Still redeemable

The Baltimore Sun

I hope some club signs Barry Bonds this summer. And I hope he leads that team to the playoffs with a fusillade of walks and 450-foot homers.

I don't wish for this because I have any rooting interest in Bonds. Whether he never homers again or hits 50 more, my opinion of him won't change.

No, what I'm rooting for is the unconventional, a general manager who doesn't give a hoot about disapproving scrutiny as long as Bonds can help his team win. If we're going to create entertainment markets in which we reward those who win at all costs, then by Job, I want some executive to stick his neck out and make this move.

Because, make no mistake, Bonds can still be a major help to plenty of teams that fancy themselves contenders.

This is all in the news because the players' union is looking into the possibility that the majors' 30 teams have colluded against veteran free agents such as Bonds and fellow outfielder Kenny Lofton.

Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, says his client hasn't received any offers, and he's now doubtful the home run king will play in 2008. Baseball officials, meanwhile, say there are no facts to support collusion.

Do I think it's possible clubs are shying away from Bonds because of an unofficial edict from commissioner Bud Selig?

Well, sure, it's possible. Baseball owners have been caught colluding before. They did it as a matter of practice before free agency dawned in the 1970s. Even now, Selig's office issues unofficial but "suggested" salary caps for each slot in the amateur draft.

But I suspect that no such edict is needed to keep Bonds out of the game. It's simply much easier and much safer for GMs not to sign him.

They know that as soon as the ink is dry on his contract, guys like me will swarm the clubhouse looking for stories about morality and chemistry. Baseball teams are image-conscious entities. Their leaders don't want that kind of attention.

They can also argue that Bonds is no longer valuable. He might need a cane to play left field, and even at designated hitter, he couldn't be counted on to play every day. His power and ability to make contact are nowhere near what they were in 2004.

To that, I say .480 and .565. The first is Bonds' on-base percentage in 2007, which would have led the National League by 46 points if he had garnered a few dozen more plate appearances. The second is his slugging average, which would've ranked seventh, tied with Miguel Cabrera. Those figures would make him the best DH in the American League by far right now (though David Ortiz will likely rebound from his poor start).

Look, I know you can't play the game in a social vacuum. But a lot of people didn't want baseball integrated in 1947, either. Branch Rickey cared enough about winning to create a major advantage for his franchise by breaking that custom.

I'm not equating Barry Bonds with Jackie Robinson. But what I am saying is that when baseball puts unspoken custom ahead of performance, the sport is worse for it. So I hope someone bucks conventional wisdom and wins because of it.

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