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May 20, 2007

Every Given Sunday

Records Big and Small

by John Perrotto

  • Barry Bonds insists he doesn't like to talk about his quest to become baseball's all-time home run leader. "I'm tired of talking about me, I'd rather talk about the team," the San Francisco Giants left fielder has said repeatedly in recent weeks.

    However, when pressed on the matter, Bonds admits he can't help but think about how he is only 10 homers away from Hank Aaron's record of 755, though the he has been stalled on 745 for more than a week. "I think anyone would want to be known as the player who hit more home runs than anyone else," Bonds said in a recent interview with Baseball Prospectus. "Hank Aaron was a great, great player, just like the man who held the record before him, Babe Ruth. I passed Ruth last year, and now I have a chance to pass Hank. Just to be mentioned in that company is really an honor. At the same time, I don't want things to turn into a circus yet. I know it will when I get close but I want to put that off as long as possible."

    Whether Bonds wants to face it or not, his home run chase will indeed become a media circus. However, Bonds is used to be in the center ring, especially with the federal government investigating him for perjury in his grand jury testimony, in which he said he unwittlingly used steroids provided by BALCO.

    Bonds learned long ago from his father Bobby, also a major-league star outfielder, how to play through distractions. "I learned a lot when I went through my divorce," Bonds said. "I was very upset about it but my father told me that there was nothing I could do about it when I was between the lines. It's like any other walk of life. If you're a sports writer and something bad is going on in your life, do you just up and quit writing stories forever? Of course you don't. It's what you do for a living. Playing baseball is what I do and I owe it to my family, my teammates and myself to have 100 percent concentration when I'm on the field."

    On the field, Bonds has lost nothing to age, hitting .304/.514/.667 with 11 home runs in 144 plate appearances. His 23.9 VORP ranks third in the National League behind New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes (25.2) and Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez (24.7). In the previous two seasons, Bonds was slowed down by bad knees. He was limited to 52 plate appearances in 2004, a year in which he had three knee operations, but batted .286/.404/.667 with five home runs. Last season, he hit .270/.454/.545 with 26 homers in 493 plate appearances.

    "The last two years have been tough, really tough," Bond said. "It's hard to play the game when you can barely walk, let alone run and cut and do all the things you need to do on a baseball field. There were some difficult times physically for me, but I feel a lot better than I have in a long time this season. I'm never going to be quite the player I used to be. I don't have much speed anymore but I've already stolen a base this season and I vow I'm going to get at least one triple somewhere along the line."

    While Bonds figures to become the all-time home run king sometime this season-BP's Clay Davenport projects June 24 as the big day-the question remains whether he will get voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America because of the steroid allegations. Bonds believes he should be a lock for Cooperstown: "I've done things that few, if any players, in the history of the game have ever done. I think my statistics speak for themselves."

  • While Jack Cust has turned from prospect to journeyman over the years, he has long remained a favor of the statistically inclined because of his power-which has generated 199 minor league home runs-and high on-base percentage So it was no surprise that when the A's were hit by a slew of outfield injuries earlier this month that General Manager Billy Beane sent an e-mail to San Diego counterpart Kevin Towers and the quickly worked out a cash deal that bring the first baseman from Portland to Oakland.

    Given his first serious shot at major league playing time, Cust has had quite a run for the Athletics, hitting .310/.500/.929 in 58 plate appearances while belting eight home runs. His 13.1 VORP already is tied for second on the club with Nick Swisher, behind only Dan Johnson (15.5). Not bad for a 28-year-old who had played only 70 games and had 144 at-bats in the major leagues prior to this opportunity.Cust had previous major-league stints with Arizona, Colorado, Baltimore, and San Diego but never stuck because of defensive concerns.

    "It's been crazy," Cust told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Crazy, but fun. I was labeled at a young age, that I couldn't play defense," Cust said. "The last few years, I felt like I could help out some team. I know I'm not going to win Gold Gloves, but I can still go out there and catch some balls." The Athletics, though, aren't that concerned with Cust's glove work. "He does what we like hitters to do," Beane said.

