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September 7, 2004

Breaking Balls

Pitch to Him!

by Derek Zumsteg

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Can we please pitch to Barry Bonds already? This isn't a complicated column, it's a simple request.

It's one thing if a manager believes that intentionally walking Bonds is the best strategy to winning a game. And the game is close. I think the intentional walk is a bad strategy anyway, but I can respect that we have different opinions (me and the manager).

But if a team is out of contention, or it's a blowout, they should pitch to Bonds. If baseball is a sport, and it is, it's only sporting to let him hit if the outcome of the game isn't in question. To offer him a fair chance to perform his best. The essence of baseball, like any sport, is competition, and teams should pitch to Bonds in the same way they shouldn't refuse to field a team if they're facing the Cardinals (92-45, folks, that's nutty) and forfeit the game to save their starters for a better matchup.

Bonds walked three times in one game against the Rockies, who are nowhere near contention. They walked him twice intentionally and once sort-of-intentionally, as part of a general strategy to put him on when the score was anywhere close.

Even if a team is out of contention, there's merit in the argument that not using the best strategy available to win a game makes pennant contention less meaningful. And yet teams do not challenge him, even when the game is not in question.

The Diamondbacks recently walked Bonds with Pedro Feliz on first and Ray Durham on second in the 7th inning of a game where they were down by six runs. Arizona's got the second-worst offense in the league--they're not coming back from that. Pitch to him! Don't make me come down there.

Fans, even opposing fans in their home park, largely want to see Bonds swing. I don't watch Giants games to see four pitches lobbed to a catcher standing up (side note: why not run on those? I've seen intentional walk pitches thrown so slow anyone could take a base on them. If they're committed to giving Bonds first, take an extra base or two on the walk, pad your stats.)

I know there's another problem in play as well: No one wants to give up home run number 700 to Bonds. After that, no one's going to want to give up 714 or 715, and then no one will want to be the pitcher of record for 755 or 756.

And yet, where's the courage in that? To cower before someone not because that player has great talent, as evidenced in his achievements, but because you don't want to go in the record books as having been someone who challenged him and lost? Ten, 20 years from now, we're going to look at Bonds' statistics with awe not only for what he did, but how he accomplished it in so few chances. As a pitcher, no one wants to be remembered for being the guy who gave up one of Bonds' historic home runs, for certain. But there's also pride in giving Bonds his fight, and there's pride in being remembered as someone who was willing to take him on in his prime.

Would anyone rather talk to their kids and grandkids and say "I was one of the many anonymous pitchers who intentionally walked Bonds all the tame, or at my best, tried to get him to chase stuff way off the plate?" Wouldn't it be better to tell them of a dramatic moment against one of the best players baseball's ever seen, regardless of the outcome? Are they worried their kids will sass them over it?

"You eat those string beans."
"Make me, Bonds-homer-number-698."
"Dang! I'm rendered impotent by this retort! OK, go eat candy and terrorize the neighbors."

Pitch to Bonds. And if the Giants fall out of contention for a playoff spot, I don't want to see ball four for the remainder of their season.

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