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March 10, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Litigation

by Jim Baker

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How do we announce our intentions in these United States?

That's right, we sue.

It would seem that if Barry Bonds has been defamed by the book Game of Shadows--if he had reason to be outraged by the falsity of its reportage--he would be lining up a battery of lawyers as we speak. Perhaps he will yet, but usually, the threat of a defamation lawsuit is the first thing that bursts from the mouth of the accused in this, our litigious republic.

It is because we are a litigious society that we can go a long way in assuming that Game of Shadows--the work of two well-credentialed investigative reporters--is a fairly accurate picture of the truth. Take a moment, and try to estimate how many lawyers looked at the manuscript of Game of Shadows. Do you think that the publisher, a subsidiary of Penguin Books, one of the largest firms of its kind in the world, would let something as potentially slanderous as this loose without crossing their x's and dotting their j's? Not bloody likely. Knowing that their pockets are deep, we can assume they took extra precautions to safeguard themselves from charges of libel and a cash penalty that might result.

Cooperstown?

What are Bonds' chances at the Hall of Fame? From the sound of things, they're not very good. The general stinginess of the voting committee does not bode well for him and if I were Mark McGwire, I wouldn't be busting out the scenic New York state tourist brochures anytime soon, either.

As a purely academic exercise, though, where did Bonds' candidacy stand at the time of his great leap off the chemical pier? In terms of traditional statistics, this is how he ranked at the end of the 1998 season:

Home runs, 411: High 30s. Between Darrell Evans and Duke Snider. Now at 708 (3rd).
Runs batted in, 1,216: Not in the top 100 all-time. Now at 1,853 (11th).
Walks, 1,357: High 20s. Between Reggie Jackson and, ahem, Rafael Palmeiro. Now the all-time leader with 2,311.
On Base Percentage, .411: Low 30s all-time. Bobby Abreu, Hank Greenberg, Ed Delahanty territory. Has climbed to sixth at .442.
Slugging Average, .556: Mid-20s. In the Mickey Mantle realm. Has moved all the way up to fifth at .611.
Stolen Bases, 445: High 40s, just ahead of Steve Sax and Sherry Magee, a very good player once suspended for attacking an umpire and who then became an umpire himself when he stopped playing. Bonds has added 61 steals since '98, moving up to 33rd place.

Based on traditional counting and rate stats, he was on extremely solid ground for election. Toss in three Most Valuable Player awards and he was a lock.

There's another very quick and dirty way to determine Hall of Fame careers in terms of cumulative worth and peak value. By looking at WARP3 we can determine how many historically dominant seasons a player had and how much career value they racked up. This is within the historical context that WARP3 provides. To make it easy on the eye, just count the number of times a player went into double figures in WARP3. This gives a pretty good accounting of dominant seasons. For instance, Stan Musial's score for this exercise is 187.6/10--a total of 187.6 WARP3 and 10 seasons in double figures.

Before Bonds allegedly started spiking, rubbing, dropping and popping, he rated a 134.6/8. No Hall of Famer has a configuration quite like that, but these are the closest:

Mike Schmidt, 148.4/9
Lou Gehrig, 142.8/9
Wade Boggs, 140.0/6
Jimmie Foxx, 136.0/5
Eddie Mathews, 130.3/5

Those are all no-argument Hall of Famers, unlike the group that follows. As a quick aside, can we move the plaques of these unworthies to the walls of the Hall of the Fame tool shed? These are the corner men and outfielders who have been inducted without the benefit of short burst greatness or a cumulative wealth of contribution:

Tommy McCarthy, 23.0/0
Chick Hafey, 49.0/0
Freddie Lindstrom, 49.5/0
George Kelly, 50.4/0
Earle Combs, 53.6/0
Lloyd Waner, 55.8/0
Heinie Manush, 62.3/0
George Kell, 62.9/0
Jim Bottomley, 63.0/0

You could also include Ross Youngs (54.4/0) if you feel his selection was of a purely sentimental nature and that he was not in the midst of a Hall of Fame career when he was felled by a kidney disorder. McCarthy is the single worst player in Cooperstown. I doubt he would make the top 1,500 all-time. His plaque should be moved to a tree in the woods six miles outside of town where it can be gazed upon by squirrels, deer and chipmunks.

Getting back to Bonds, he is not well-positioned emotionally to rehabilitate his image. He is not the type to cultivate favor among the press. A tear-stained mea culpa is not likely on his agenda. Even if he could conjure such an out of character performance, it is highly unlikely that voters will give him a pass on his transgressions and judge him on the merits of his pre-enhancement days. I think he's pretty much hosed unless he saves 10 or 20 babies from a burning building at some point in the next few years. Even then, those babies had better be related to men on the voting committee.

A strange and distant future

Unless…

Things change. A lot.

This is a stretch but there may come a time many decades down the line wherein performance enhancement is no longer a cause celeb. It could be that 30, 40 or 50 years from now researchers will have found a way to artificially improve the human physique and abilities without nasty side effects. These artificial improvements will become commonplace and accepted. In a climate such as that, it could be possible for a Hall of Fame veterans committee to look back at what Bonds did and either wonder what all the fuss was about or, stranger still, see him as some sort of pioneer in the proper method for artificial self-improvement. It's not the sort of future I would endorse, but, given the great strides made in that direction so far, it is one that is certainly possible.

Back to the courts

Returning to our litigious nature, do you think it's possible that a team like, oh, the 2002 Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals could demand some sort of retribution for having been defeated by Bonds at the height of his alteration? Both were defeated by Bonds' Giants in the playoffs that year, costing the teams and their players a good deal of money.

Just wondering.

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