  • The season has barely reached the quarter pole and Philadelphia's Brett Myers has already gone from Opening Day starter to closer. While that may seem like an unusual transition to make in the course of a season, it is not that rare. The Philadelphia Daily News reports that, according to research by Society for American Baseball Research member Jim Sweetman, there have been eight occasions since saves became an official statistic in 1969 in which a pitcher started the opener for his team and wound up with at least three saves that season. Ironically, the record for most saves by an Opening Day starter is 11 by Tom Gordon for Boston in 1997; Myers has taken over as the Phillies' closer because Gordon is on the Disabled List with a sore shoulder.

    Myers has gone 5-for-6 in save opportunities with a 0.96 ERA in 16 games since being shifted to the bullpen after three starts. Despite his late start as a reliever, Myers ranks 14th in the NL in WRXL with a 1.130 mark. However, he isn't looking to break Gordon's record. "I hope he comes back, so I don't have to set it," Myers said. "I'll do whatever it takes to help this team win. That's my mentality-I'm just filling in for Flash right now." Phillies manager Charlie Manuel isn't saying if Myers will keep the job once Gordon gets healthy. "I'll answer that when Gordon comes back," Manuel said.

    The other Opening Day starters who finished with three or more saves are Kansas City's Bud Black with nine saves in 1986, San Francisco's Al Holland with five saves in 1982, California's Andy Messersmith with five saves in 1970, Jerry Koosman with five saves for Minnesota in 1981 and then three saves for the Chicago White Sox in 1982, Dustin Hermanson with four saves for Montreal in 2000, and Mike Parrott with three saves for Seattle in 1980.

  • As if Cleveland center fielder Grady Sizemore wasn't already doing it all for the Indians, he has now become an unstoppable basestealer. Sizemore leads the American League with15 stolen bases, and has yet to be caught stealing. Sizemore's career high for steals is 22 in each of the last two years. In 2006, he became only the second player in major-league history to have 50 doubles, 10 triples, 20 homers and 20 steals in the same season, joining Chuck Klein, who did it for the 1932 Philadelphia Phillies. "Grady has another year under his belt. He's more aggressive, and he's really doing a good job of picking his spots," Indians manager Eric Wedge told the Lake County News-Herald. "There's a lot that goes into it. It's not just speed versus arm." Only four Indians players have ever led the league in stolen bases. Kenny Lofton did it five years in a row, the last time in 1996 when he swiped 75 bags.

From the rumor mill: Baltimore's Sam Perlozzo could be the first manager fired this season, assuming George Steinbrenner doesn't pull the plug on Joe Torre with a Yankee loss tonight against the cross-town Mets. Perlozzo is coming under increased scrutiny for questionable decisions, including pulling Jeremy Guthrie with a shutout going in the ninth inning of last Sunday's game at Boston. The Orioles led 5-0 at the time but the Red Sox scored six in the ninth to win. Toronto is looking to get younger on the pitching staff, and is offering right-handers Tomo Ohka and Josh Towers in trade talk The Chicago Cubs desperately need bullpen help, and reportedly would part with outfielder Matt Murton in the right deal. Florida star third baseman Miguel Cabrera is getting so large that many scouts feel he will soon need to be moved across the diamond to first base, or maybe even shipped to the American League where he can be a designated hitter. The New York Mets are much more willing to trade outfield prospect Lastings Milledge after his latest controversy-producing a obscenity-laced rap record. The Los Angeles Dodgers are trying to find a major league job for infielder Wilson Valdez with another club after designating him for assignment. Dusty Baker is spending this season as a broadcaster with ESPN, but yearns to manage again after being fired by the Cubs at the end of last season. Many baseball people are starting to notice Milwaukee bench coach Dale Sveum, and believe he'll begin getting consideration for managerial openings.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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