Take a chance on me (by Barry Bonds) …

Who remembers this ditty from Abba? (By the way it will help if you hum this tune while reading this column.)

If you change your mind, I’m the first in line … Honey I’m still free … Take a chance on me … If you need me, let me know, gonna be around … If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down … If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown … Honey I’m still free … Take a chance on me … Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie … If you put me to the test, if you let me try … Take a chance on me

It is with this in mind that I want to pose a question: surely some team should be willing to take a punt on Barry Bonds?

The past

Make no mistake, Barry Bonds had one of the the best age-42 seasons in the history of the game. Here is a list of the some of the better age-42 seasons with Bonds’ line added at the bottom:

year    Name                AB      HR      AVG     OBP     SLG
1960    Ted Williams        310     29      .316    .451    .645
1993    Dave Winfield       547     21      .271    .325    .442
1962    Stan Musial         433     19      .330    .416    .508
1986    Graig Nettles       354     16      .218    .300    .379
1989    Carlton Fisk        375     13      .293    .356    .475
2003    Andres Galarraga    272     12      .301    .352    .489
1989    Darrell Evans       276     11      .207    .303    .355
1976    Hank Aaron          271     10      .229    .315    .369
1992    Brian Downing       320     10      .278    .407    .428
1981    Carl Yastrzemski    338     7       .246    .338    .355
1973    Willie Mays         209     6       .211    .303    .344
1991    Rick Dempsey        147     4       .231    .329    .347
1982    Willie Stargell     73      3       .233    .318    .411
1984    Tony Perez          137     2       .241    .295    .343
1963    Warren Spahn        90      2       .178    .219    .289
1989    Bob Boone           405     1       .274    .351    .323
2005    Pat Borders         117     1       .197    .228    .265

2007    Barry Bonds         340     28      .276    .480    .565

Bonds is in exulted company. Only Ted Williams had a better age-42 season, and Bonds still manage to post a better OBP than him. Williams’ feat is all the more impressive considering run scoring was more depressed compared to recent years.

Will Bonds be playing in 2008?

The second question (how well will he do?)

The second question (we’ll come back to the first later) on everyone’s lips when talking about Bonds returning in 2008 is what would his offensive production be?

THT prognosticators (David Gassko and Chris Constancio) have produced a projection (see our Season Preview for more details) for Barry Bonds that reads:

Name         PA      HR      BA      OBP     SLG     OPS
Barry Bonds  493     24      0.287   0.475   0.551   1.026

How does that compare to other age 43 players?

year    Name              AB      HR      AVG     OBP     SLG
1990    Carlton Fisk      452     18      .285    .378    .451
1982    Carl Yastrzemski  459     16      .275    .358    .431
1963    Stan Musial       337     12      .255    .325    .404
1994    Dave Winfield     294     10      .252    .321    .425
1985    Tony Perez        183     6       .328    .396    .470
1959    Enos Slaughter    99      6       .172    .265    .374
1987    Graig Nettles     177     5       .209    .294    .350
2001    Julio Franco      90      3       .300    .376    .444

Whoa! Against that motley crew our projection for Bonds suggests he’d come first in every category. Ignoring the fact that Bonds’ age-43 production would likely be historically awesome, he’d almost hold his own against the fraternity of 20-something-year-old sluggers, like Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard.

Which team wouldn’t want to add that sort of production? He’d add a few wins to any team, which would be enough to push a potential contender over the finish line.

The first question

Unfortunately, any commentary on Bonds is woefully incomplete without a discussion about steroids and perjury.

Let’s face facts. At some point in the next 12-18 months Bonds will be hauled in front of a court of law and tried for perjury. There is a strong possibility he’ll be convicted and sent to jail. Although it is very likely that that day won’t come until well after the 2008 baseball season has been put to rest, is it still enough to scare off every single team?

There are a few dynamics in play here. First, any team that inked Bonds would likely face a barrage of negative publicity. Even the most knowledgeable of fans would probably react negatively. For an upcoming interview I asked THT’s Geoff Young what his thoughts were if San Diego were to snap up Barry. He said:

As for fan reaction, my guess is that it would be awkward at best. The only time the standing-room-only area beyond the left field fence is closed is when Bonds comes to town. What happens if he’s here everyday, does the team make that area permanently unavailable for their own left fielder’s protection?

Personally I’m not sure how I would respond. I’ve actively booed two players in my adult life: Hideki Irabu for comparing San Diego to an internment camp and Bobby Chouinard for allegedly beating his wife. I don’t think that I’d boo Bonds if he played here. I’d probably just stop going to games until he left.

Put it this way, no one will be excited about the thought of Bonds pitching up in his city.

But aren’t you surprised, given his numbers, that some desperate general manager someplace somewhere hasn’t snapped Bonds up? One of the greatest hitters in the game could be picked up (possibly on the cheap) and really contribute to a team’s production. And if you believe the adage that no publicity is bad publicity, then why the wait? Surely fans will be mollified if Bonds helps a team secure a postseason berth.

General managers probably don’t care too much about the publicity—don’t get me wrong, it is likely to be a factor but not a knock-out blow. The final nail in Bonds’ proverbial coffin is Bud Selig. Selig sits atop the baseball world as its most powerful individual. He is sick and tired of the entire Bonds saga and clearly has no time for the man. No one will forget his apathetic celebration when Bonds broke Hank Aaron‘s home run record.

Selig wants Bonds out of the game and has let that be known among the owners in no uncertain terms. Any owner who went so expressly against Selig’s wishes would be at a disadvantage in years to come.

Trust me Bonds is not destined to pick up a bat in anger any time soon.

Potential suitors

Let’s imagine for a crazy second that Selig isn’t standing in the way of Bonds playing next year. Which kind of team would be wise to snap him up?

This team would have be on the playoff bubble, a high 80-odd win team, playing in a strong division without a runaway leader, who with a little push would be in strong playoff contention. This team would also be in the American League and have playing time or competence question marks over hitters penciled in at DH and left field. (Bonds could split time between the two.)

More importantly this team should be in a part of America (or Canada …) that has been starved of baseball success for some time. This way fans and the media will be more forgiving of Bonds’ baggage. This team should also be trying to win today and be prepared to invest in that dream.

This mythical team does exist. It is the Detroit Tigers—the perfect home for Barry Bonds in 2008.

If you change your mind, I’m the first in line … Honey I’m still free … Take a chance on me … If you need me, let me know, gonna be around … If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down … If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown … Honey I’m still free … Take a chance on me … Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie … If you put me to the test, if you let me try … Take a chance on me

And you know what? If the feds come alookin’ for him, the border ain’t too far away.

References & Resources
Age is actual age and not baseball age.

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