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Regarding Bonds and fishing blues

I’ve always said that hitting a home run and hooking and reeling in a fish are two of life’s most exhilarating physical sensations. As April dies and May prepares to be sworn in, issues surrounding these finer things in life weigh heavy on my mind.

That’s right. Barry Bonds should be batting leadoff for the San Francisco Giants, so he could feel that home run sensation I alluded to a little more often, and baseball fans could see it happen a little more often.



My suggestion to hit Bonds at the top of the order is mostly statistics-based and related to his pursuit of the career home run record. But it would also serve as an appropriate slap-in-the-face to the conservative way of thinking that tends to bog sports down and bore the fans at times.

In this instance Giants manager Felipe Alou is guilty. If he knew what was good for Bonds and the fans, he would put Bonds in the No. 1 position, mainly because Bonds would get more at-bats, and more at-bats results in more home runs.



Because of circumstance, watching the Giants so far in April 2004 has been to see Bonds hit home runs because of the history involved. He already passed his godfather Willie Mays for third on the all-time list earlier this season. He now sits 88 home runs behind Hank Aaron who owns the career record of 755, with Babe Ruth sitting at 714.

Enter Ray Durham into the equation. Durham is the Giants true leadoff hitter and has 80 plate appearances in 18 games, or an average of 4.44. In comparison, Bonds has averaged 4.105 plate appearances per game (78 appearances in 19 games). Assuming Bonds plays in 142 games this season (his average over the past four years), he will get about 584 plate appearances hitting in the fourth spot.

In the leadoff position, using Durham’s figures as a model, Bonds would get 632 appearances, or 48 more chances to hit a long ball on his way to surpassing Ruth and Aaron, important to a man that needs 89 homers (most of them will come in his 40s) to become the greatest power hitter ever. It becomes more prominent when you consider that Bonds has averaged a homer per 8.66 plate appearances this year; 48 more appearances would result in five to six more homers on that phenomenal pace.

Aside from the added homer opportunities, there are the simple leadoff logistics that make so much sense in the argument for hitting Bonds leadoff. Not to pick on Durham, but he has walked only five times in 80 appearances compared to Bonds’ 32 walks in 78 trips to the plate. With a .692 on-base percentage, Bonds is every manager’s dream leadoff hitter (a manager would be content with an OBP half that large). Durham’s .338 OBP isn’t even second among Giants regulars.

The conventional theory is that Bonds will see more RBI opportunities in the fourth spot. This is a ridiculous notion because Bonds is always walked with a base open and the game on the line. Actually, he has been walked an astonishing 41 percent of his at-bats this year, no matter how many runners are on when he hits. Concerning Bonds, he could never be an RBI guy because opponents are too scared of him. That said, why stick him in the clean-up position?

Finally, conventional wisdom also says you need speed at the top of the order, but the Giants have a measly six steals (26th in baseball) as a team, and Bonds has one of them. The Giants are not a running team, so their success does not depend on team speed. And remember, Bonds is no slouch in the speed department, being the only 500-homer/500-steal man in baseball history. The Giants would do fine with Bonds in the one-hole.

To me, the most traditional-minded blunder in sports right now is Alou penciling “Bonds” in the fourth spot on his game day lineup cards. Traditionally, the power hitter who can do the most damage with the bat fills this position, which obviously would be Bonds on the Giants.

But Bonds is not a mere mortal in baseball terms, and the Giants need to account for that. He became a machine in 2001 when he hit a single-season record 73 homers, and as he approaches his 40th birthday, it doesn’t appear that age is slowing him down. Because he is a machine, he is treated accordingly by opponents. With a .478 batting average and nine home runs through 19 games, it’s easy to understand why.

Example. With his team leading 1-0 in the bottom of the first on Tuesday night against the Atlanta Braves, Bonds was walked on four pitches by Jaret Wright with the bases empty. In the eighth, with the Braves up 5-2, Bonds led off the inning, saw one strike and was walked; this in a game that he had flied out and popped out and stranded three runners. Moral of the story: Bonds will be pitched around no matter the score, inning, or his place in the order (or his performance in the game up to that point.)

Add to the mix that Giants management made no attempt this offseason to surround Bonds with any sort of All-Star-caliber hitting talent, and you’ve got the perfect formula to support the Hit Bonds Leadoff Theory. Not to mention the Giants were in last place in the NL West with an 8-13 record after Tuesday night, so a little new and exciting twist wouldn’t hurt a thing by the Bay.

Bonds would say that he cares about winning, but the Giants blew Bonds’ really good shot at doing that in their 2002 World Series demise against the Anaheim Angels. He wants that home run record, and Giants fans are going to have to settle for the gratification of watching Bonds do it in a Giants uniform (and maybe a bonus .400 season) over another trip to the Series.

But, since I know Alou will remain conventional-minded like all the other sports dummies, at least bat the Bonds Machine third! Twice in recent one-run losses to the L.A. Dodgers, Bonds was left in the on-deck circle as he watched Marquis Grissom make the last out.

The horror. The horror.

My other favorite pastime has got me down lately. Five fishing trips and $130 later, I haven’t enjoyed that feeling of hooking a single fish this season – not even a minnow that I could heave downstream in utter frustration. In short, my 2004 fishing experiences have me frustrated.

I live in Reno. For an outrageous $88-something, I received a little piece of blue paper granting me permission to fish the freshwaters of California, which doesn’t even have a year-round season in the streams and rivers. That would be Nevada, which charges $30-something for a license plus a $10 trout stamp to keep or possess trout.

The cost is ridiculous to me because $130 is a lot of money in relation to what I make, but it’s the ridiculousness of the regulations, especially in California, that I really can’t stand. When I took a close look at the 2004 California Freshwater Fishing Regulations handbook, it was the first time I encountered the terms artificial lures with barbless hooks and waters with restricted fishing hours. And who actually measures a fish right out of the water pertaining to restrictions like the 14″ maximum-length designation for the Little Truckee River?

“Oh, sorry son. Throw ‘er back. That sucker’s a quarter-inch short of 14.” I can hear a 10-year-old son crying right now.

I’m just bitter, I guess, but you’d think that a license to fish would come a little cheaper and the regulations would be a little less strict. I’ve caught a lot of fish in my day, but this first one of the season is not coming easy. Maybe it’s because I use three menacing barbed hooks on a homemade spinner. I suppose if I file down the barbs on my hooks and cut two of them off to create a “single barbless hook” that will “make unhooking less stressful on the fish,” it might create some good karma for me in the fishing world.

One thing I know for sure, I can guarantee that the awesome feeling of reeling in a nice trout will happen long before I witness Bonds smacking homers at the top of the Giants batting order.

Matt Brown is sports and outdoors editor at the Sierra Sun. Giants statistics are based on results through the first 21 games.


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