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July 27, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Clutch

by Joe Sheehan

There's a rather extended thread--actually a series of threads--on the Usenet newsgroup rec.sport.baseball concerning the value of Barry Bonds, and whether he or Luis Gonzalez is the more valuable player this year. Some people are rather staunch in their believe that Bonds isn't a "clutch" player, pointing to his lackluster postseason performances for the Pirates and Giants, an argument that conveniently ignores Bonds's amazing work during some great pennant/wild-card races.

I don't want to get too deep into that right now. Suffice to say 100 at-bats over four series against well-above-average left-handed pitching does little to dissuade me from the notion that we're damn lucky to have watched Bonds, who is one of the ten greatest players in baseball history. If people want to make character judgments based on a tiny sliver of a man's curriculum vitae, well, those aren't the kind of people likely to be dissuaded by an Internet baseball columnist anyway, not when they can find many more famous people who are more than willing to make those same judgments.

My lone contribution to the discussion right now is to look at last night's Giants/Diamondbacks game. The Giants entered the evening 6 1/2 games behind the first-place D'backs. They'd dropped four of their previous five games, including two humbling blowouts last weekend at home to the Snakes. The Giants arrived in Arizona a lousy 20-29 on the road, and this four-game series represented a real good chance for them to fall out of the NL West race. On top of everything else, they were facing one of the league's three best pitchers, Curt Schilling.

Does this sound like a critical game? An important moment in the season? "Clutch" time?

In the top of the first, Bonds flied to center field with two outs and no one on base. The D'backs threatened in both of the first two innings, but pushed across just one run. In the top of the fourth, Rich Aurilia tied the game with a solo home run, and Bonds followed with one of his own to give the Giants a 2-1 lead.

Against arguably the best pitcher in the league, on the road, in the opening game of the biggest series his team as played all year, Bonds went yard to take the lead for the Giants.

Livan Hernandez just isn't happy unless he's pitching with runners on base, so he misplayed consecutive sacrifice bunts in the bottom of the fourth to load the bases, then pitched out of the jam, giving up two runs and the lead in the process.

Of course, Hernandez hits better than he fields, so he singled in the top of the fifth; Marvin Benard walked and Aurilia followed with a beautiful bunt single to load the bases for Bonds. Grand slam.

With his team trailing against arguably the best pitcher in the league, on the road, in the opening game of the biggest series his team as played all year, Bonds went yard to take the lead for the Giants.

Again.

This doesn't prove anything. In the annals of baseball history, lots of guys have had big days in important games to help their team stay in a pennant race. It didn't make them better human beings than everyone else, or better baseball players, for that matter.

And lots of great baseball players have had 100 bad at-bats at one time or another, even at important times. Didn't make them less as men, or diminish their status as great ballplayers.

The need to attribute character traits to men based on their performance in baseball games is one of the things I would love, I mean absolutely love, to see die out in my lifetime.

Here's hoping.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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