Friday, October 25, 2002

No showdown in show hurts World Series



By Steve Wilstein
The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO - To their credit and regret, the Anaheim Angels pitched to Barry Bonds again. Double to right, double to left, single to center.

Bonds jumped on pitches when he finally got a chance, thanks to hits and homers ahead of him by Kenny Lofton and Jeff Kent in the San Francisco Giants' 16-4 onslaught to take a three games-to-two lead in the World Series.

This series was turning into the biggest turnoff of all time, producing the lowest national TV ratings, and a prime reason was Anaheim's fear of pitching to Bonds.

They've been playing in the most beautiful ballpark in America. Games have been tight with comebacks by each team. There have been hits galore in a couple of breakouts by each.

But something was missing.

The star. The showdown. The magic.

People who are not Angels fans or Giants fans or unwavering baseball addicts would watch just to see Bonds launch balls into McCovey Cove or go down trying.

They may not care who wins, but they might tune in to see the best hitter in baseball challenged - just as people who couldn't care less about golf turn on the Masters to watch Tiger Woods.

Fans love stars and dramatic moments. As the Angels kept walking Bonds, who scared them with homers in each of the first three games, this World Series seemed like a Rolling Stones concert with Mick Jagger's mouth taped shut.

"You're missing the star," Hall of Famer Joe Morgan said after Bonds was walked three times intentionally in Game 4. "To be blunt, there weren't a lot of big stars in this series. It's not like the Yankees. There's not Curt Schilling. There's not Randy Johnson. There's Barry Bonds. And he's taken out with walks.

"I just hate that a guy has honed his skills to be the best and he doesn't get a chance to prove it anymore."

There are reasons for some of the worst TV ratings in World Series history than the five intentional walks and nine overall that Bonds got in the first four games. It's a West Coast duel that hasn't grabbed the rest of the country and it's part of a general slump in ratings and attendance since baseball came close to a strike.

The games are on too late, take too long, and Fox's Tim McCarver talks too much. Nobody knows the game better, but four hours of his lectures and opinions can induce a grand slam headache.

"The pace seems inexorable," says TV sports consultant Neil Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports. "And it's infuriating to the viewer that the only major national star in the game, Barry Bonds, is a factor only as a baserunner. I'm frustrated, myself, watching it.

"It may be good strategy to walk him but it's bad for viewers, bad for spectators at the ballpark and bad for the game. It robs the public of the confrontation between pitchers and one of the best hitters in history."

Bonds was walked a record 198 times this year, 68 intentionally, in all kinds of situations. When he's walked with first base open and a runner on second, that's baseball. When he's walked intentionally, as he was in Game 4, with runners on first and third and one out, that's gutless.

Sure, it worked out for the Angels, who got the next batter, Benito Santiago, to ground into a double play. But it's a timid way to approach the game and a sure way to turn off fans.

"Our job is to win ballgames," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Thursday, defending his strategy. "That takes precedence over anything that you might say anybody wants to see. ... I don't listen to the criticism."

Scioscia let Jarrod Washburn pitch to Bonds in the first inning of Game 5 with runners on first and second and one out. Bonds lined a double down the right field line, driving in one run, and San Francisco went on to take a 3-0 lead as Washburn walked four other Giants, one intentionally.

In the second inning, Bonds was walked intentionally, though reasonably, after a single by Lofton and a double by Kent, and the Giants padded their lead to 6-0.

In the sixth, after Kent's two-run homer gave the Giants an 8-4 lead, Bonds doubled again. Bonds singled in the seventh after Lofton's two-run triple and Kent's second two-run shot made it 12-4.

Scioscia said Bonds should be flattered by the attempts to neutralize him.

"The problem I have," Morgan said, "is that managers, because of the way they walk him, they've allowed their pitchers to not be competitive."

At the start of the series, the Angels said they intentionally walked only a couple dozen batters all season and wouldn't be walking Bonds all the time.

Then in the second game, Bonds crushed a 485-foot homer off Troy Percival, the longest shot ever hit in Anaheim. It was a solo homer with two outs in the ninth in the Angels' 11-10 victory, but it wasn't meaningless.

"It told everybody that there's nobody here who can stop him. That set the tone," Morgan said. "I hate, in a way, that he hit that home run, because he's not going to get anymore."

Walking the best hitters has been part of the game forever. Babe Ruth held the walks record long before Bonds. But at a time when attendance and ratings are flagging, maybe some thought should go into getting rid of intentional walks, perhaps by forcing catchers to remain in a crouch behind the plate.

"There's a solution for every problem," Morgan said. "I just know that it's not fun for us to watch."

---

Steve Wilstein is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at swilstein@ap.org



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