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August 11, 2010

Joe's Blog

Carlos Delgado/Barry Bonds

by Joe Sheehan

In 2007, Barry Bonds hit .276/.480/.565 in 126 games, leading the NL in OBP for the sixth time in seven seasons. He hit a homer every 12.1 at-bats, was intentionally walked about once every 11 plate appearances -- in 29% of his plate appearances with runners in scoring position -- and played a below-average left field that was far from among the worst in the game.

In 2007, Carlos Delgado hit .258/.333/.448. It was his worst season since establishing himself in 1996. Delgado played in 139 games, two weeks' worth more than Bonds had played, was intentionally walked eight times and led the league in nothing.

In 2008, no one signed Barry Bonds, citing concerns about his durability, his defense and his impending perjury trial. All three of this concerns were easily mooted, given his performance in 2007 and the pace of the legal system. At least three teams, arguably as many as six, missed the postseason in 2008 for want of a credible left fielder or DH.

In 2008, Carlos Delgado bounced back to hit .271/.353/.518, most of that in the season's final four months after a terrible start. The Mets had little choice to retain him after the poor 2007 season -- he was owed $16 million in the last guaranteed season of a heavily-backloaded contract.

In 2009, no one signed Barry Bonds, now citing Bonds' advanced age and missed season as additional reasons to avoid him. The use of the missed season due to industry ignorance as justification for not signing him was noted by some, but most just allowed the matter to pass.

In 2009, the Mets picked up Carlos Delgado's $12 million club option at a marginal cost of $8 million over a $4 million buyout. Delgado hit well, .298/.393/.521, but played just 26 games before a hip injury forced him to the sidelines for the season.

In 2010, Barry Bonds' career is over, although the trumped-up perjury case that served as part of the reason for not signing him still hasn't reached trial (it is scheduled to next spring; coincidentally, so is my triathlon).

In 2010, the Boston Red Sox signed Carlos Delgado, with one good, healthy season in the last four, and possibly one good, healthy hip in the last two, to a minor-league contract that could be worth up to $3 million if he plays well for the team down the stretch. Delgado is a DH, able to stand around at first base but not provide much the way of defensive value.

I spend a lot of time in the book on the Bonds case, as it was arguably the biggest story of the decade, intertwined with the ongoing controversies involving not so much performance-enhancing drugs as the media, executive and Congressional behavior they inspired. The industry's collective pass on Bonds in 2007 remains, in my eyes, a more shameful rejection of competitive principles than anything Bonds or his peers supposedly did. And every time a player who doesn't have the ability or projected value that Bonds did in the winter of 2007-08 gets signed, gets an NRI or gets slotted into a lineup only to kill it, I get angry.

I liked watching Barry Bonds. I liked seeing what he did to baseball games, how he distorted them, forcing managers to simply give up more often than they did with any other player in baseball history. I liked the mechanics of Bonds' swing and the way he knew the strike zone. I liked the fact that he was 21 for his last 22 steal attempts, despite being so "slow" that no one wanted him to play baseball for them. Frankly, I liked his arrogance, his recognition of the parasitic nature of the reporter/player relationship and his open rejection of it.

I was cheated. Not by Bonds and whatever he may or may not have done, but by a baseball industry so cowed by the commissioner and the media and an issue they were complicit in that they let a great player sit idly by while their teams burned outs.
 

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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