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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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July 17, 2008 10:07 AM

Bonds to NY: good for game?

Posted by Geoff Baker

Baseball gets back underway today, not for the Mariners, but a few other teams. Thanks for your insights into the Jose Vidro discussions yesterday. As one of you wrote, you can agree to disagree with an organization's thinking, or the explanation of it, without degenerating into mudsligning and a self-righteous pounding of the chest. For the record, I agree with many of you. The short-term need for this franchise to win games should take a backseat to the need to get on with building the franchise for the future. It doesn't get entirely wiped from consideration. But nor should it be a 50-50 split.

Time for some decisions. Bryan LaHair continues to hit for power in Class AAA, his replacement-in-waiting is there in Craig Wilson, so why not call him up? Who goes? Heck, we've said for two months that Vidro should be released. If he can't play the field on a regular basis without wearing down, then he makes a logical choice to send packing.

Also, I'd like to see Wladimir Balentien come up and Raul Ibanez get moved to DH. You now have Jeremy Reed showing he can play multiple positions. Balentien doesn't have to be guaranteed a major league job. You can bring him up here, play him a bit and see if he can hit. If he slumps, you can sit him a couple of days, put Reed in left and Willie Bloomquist in center. I do think Balentien should be a left fielder and not a center fielder. I like what Reed has shown in center so far.

We should know more by this afternoon, when the team holds a Safeco Field workout. But I'd be shocked if no changes are made. Now is the natural time to do it. Doesn't change the explanation the past two days for why Jim Riggleman was doing what he's been doing. But his own words a few days ago in KC, that Vidro needed a rest, kind of spell things out. Vidro needs a rest because he can't play the field. This team needs a guy to play the field in Richie Sexson's place and it isn't Miguel Cairo.

Speaking of guys who need to play, there's an idea gaining momentum around baseball the past few days that the logical re-entry point into baseball for Barry Bonds would be with the New York Yankees.

Now, make no mistake. I've written here before and will continue to write that Bonds will be a huge distraction for any team, both from a clubhouse and media perspective. If you don't think he will be a clubhouse distraction, go read Jeff Pearlman's Love Me, Hate Me book which quotes past Bonds teammates about what he was like to have around. About what kind of teammate he was. If you still think it's a media myth after that, well, then we'll have to agree to disagree.

But as much as I think that Bonds has tarnished his legacy, and the game, and will get what's coming to him in a court of law, the perverse side of me thinks seeing him in New York could actually be good for baseball on several levels. Laugh all you want, but most of you hate the Yankees to begin with, right? I mean, those of you from outside New York.

About the only time I can remember anyone cheering for the Yankees, outside of New York, was while covering the 2001 World Series after the 9/11 terror attacks.

But even by the 2003 World Series, fans were getting sick of seeing that "Challenger'' eagle fly in during the national anthems, or of hearing Ronan Tynan sing "God Bless America'' in its extended version. The Yankees are the gold standard as a baseball franchise. But rooting against them has also become as much fun for fans of opposing teams as cheering on their own clubs.

Most of those clubs never make the playoffs. The Yankees always do. So, in some ways, rooting against them becomes the prime obsession.

What's the worst that could happen if Bonds goes to New York?

Well, the fans there could boo him. Wouldn't that be fun? I'd bet they would boo him.

But after a while, if he produced, the boos would likely turn to cheers. That city welcomed Jason Giambi back into the fold. And Giambi was a bonafide juicer. Now, it's like his grand jury testimony never happened.

Would George Steinbrenner and Hank Steinbrenner be hated even more? I don't know if that's possible.

On a moral scale, who would win out in a battle between Bonds and Alex Rodriguez? Right now, A-Rod is daily tabloid fodder for a rumored affair with Madonna and just got sued for divorce by his wife, who is alleging all kinds of infidelity. This is nothing new. Last year, the papers went wild over photos of A-Rod cavorting around Toronto with an exotic dancer.

So, how much lower can the Yankees possibly go with Bonds?

And then, there's the upside.

Imagine the television ratings that Fox could pull in by showcasing Bonds and the Yankees every week across the country? Yes, yes, the network just about does that already. But this time, everybody would be watching. It would be like the car wreck that keeps on happening.

Bad for the sport? Not this year. Bonds isn't going to jail until at least 2009, and maybe never if he's proven innocent of perjury charges.

If you want stuff that's bad for the sport's image, look no further than Roger Clemens.

Morality isn't exactly the thing to be looking for when it comes to professional sports. Just check out the NFL. Their ratings destroy MLB's.

What about the long-term impact? Well, even Bonds himself is not going to derail the image of a franchise that's won more titles than any other in North American pro sport. Those who love the Yankees will always love them for Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Derek Jeter. They will remember Bonds in the same context as they do Jose Canseco, another steroids-tainted guy once welcomed into the Yankee fold for a brief moment.

And the game itself? Little impact beyond a sideshow that should generate more interest than anything else the sport has going for it right now.

Yeah, a Rays-Cubs championship would be nice. But how about a Bonds-Cubs championship?

I covered the only World Series that Bonds has ever been involved in, that seven-gamer with Anaheim in 2002, and Bonds made that event (along with K-Rod). He was the story, the show.

No, the Mariners could not withstand the hit their reputation would have taken had they brought Bonds in. Especially this year, when his impact on this Titanic-like season would have been minimal. All of the blame for a problematic clubhouse, a losing culture and the failure of key players to produce anything close to what was expected of them would have fallen on his shoulders. And the team's architects would have all been ridiculed for even contemplating bringing Bonds in.

Yes, I know. They are being ridiculed as we speak. The difference is, blaming Bonds for everything would have masked this team's other issues. Like why its players failed to respond to the challenge of being expected to win something in 2008.

The M's do not have the history of excellence the Yankees do. Bonds is but a tiny blip on the Yankee legacy. In Seattle, he might have come to define everything that hasn't worked out for this franchise over the past 30 years.

So, like I said, the perverse side of me, the one that likes to see the status quo shaken up, would love to see Bonds go to New York. No other place. Just there. And I actually think this is the only place where his playing could actually boost interest in the game without long-term damage.

What do you think? I know there will be some fiery opinions on both sides of this.


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