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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.