More than smoke, mirrors for Giants

Most of this season, the Giants have been doing it with smoke and mirrors and Bonds and Schmidt (and Alou).

Originally Published: September 22, 2004
By Joe Morgan | Special to ESPN.com

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Most of this season, the San Francisco Giants have been doing it with smoke and mirrors and Bonds and Schmidt -- and a wonderful managing job by Felipe Alou.

There are three main reasons why the Giants are in the pennant race: Barry Bonds, the newest member of the 700-homer club, starter Jason Schmidt and Alou. All three deserve a tremendous amount of credit.

After Bonds, the other batters in San Francisco's lineup don't scare you. But appearances can be deceiving: Five Giants have 70 RBI or more, and San Francisco is tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for most runs in the National League.

After Schmidt, San Francisco's starting rotation had question marks until Brett Tomko (11-6, 4.15 ERA) stepped up. Jerome Williams has been on the disabled list. Noah Lowry (5-0, 4.09) and Brad Hennessey (2-2, 4.40) were brought up from the minors. After Schmidt, this isn't a rotation that anyone fears.

Schmidt
Schmidt
Bonds
Bonds
Even with those questions, the Giants hold a slim lead in the wild-card race and trail the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers by just 1½ games in the NL West.

Earlier this season, I felt that the Giants' best chance to get to the postseason would be winning the division, because I thought the Chicago Cubs would rise to the top of the wild-card hunt. But that hasn't happened (they trail the Giants by one-half game).

Talent-wise, from the rotation to the lineup, it looks like the Cubs are the best team in the wild-card race. They've been streaky, though. They play well at times but then have defensive or base-running lapses and struggle offensively.

The Houston Astros are in the hunt, just two games behind the Giants, because of Roger Clemens (18-4, 3.00) and Roy Oswalt (18-9, 3.48). But once you get past those two, their rotation is iffy. Wade Miller has the next-most wins on the staff (7-7, 3.35).

In the next two weeks, I believe the NL wild card will go down to the wire between the Giants and Cubs -- unless the Giants overtake the Dodgers in the West and knock L.A. back into the wild-card race.

No Surprise: Bonds the Catalyst
Without question, the Giants' success this season is all about Bonds, Schmidt and Alou. All three have done a tremendous job of leading: Bonds with the offense, Schmidt with the staff and Alou with the whole team.

Alou has made the right moves at the right time, thanks to lots of interchangeable parts, and he's gotten the most out of his players.

There's no debate: Bonds makes the Giants go. But who's the next most important Giant in the lineup?

There are several candidates. J.T. Snow got hot for a few weeks and helped Bonds. Same for Pedro Feliz. Edgardo Alfonzo has come on strong -- he slumped in July (batting .217) but his average is up above .290 now. Marquis Grissom and Michael Tucker have put together some good streaks.

All of these hitters have stepped up to help Bonds, but no one has been consistent all season long. Whoever has been hot has been able to produce, because Bonds is always on base -- at least it seems that way.

Bonds is batting an NL-best .369 and his on-base percentage is a majors-best .608. By way of comparison, the next highest on-base percentage in the majors is Todd Helton's .464.

Besides Bonds, the most important hitter in the Giants' lineup is probably Alfonzo, because he usually hits right behind Bonds. Snow has had some good streaks, but Alfonzo needs to give Bonds the most help down the stretch.

Boston's Wild Ride
Since the Boston Red Sox lost two of three games to the New York Yankees this past weekend, they need to focus on the wild card now. The Red Sox hold a 5½ game lead over the Anaheim Angels.

Two weeks ago, some were saying that Boston had the best team in baseball. But the Yankees ended that talk by routing the Red Sox in the last two games of their weekend series (14-4 and 11-1).

The Yankees lead Boston in the AL East by 4½ games. Even though the teams play three games this weekend in Boston, I don't think Boston will be able to catch the Yankees, who are aiming for their seventh straight division title.

Pedro Martinez faces Mike Mussina again to open the series on Friday at Fenway Park. Martinez and Mussina squared off in Sunday's 11-1 Yankee win. Pedro gave up eight runs (all earned) in five innings.

Bullpen Frustration
I'm still frustrated, for two reasons, about last week's bullpen altercation between A's fans and Rangers relievers at Oakland's Network Coliseum. Rangers reliever Frank Francisco threw a chair into the crowd, breaking a fan's nose, and was arrested.

First, what's frustrating to me is that apparently no new policy was put in place after the bullpen altercation at Wrigley Field in May 2000 between Dodgers players and Cubs fans. Major League Baseball should have taken precautions then to ensure it didn't happen again.

Based on what I've heard and read, relievers today still don't have a procedure for handling bullpen incidents with fans. This is an issue that MLB should have addressed years ago.

MLB ought to designate one reliever for each team to be the captain of the bullpen.
Here's my policy suggestion, which I mentioned to MLB president Bob DuPuy last week: Major League Baseball ought to designate one reliever for each team to be the captain of his bullpen. If a problem develops with a fan that possibly could escalate, the bullpen captain should have a phone number to call to alert stadium security.

Part of the problem in older stadiums is that the bullpens are exposed and much closer to the fans. But no matter how close the fans and players are, let me make something clear: Francisco was 200 percent wrong. There will never be an excuse for throwing objects at fans.

Which leads to my second frustration: Just as there's no excuse for a player to assault a fan, there's no excuse for fans to abuse players verbally or otherwise. We need to change our view of what is acceptable fan behavior.

We in the media and in the sports world have given fans the idea that if you buy a ticket, you can say whatever you want. That isn't true, period.

Buying a ticket does not entitle a fan to say whatever he wants as long as he doesn't hurt anyone physically -- and this has nothing to do with stifling freedom of speech.

In the United States, you can't yell "fire" in a building or joke about having a bomb in an airport. You can't verbally threaten to harm or kill someone. If you do, you will face prosecution and jail time.

All these years, we've given fans the idea that if you've paid your money, you can do whatever you want. Wrong -- you pay your money so you can enter the stadium and watch a game. It doesn't entitle you to be abusive to the fans sitting near you or to the players on the field.

In this country, you're not supposed to be able to abuse anyone. It's about being a human being first. Don't yell something to an athlete from the stands that you wouldn't say to someone's face. Being a fan at a game doesn't give anyone an excuse to stop being a good citizen.

Anyone who thinks they have a right to abuse another human being verbally is not a true fan. It's OK to cheer and boo with enthusiasm. But it isn't OK to abuse either ballplayers or other fans.

Too often, we've allowed some fans to go too far. Remember, ballplayers are human, and if you push them too far, they'll react.

Once, former Boston Celtics star Cedric Maxwell went into the stands after a fan. His young daughter had recently passed away, and a fan was making comments about his daughter's death. That's cruelty, not freedom of speech.

Remember, the word "fan" comes from the term "fanatic." Be a fanatic for your team, but don't be fanatical in your behavior toward the opposing team.

An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76 (the Reds won the World Series both years).