“I’m talking about friendship. I’m talking about character. I’m talking about—hell, Leo, I’m not embarrassed to use the word—I’m talking about ethics.”
—Johnny Caspar, Miller’s Crossing
Barry Bonds sits at home. His agent has admitted his job prospects are grim. The man who had the fourth highest OPS last season is waiting for a team to call. There’re plenty of contenders who’d benefit from having his bat in the designated-hitter spot, but baseball isn’t always about winning. Sometimes it’s about character. It’s about ethics.
In a whimsical fantasyland, where professional-sports teams care more about winning than ethics, he’d be signed already. In the AL alone, nine teams are within six games of a playoff spot.
Not all of those teams could use him. Three of those teams (Boston, Chicago, and Texas) have DH’s who are playing well. Oakland could use him, but we can throw them out because Billy Beane doesn’t really care about winning.
Tampa and Minnesota should sign him, but I just can’t picture Bonds playing there. (That and Selig would put a hex on either franchise)
That leaves three teams: the Tigers, Yankees, and Angels.
The Tigers are on the outside looking in. Widely considered one of the most talented teams in the league, they got off to a horrible start, but have slowly crawled their way back.
They’re sitting five-and-a-half games out of first, and seven out of the Wild Card, with five teams in front of them. The Tigers are a long shot, but if they get in, they’d be as good a bet as anyone to win the whole thing.
Their DH, Gary Sheffield, is hitting .225 (15th on the team) with an OPS of .698 (14th). Bonds could step in right now and hit in the heart of the Tigers' order.
Of course, Barry Bonds is widely considered one of the biggest jerks in the history of sports, not like Sheffield, who’s generally considered one of the “good guys” in the sport...
Or maybe the Tigers are going to move Thames to the DH (OPS .936, 19 HR) and put rookie Matt Joyce (OPS .950, AB/HR 11.6) in left.
On the surface, the Yankees make sense. They’re four-and-a-half games out and Giambi could move over to first so Barry could DH. He’d be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium, and as an added bonus, Red Sox fans would revert to a state of panic, and isn’t that all that Yankee fans really care about?
Wouldn’t A-Rod, Bonds, and Giambi be the most fearsome three-four-five in baseball?
Unfortunately, this is the part where the Yankees' fans remember the long unspoken “code of conduct” that the organization has followed from their inception, from such special human beings as Ruth, DiMaggio, Martin, and Clemens, into the current millennium of today’s team, with the aforementioned A-Rod and Giambi, along with the likes of Sidney Ponson and Johnny Damon.
Bonds wouldn’t fit in with that group at all.
This leaves us with the Angels.
Unfortunately for ethics, the Angels have the best record in baseball. Despite this, they can’t hit. They’re ranked 21st in runs, 18th in hitting, and 23rd in OPS. The closest man they have to a designated hitter, Juan Rivera, is batting .245 with a .691 OPS and 11 RBI.
Is that really how their playoff lineup is going to shape up?
Juan Rivera playing in right so Vlad can DH? Bottom of the ninth with Juan Rivera coming up, down one with a man on second and a couple of outs?
Really? That’s worth it?
What do you call another first-round exit? Another year of Red Sox fans taking over Angel Stadium? The best team in baseball passing up the opportunity to sign the greatest hitter of all time and bolster their anemic offense?
Call that character.
Call it ethics.
Just don’t call it the smart play.