CHICAGO - For 15 minutes Monday afternoon, the visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field, already hallowed ground among the baseball set, turned into a true house of worship.
While the San Francisco Giants took batting practice, Barry Bonds remained inside the cramped quarters, joined by an old friend, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
And together, they prayed.
For Bonds’ balky knees, which kept him out of the lineup Monday, to heal? For Bud Selig, baseball’s commissioner, to end the charade and announce he will attend as Bonds reaches Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record? For peace on earth? Good will toward men? No more steroid testing?
Alas, we will never know, the sanctity of priest-penitent privilege and all. We do know the Jackson-Bonds relationship goes back a generation, to Barry’s father Bobby, whom Jackson befriended during the elder Bonds’ playing days. Jackson sees in Barry much of what he saw in Bobby, their defiance in the face of adversity seemingly an inherited characteristic.
And with Bonds hitless in his last 20 at-bats, his longest such streak since April 10-21, 1991, when he took an 0 for 22, the difficulty has come in droves.
So much that with the Giants trailing the Chicago Cubs by one run in an eventual 3-2 loss, manager Bruce Bochy didn’t use Bonds as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning. Bonds is, however, expected to play Tuesday.
“Sometimes we fall down,” said Jackson, a Chicago native. “Sometimes we’re knocked down. But the ground is no place for a champion. You rise again. That’s what distinguishes champions. They get up again and again because they know even if they’re down, the ground is not a place for a champion.”
Jackson unequivocally considers Bonds such, sloughing off the grand-jury testimony in which Bonds allegedly admitted to using steroids, albeit unknowingly. He pulled out the Bonds apologist boilerplate: hasn’t tested positive for anything, hasn’t been indicted or convicted, played in an era with other steroid users. All of it, Jackson said, “seems to be so fundamentally unfair.”
Hyperbole in full effect, Jackson said 400 players have tested positive for steroids (it’s around 250, including minor leaguers and the 100 or so positives from 2003), 69 percent of them were pitchers (it’s more like 55 percent) and, perhaps most laughable of all, “Hank’s not upset about Barry coming close to breaking the record.”
Spared neither was Selig. “A man for whom I have great respect,” noted Jackson, who seemed to believe that Selig would not be attending the games leading up to No. 755.
“When the commissioner of baseball, by inference, suggests you’re guilty, (he) will not be a part of the triumph. That leaves Barry out in the cold, out of the infrastructure of baseball,” Jackson said. “It’s a very heavy blow by inference.”
Such trials and travails left Bonds in a crabby mood following the game. Or maybe that’s just him. Bonds didn’t want to talk because “I didn’t play, not in the game,” and he said the words with such vigor that he looked rabid, minus the frothing.
Yes, these are trying times for Bonds. He’s on the cusp of baseball’s most hallowed record and he’s making Oscar the Grouch look like he’s hopped up on Effexor. This is a home run chase devoid of joy.
One, it seems, not even a man of the cloth can fix.
• Surely the good Reverend wouldn’t pass up a chance to chime in on the latest brouhaha in the world of race relations, Detroit DH Gary Sheffield essentially calling New York Yankees manager Joe Torre a racist, would he?
“I don’t want to react to that,” Jackson said. “I don’t know what that’s all about.”
Were there some kind of emoticon that portrayed speechlessness, surely it would be appropriate here.
Instead, the follow-up question: Do you know Joe Torre, and do you echo Sheffield’s comments like Kenny Lofton did?
“I have high regard for him,” Jackson said of Torre. “Sometimes I think we amplify these statements and make more than what should be made. People have opinions. I just urge people to be positive.”
• One more note on Bonds: Only one of the pitchers he has hit a home run off this year, Yankees reliever Scott Proctor, cracks 95 mph with his fastball. And, admittedly, that was an impressive one, Bonds turning around 96-mph gas and hitting it out to right-center field.
Still, after seeing Bonds swing through sub-par fastballs for weeks now, you do wonder whether his four to tie the record will come off breaking balls.
The rest of that list, by the way, in order of victimization: Chris Young, Zach Duke, Shawn Chacon, Ryan Franklin, Edgar Gonzalez, Yusmeiro Petit, Randy Wolf, Edgar Gonzalez, Jeff Francis, Jon Lieber, Tom Glavine, Taylor Buchholz, Josh Towers, Tim Wakefield, Scott Proctor, Livan Hernandez and Aaron Harang.
• Never has a man been so excited to acquire an everyday player with an OPS of .542 as Cubs GM Jim Hendry was Monday when he traded for catcher Jason Kendall from Oakland.
“It’s a perfect, perfect fit for us,” Hendry said.
That’s debatable. You needn’t a sabermetric leaning to know Kendall has been among the worst hitters in baseball three years running. On the other hand, pitchers and executives rave about Kendall’s ability to handle a pitching staff, and certainly Oakland’s 3.70 ERA, best in the AL and second best in the big leagues, had something to do with him.
Whatever your view - some believe recently recalled, and perhaps soon demoted, Geovany Soto is the Cubs’ best option at catcher - Chicago got rid of Michael Barrett because manager Lou Piniella didn’t trust him with his pitching staff. Kendall, no matter his offensive inefficiencies, personifies what Piniella wants from a catcher.
• Twenty-two pitchers have thrown shutouts this season. And with all the credit in the world to Dustin McGowan, Wandy Rodriguez and Jeff Weaver, I’d venture to say this is the unlikeliest of the bunch, even if it did come against Kansas City.
• What is a season if it doesn’t include a Ben Sheets trip to the disabled list? Hearing anything “pop, snap” is never good, and while it’s not his shoulder or elbow, a finger on his right hand will keep him sidelined just the same.
With the Cubs charging hard, the Brewers need rookie Yovani Gallardo to pick up the slack in the rotation. In case he falters, they’ve summoned Manny Parra, who recently threw a perfect game at Triple-A.
... AND FLY
The Chicago White Sox bullpen imploded again, giving up five runs in the eighth inning and almost blowing an 11-10 victory against Cleveland. The sad part: By giving up only two earned runs in 3 1/3 innings, White Sox relievers actually improved their earned-run average to 5.98 - a run higher than every other bullpen in the big leagues except Tampa Bay and its unfathomable 6.13.
Related: Yovani Gallardo, Wandy Rodríguez, Jeff Francis, Chris Young, Aaron Harang, Shawn Chacón, Randy Wolf, Ben Sheets, Michael Barrett, Jeff Weaver, Jason Kendall, Jon Lieber, Tim Wakefield, Tom Glavine, Gary Sheffield, Barry Bonds, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants