With Barry Bonds immersed in a renewed steroids frenzy, what could be more timely than a book disclosing that it might all have been avoided? Had the Pittsburgh Pirates not reneged on a trade in 1992, nine months before Bonds became a free agent and signed with the San Francisco Giants, Bonds would have been a member of the Atlanta Braves.
And as John Schuerholz, the Braves general manager, writes in his new book, Built to Win (Warner Books), he was confident the Braves could have signed Bonds to a long-term contract. "We were flying high back then," Schuerholz writes, "and our payroll was beginning to grow."
The deal, Schuerholz says, was done: Bonds for pitcher Alejandro Pena, outfielder Keith Mitchell and a prospect to be named. "I was euphoric," he writes. "Barry Bonds was a Brave!"
The trade was to be announced the next day, and on that day Schuerholz called his Pirates counterpart, Ted Simmons, to coordinate the timing of the announcement.
The book, scheduled for publication on April 2, relates the conversation between the two general managers:
"We have a problem," Ted said.
"What do you mean, a problem? Don't want to release it just yet? What?"
"I can't do the deal," he said.
Simmons went on to explain that when he told Jim Leyland, the Pirates manager, about the trade, Leyland "blew up."
Bonds was the Pirates best player. With him as their primary threat, the Pirates had won the National League East Division title the previous two seasons and were considered likely to win it that year as well. (They did.) Bonds had been the National League Most Valuable Player in 1990 and would be again the next two seasons after the aborted trade.
"When informed of the trade," Schuerholz writes, "Jim went barging into Pirates president Cark Barger's office and, according to Ted, went absolutely haywire. He said Barger came back to him and said it was a situation so troublesome to the manager and this and that, they couldn't do the deal. And ultimately it was called off."
Even though Bonds was a Brave for 15 hours, Schuerholz writes that he wasn't sure that Bonds ever knew about the trade. At the Giants camp on Friday, Bonds said, "I know Leyland stopped them from trading me."
Schuerholz, who has been the Braves' general manager throughout their unparalleled run of 14 consecutive division championships, says he had never had a team back out of a trade before and hasn't had it happen since.
Had the Pirates not backed out of that deal, Schuerholz writes, it "might have changed the course of baseball history in a number of ways." He added: "Though Barry couldn't have produced more division titles for us, might he have powered us to another World Series title or two? Would he have developed into the same prolific home run hitter he became in San Francisco after his move to the Giants?"
The answer to the first question, based on Bonds postseason history, is: probably not. The answer to the second question is: it depends. It depends on whether Bonds would have followed the same path he has with the Giants, whatever that has been.
Another new book, Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports, says Bonds was chemically aided in hitting many of his 708 home runs, including his record 73 in 2001.
Schuerholz says he is confident Bonds would have been different in at least one area: his comportment. If Bonds had joined the Braves, "he would have quickly accepted our long-standing team rules regarding issues such as not wearing jewelry while in uniform and not being allowed a recliner at his locker instead of the simple, canvas captain's chair our other players have. Nor would he have been accorded any other special star perk that might have set him apart and above his teammates," Schuerholz adds.