Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Theft of Services

The numbers are staggering: 209 walks as of yesterday, 107 of them intentional. The deliberate passes add up to more than four times those of the Phillies Jim Thome, his nearest competitor.

And it’s all outrageous.

In no other sport is a premier player denied the opportunity to ply his trade forty percent of the time. It’s one thing to use the occasional intentional walk strategically and quite another to use it as a routine matter.

The remarkable thing throughout this charade is that Barry Bonds, not the most easy going of individuals, seems resigned to this treatment. Rarely does he show disgust at this blatant attempt to deny him the chance to even swing at a pitch. Fans, on the other hand, haven’t been nearly as docile and who can blame them? How would you like to be holding tickets to see the greatest player of your day only to watch him intentionally walked two or three trips to the plate and given little or nothing to swing at the other time(s)? At home or on the road, crowds are booing any pitcher who fails to challenge Bonds.

There is no crime in defensing an opponent. Michael Jordan was double-teamed more than once in his career. So was Jerry Rice. The shift was invented to thwart Ted Williams. Surely more than one quarterback called a pass play away from Dick “Night Train” Lane’s side of the field, too. But no one made Jordan wear a flour sack for any trips up-and-down the court or had Rice tie one arm behind his back for a series of downs.

When you send your nine best guys out there you ought to be able to pitch to a batter. I can assure you Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale would have pitched to Bonds every time no matter how many fingers the manager put up or the catcher put down. I would like to have seen the catcher who’d have stood up behind the plate and held his glove out to the side with Gibson on the mound. You can be sure Gibson wouldn’t have lobbed one in his direction.

Go ahead, put a shift on if you think that will help. Heck, you can even try to get Bonds to chase something out of the strike zone. Nor would I object to the occasional intentional walk in the appropriate situation. But the refusal to pitch to him two out of every five trips to the plate is not so much prudence as theft of services.

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