Profit and Loss in Bonds's Endgame
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
So, how much money have you made off Barry Bonds? If you are the San Francisco Giants' owners, perhaps the number is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. If you are the Giants' radio or television rights-holders, perhaps in the tens of millions. If you are a longtime teammate, your twice-monthly paycheck proof of the franchise's Bonds-built prosperity, maybe it's in the millions. The lawyers, the agents, the personal trainers, the BALCO boys, the memorabilia dealers, the authors, the freelancers, the kayakers, the local bar and hotel owners, the commissioner of baseball -- the Barry Bonds era has been good to all your bottom lines.
And someday, perhaps soon, it will be over.
In the winter of Barry Bonds's career, there is unease throughout. The delicate dance that often occurs between a fading star and his franchise over the future of their relationship is even more complicated in this case, because he is Barry Bonds, and everyone here must grapple with a Faustian equation -- how much money he has made for them vs. how much of their souls it has cost them.
On Monday, Bonds spent his 42nd birthday quietly with his family in Washington, where the Giants open a three-game series against the Nationals at RFK Stadium on Tuesday night. Also on Monday, the fan who caught Bonds's 715th home run ball in May, which gave Bonds sole possession of second place on the career list, put the ball up for sale on eBay, with the auction expected to fetch as much as $500,000 -- another half-mil earned by another profiteer from the sweat of Barry Bonds.
But this gravy train -- among the most profitable in professional sports history -- is slowly grinding to a halt after 14 seasons in San Francisco. Bonds, whose home run total sits at 722 -- close enough to make a run at Hank Aaron's career record of 755 next season -- is in the final year of a five-year, $90 million contract, and his expressed desire to remain in San Francisco for another season has been met with mostly silence from the team.
"Yeah, I would want to come back here" next season, Bonds, a Bay Area native, said in a brief interview in the home clubhouse at AT&T Park. "You'd always like to stay in one place. This is my home. But [players] don't make those decisions."
The Giants' principal owner, Peter A. Magowan, who in past seasons has all but guaranteed Bonds would never again play in another uniform, these days will barely touch the question of Bonds's future.
"We have said many times that is a question we are not prepared to deal with until after the season," Magowan said. "There are too many variables here, including his health and the performance of the team."
Another variable, no doubt, is how much money Bonds can still bring in, relative to how much he would be taking out in salary. The Giants are paying Bonds $18 million this year. It is not so much a negotiation as a calculation.
The last time baseball experienced a convergence of hometown hero, hometown team and the winding down of a historic career, the celebration lasted all summer and spread to cities all across the nation when the hero came to say goodbye.
But this is not 2001, and Barry Bonds is not Cal Ripken. In fact, he is, in many ways, the anti-Ripken, as vilified throughout the game as the Iron Man was exalted.