10/02/2002 12:18 pm ET
Press Row: Focus on Bonds, Baker
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
One of the most burning questions of the Giants-Braves series is will the Braves pitch to Barry Bonds.
Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle weighs in with the obvious answer.
"You don't win 11 consecutive division titles by playing moronic baseball, which these days can be defined as giving in to Barry Bonds when he has a chance to tie or win a game.
"The Atlanta Braves, who fancy themselves a little smarter than the average jocks, made it clear Tuesday that if the Giants want to win their National League Division Series, somebody besides Bonds will emerge as the MVP.
" 'I'm not going to be the one who answers the question, 'Why did you pitch to him?' That's what it's gotten to,' closer John Smoltz said. "Nobody challenges him anymore and there's a reason. He's that good.'
"Said Tom Glavine, who will start Game 1 this afternoon: 'I don't know if you pitch to Barry if Babe Ruth was hitting behind him right now. I really don't. He's that good of a player.' "
San Francisco's manager, Dusty Baker, has some pressing issues affecting him.
Ron Thomas of the San Francisco Examiner explains Baker's unique situation.
"To Dusty Baker, being a mass of contradictions is inherent with being a baseball manager.
"He believes he must be: strong but sensitive; confident but humble; loyal but practical; selfish with his time but unselfish as a person; giving in spirit but able to recharge his energy; accept being the boss but assert his authority only when necessary.
"That mix of contradictory and counterbalancing forces has guided Baker through 10 years as Giants manager. It has brought him 840 victories (the second-highest total in franchise history), five 90-victory seasons, two National League West titles, three playoff appearances and three NL Manager of the Year awards.
"As the Giants begin their playoff series in Atlanta on Wednesday, his teams have not won a world championship, gained a berth in the World Series or even been victorious in a playoff series. Maybe this year, that will come.
"And maybe, whenever this season ends, Baker never will manage the Giants again.
"His two-year contract expires after this season."
In a separate article, Thomas explores Baker's roots and explains where those contradictions came from.
"Throughout Dusty Baker's life, the biggest contradiction is that he has been a leader who never chose to lead.
" 'I just keep getting pushed in that way,' he said. ' It never was important to me. Honest.'
"Growing up in Carmichael, outside Sacramento, Baker became a designated leader when he was a young child. As the oldest of five children, and with parents who both worked when school was out, he had no choice.
" 'Naturally, he balked,' said his father, Johnnie B. Baker Sr., ' But it came from the old school that God put you here as the first child, so you'll have to take the responsibility, because I had two jobs at that time and his mother had a full-time job.'
"There always was a babysitter with the children, too, but Baker's parents wanted his siblings to know they could go to Dusty if they weren't comfortable talking to the sitter.
"Baker's father set a strong leadership example as a youth, church and civic leader. How much stronger could he get than cutting his 10-year-old namesake (Dusty is Johnnie B. Baker Jr.) from a Little League team during a game?
" 'It was a great letdown for him,' said Baker's father, 'But sorry, that's the way it had to go. He didn't chase a fly ball and he got rebellious.' "
The Braves are confident in their role as postseason stalwarts, but Bonds and company may have them a little disconcerted. David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tries to convey the atmosphere at Atlanta's Turner Field.
"It wasn't the spider bite on the side of his head that had Chipper Jones a little fidgety Tuesday.
"The Braves' left fielder just gets an edge the day before the postseason begins, and the edge felt a little sharper this time, the buzz surrounding workout day a little more pronounced.
"Judging from the media throng that turned out at Turner Field, interest in the division series between the Braves and wild-card San Francisco Giants is unusually high (even if Atlanta ticket sales aren't).
"Of the electricity in the air, Braves closer John Smoltz said, ' I think it's because of Barry Bonds, I really do.'
"Smoltz may have been referring to Bonds' unprecedented back-to-back offensive seasons or the San Francisco slugger's well-chronicled history of postseason futility, or both.
" 'I think we've got some elements we haven't had here in years past,' Jones said. 'A lot of questions about Sheff, Smoltzie. Barry's on the other side. And the Giants are very hot right now.'
" ' A lot of people are picking them to beat us.' "
As O'Brien mentioned, that doesn't seem to be helping ticket sales. Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution examines the situation a little bit closer and puts it in historical perspective.
"Before each game of the 1991 World Series, Pete Van Wieren would circle the club level of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. For the Braves broadcaster, the laps were reconnaissance missions with a historical imperative.
" ' I just wanted to see what the fans were up to,' Van Wieren said. 'You had the cars and trucks decorated, the people in costumes, the big drum beating outside the stadium. You'd say to yourself, 'I may never see this again.'
"Eleven years later, Atlanta has and hasn't seen it again. Steady as a metronome, the Braves qualify for the playoffs every year, but the Mardi Gras trappings that festooned the beginning of this postseason run were shredded long ago.
"The Braves open the Division Series at 1 p.m. today against San Francisco at Turner Field. Public relations director Jim Schultz said Tuesday morning about ticket sales that ' with a good walk-up, we might do 40,000. Or the high 30s.' Capacity is 50,019.
"This would mark the sixth consecutive postseason game at Turner Field that has failed to sell out. Since moving into their new home in 1997, the Braves have played to under-capacity crowds 16 times in 22 playoff dates. Seizing on the sight of empty seats, the national media annually bashes Atlanta for its lack of passion.
"As another postseason dawns, the questions hang in the October air. Has Atlanta stopped caring about the Braves? Have the Braves spoiled their constituency? Is this a lousy baseball town? And at what point are emotional concerns -- going nuts over a baseball team would seem to qualify -- overridden by the laws of human nature?"
Those answers, and several others, will be found over the next week or so.
Spencer Fordin, a reporter for MLB.com, can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.