Walk this way

Updated: September 21, 2004, 11:39 AM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

He wasn't the first one to think of it, not by a long shot, but Larry Dierker was the first to pay for it, and he paid dearly.

Barry Bonds
APBecause managers are afraid of what happens when Barry Bonds does this ...
Dierker was the Houston Astros manager who decided that, what with his team trying desperately to get into the playoffs in 2001, his pitchers would walk Barry Bonds unless compelled either by strategic or legal concerns. Bonds was going for his 70th homer, and Dierker was going for job security.

Bonds got his, eventually, after eight walks, three of them intentional, in three days. The ultimate victim, a young fastballer named Wilfredo Rodriguez, hasn't been back in the major leagues since.

And Dierker got his, too, if you call a pink slip tied to a javelin driven through his throat "his." The Houston crowd booed like they had just traded rodeo tickets for the Reykjavik Symphony, and Dierker, already on thin ice because of other issues, was sped on his way back to the broadcast booth.

But as we said, Dierker wasn't the first. That honor seems to belong to former Arizona manager Bob Brenly, who had Bonds walked three times in four plate appearances on May 29, 2001, twice by Armando Reynoso and once more by Geraldo Guzman.

That had never happened to the Giants' left fielder before, but it has since, and more times than you'd like to think. Roger Clemens and Steve Karsay did it for the Yankees on June 9, 2002 (Bonds, in fact, walked four times that day). The A's did it to him four times in two days later that month, Kris Benson and Mike Lincoln walked him three times intentionally in August.

Then came the granddaddies of all, in a space of 10 days in April of this year. The Dodgers walked him four times on April 23, and then the Marlins did it on May 1 (Carl Pavano became the fist one to walk Bonds intentionally three times in a game), prompting this exchange between Jack McKeon and a fan as he went back to the Marlins' hotel:

Barry Bonds
... many managers will ask their pitchers to take the bat out of Bonds' hands.
"Come on Jack, why don't you pitch to him."

"Hey, come back tomorrow and we'll walk him three more times."

In fact, different managers have flirted with the walk-him-no-matter-what strategy over the years since Brenly first seized on it back in Ought-And-One. Bruce Bochy ... Tony La Russa ... Lee Mazzilli (Orioles pitchers walked him five times, four intentionally, back in June) ... even Clint Hurdle with Colorado, who used to pitch to Bonds with impunity but eventually found religion, saying, "I don't mind taking a punch, but I don't want to take a lot of them."

Bonds, though, must know that he is lucky to be playing in an era that does not include Sparky Anderson, who would walk Bonds at home, on the road, in the batting cage, and even in his hotel room. Use words like "cowardly" if you like, but Sparky didn't mind what he was called as long as he won the game.

By now, the Bonds Walk is a staple of the industry, a surrender that at best becomes conditional if your team can escape damage by avoiding him. As often, though, the Giants somehow make something out of that walk, which is why that seemingly modest group of professionals are still neck-deep in a playoff race with more glamorous and hotter teams.

But you can argue the Giants' value with and without Bonds all you like, and it's all just parallel universe stuff. But as the players like to say, it is what it is, and Bonds walks because he walks. That's all.

And when Phil Garner, the Houston manager who hasn't walked Bonds intentionally since he had Paul Wagner do it with the Milwaukee Brewers in April of 1998, comes to San Francisco on Tuesday evening, he'll know the public sentiment, by the string of rubber chickens along the mezzanine to the right of the right field foul pole.

And he'll have the same issue Larry Dierker did three years ago. The unlucky slob.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com