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Too much baggage

Bonds' bat not worth circus atmosphere for Rays

Posted: Wednesday February 27, 2008 10:25AM; Updated: Wednesday February 27, 2008 10:56AM
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Tim Lincecum
Tim Lincecum relaxes at his locker near Barry Bonds' old corner of the Giants' clubhouse in Scottsdale, Ariz.

It's not hard to understand why the Tampa Bay Rays would be interested in signing Barry Bonds. The Rays are a little bit like the quiet kid who shows up at school after summer vacation with his hair dyed pink -- it might be an awful look, but at least it gets him noticed. Hardly anyone ever pays attention to Tampa Bay, including the residents of the greater Tampa/St. Pete area, judging from the club's attendance figures, so what better way to make a splash than to sign an automatic newsmaker like Bonds?

But tempting as it might be, especially because it's likely that Bonds is still capable of launching a few more longballs, the Rays would be crazy to bring Barry and his Barc-a-lounger into their clubhouse. To see why, all they would need to do is check in with Bonds' previous employers, the San Francisco Giants, at their Scottsdale Stadium spring training camp, which rivals Disneyland for the happiest place on Earth these days. A recent visit found the clubhouse loud and raucous and an intrasquad scrimmage punctuated by the sounds of laughter and good-natured ribbing. Why are the Giants so giddy? Because of the absence of Bonds.

Bonds was a stifling presence, not entirely by his own doing. He wasn't exactly Mr. Sunshine, to be sure, but the crush of out-of-town media that filled the clubhouse and the constant questions and concerns over his legal issues cast as big a cloud over the team as his surly personality. "Nothing against Barry, but having all the things that come along with having him here sometimes made it hard to concentrate on baseball," says shortstop Omar Vizquel. "We'll definitely miss a lot of the things that he brought to the table, but there's a feeling now that we're a normal baseball team again."

Do you hear that, Rays? A normal baseball team. There is absolutely no shot at normalcy for any team that signs Bonds. For all the pop and on-base percentage he brings to your lineup, for all the fannies he puts in your seats, he brings more negatives. With Bonds, it won't be long before your promising young players are being peppered with more questions about indictments than inside fastballs, about grand jury testimony than about grand slams. Even if Bonds shows up with a suddenly sweet disposition (fat chance) his notoriety will throw any team he joins off-kilter.

Aside from all that, there are the baseball issues. Even as a designated hitter, there's no guarantee that Bonds' 44-year-old body will hold up. Nor is it a sure thing that he will be terribly motivated to drag those aging bones out onto the field once the Rays fall out of the AL East race, as they inevitably will. Ask ex-Giants manager Felipe Alou how fun it was to have Bonds tell him when he was playing, instead of the other way around.

The Rays seem to think that Bonds might have a positive influence on their young players. How naive. It's far more likely that Bonds, who probably wouldn't even take Tampa's phone calls if he had so much as a sniff from any other team, would drift above the team on his superstar cloud, chasing a few individual milestones, like 3,000 hits and 800 home runs. The humbling experience of finishing up with the anonymous Rays probably wouldn't make him particularly approachable for his new teammates.

The Rays would no doubt find themselves walking on eggshells around Bonds, as many of his old teammates did. The Giants could tell Tampa all about it, if they weren't busy having such a grand time without him. New acquisition Aaron Rowand, a natural leader, immediately began organizing bowling outings when he arrived at camp, the kind of team-building activity that during Bonds' tenure, happened, oh, never. Although the Giants are careful to point out that they appreciate what Bonds contributed, there is a definite sense of relief that he's gone. Before the Rays gamble on how they could be helped by Bonds' presence, they should consider how much happier the Giants are in his absence.