“I can relate,” he said. “I can say I was 17-for-100 at one time. I let them know I’m going to ride and die this with you. As a coach, if you believe in that guy, he’s going to work hard for you. I don’t see you as a failure.”

It’s hard to know yet whether Bonds the hitting coach is a success or a failure. The Marlins as a team are hitting .263, seventh in the majors, but their other numbers aren’t as good.

But who can say how much impact Bonds has had, one way or the other?

“I know if I didn’t [have an impact], they should run the other direction real fast,” Bonds said. “Because I would.”

What’s easier to judge is how he has taken to the job, how comfortable he looks and how much time he has been willing to put in.

“I’m enjoying it,” Bonds said. “I just knew it would be a lot of work, and I like it. It’s fun. They’re good guys.”

To the Marlins, Bonds is a good guy, too. This weekend in San Francisco, they’ll find plenty of people who agree with them.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Barry Bonds Comments on Alex Rodriguez’s Pursuit of Home Run Record

Miami Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds doesn’t see his all-time home run record falling anytime soon.

New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez is the only active player with a genuine chance of catching Bonds’ career mark of 762 homers. Bonds, however, was dismissive of the possibility, telling the New York Daily NewsChristian Red on Monday, “No, not in two years.”

Last month, Rodriguez revealed to ESPN.com’s Andrew Marchand that he plans to retire following the 2017 season. Should A-Rod stick to his word, Bonds has every right to be skeptical of the future Hall of Famer overtaking him in the record books.  

Rodriguez entered Tuesday with 688 career home runs through five games in 2016, so between now and the end of next year, he needs to hit 75 more homers to be the all-time king. Not only will Rodriguez need to remain healthy, but he’ll also have to be productive at the plate during his age-40 and age-41 seasons. While he hit 33 home runs in 2015, he had 41 in his three previous seasons combined.

Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols is second in career home runs (560) among active players, while retiring Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is third (505). Angels outfielder Mike Trout, Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper are seemingly the only potential threats to Bonds, and that’s only by projecting at least a decade down the road.

After Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth on the home run list, his record stood for 33 years before Bonds broke it in 2007 as the steroid era was drawing to a close in MLB.

If A-Rod is unable to chase down Bonds, it might be a long, long time before anybody comes close to approaching the legendary slugger.

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