MLB's principles forbid hiring baseball's pariah

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As we read almost daily, professional sports teams, and many on the college level, will do almost anything to win. Be it bending the rules or ignoring them, sports teams are not much of a moral compass for a country that pays them such great heed. Hand-in-hand with this disregard for the rules comes a willingness -- almost an eagerness -- to pay salaries that never cease to amaze.

While all three of the major pro sports -- football, baseball and basketball -- seem to have a never-ending drama of rule-breaking and contractual hysteria, MLB, to our mind, has the edge. No sport seems to bend, twist or break the rules like baseball. It's the same with salary escalation, with the seven-year $126 million contract the San Francisco Giants presented to Barry Zito last season proving the point. Zito had a 2-9 record going into the weekend.

Still, what no one can say is that a Major League Baseball team will do absolutely anything to win. At a certain point, MLB has a line it won't cross, a salary it won't pay.

And that line is this:

It won't hire a player who last year batted a respectable .276 while hitting a more-than respectable 28 home runs and delivering elite on-base and slugging percentage numbers -- .480 and .565 respectively.

That player, of course, is Barry Lamar Bonds, a pariah -- somebody despised and avoided -- in MLB circles. The general public has pretty much the same take on Bonds, who has hit more home runs than anyone in baseball history and, if emotions can be removed from the discussion, ranks as one of the five best players in the history of the game.

How Bonds achieved that greatness is his problem. It's widely, if not universally, believed he used performance-enhancing drugs to accumulate the astonishing offensive record he compiled in the latter stages of his career.

All that being said, Bonds is a free-agent and a free man. Perjury charges hang over his head, but he faces no court date until next year, which means he would figure to be at least worth a look from any number of American League teams. Although Bonds is about a year removed from being the quintessential designated hitter -- a man too slow to play the field but one who remains a potent offensive force -- he still figures to be a good one.

What's more, there are American League teams in desperate need of a player of Bonds' talent. For whatever reason, designated hitters are a vanishing breed. Boston's David Ortiz, currently on the DL, is what we think of in terms of modern-day designated hitters. He's a dangerous slugger who admirably fills the No. 4 spot in the lineup and will play the field only in the direst of emergencies.

But for every Ortiz there's a Gary Sheffield, a Travis Hafner, a Matt Stairs, a Cliff Floyd, a Garrett Anderson -- men who are no longer capable of handling the DH slot or who never were.

The Cleveland Indians, for example, are a major disappointment this year. They were five games under .500 going into the weekend, but only six games behind the first-place Chicago White Sox. The Indians have only seven home runs from their DH this year. What's more, Hafner, their regular DH, is on the disabled list. Bonds would be an ideal pick up for the Indians.

The Detroit Tigers, an even bigger disappointment, have only nine homers from their DH. Their regular at the position, Gary Sheffield, was batting .214. Detroit manager Jim Leyland and Bonds are pals.

If Toronto wants to get back in the race, it can't expect much help from DH Matt Stairs, four homers and a .246 batting average.

If Minnesota, second in the AL Central, wants to climb in the race, it has a better chance with Bonds than with Jason Kubel and Craig Monroe, both of whom are hitting under .240 with on-base percentages under .300.

Tampa Bay (Floyd, Jonny Gomes and Eric Hinske) and Los Angeles (Anderson) also could use an upgrade.

But no one is interested. No one wants Bonds. No one wants the pariah.

That's MLB's right, although the players' union is looking into collusion. It does seem strange that no team wants a player who, with a week or two of minor-league pitching, could be a major force in any lineup.

Think of the economics of the issue. Bonds playing his way into shape would sell out any minor-league ballpark in the country for as long as he was there.

Bonds on the major-league level would have a similar impact. Fans would flock to boo him and to see if he could still hit home runs. Then there's his quest for yet another milestone -- he's 65 hits from 3,000.

Above all, he presents a significant upgrade for many teams at a salary -- considering Bonds' lack of leverage -- that would be reasonable by MLB's standards.

This is no attempt to get Bonds a job. He needs neither the money nor the glory. It's just to show that when it comes to the most unsympathetic man in sports -- today and perhaps ever -- even baseball has scruples.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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