Today on The House That Steroids Built miniseries, we look at the final playoff season in the extremely tainted career of Barry Bonds in San Francisco. The Giants have done little honestly since signing Bonds to a free-agent contract before the 1993 season, and they still try to pull off BS today. Nothing this organization does is transparent or legitimate. Remember that, as the patterns here have shown.
During this specific season, the S.F. organization managed 100 wins and an NL West title before getting bounced in the first round of the postseason by the wildcard Florida Marlins. It was poetic justice when that sort of thing still existed in MLB, as the 2004 season would change that forever, sadly. Either way, the Giants had the usual cast of questionable characters on the roster as the below demonstrates.
Exhibit A: Barry Bonds
We can start with the obvious child: Bonds posted a 1.278 OPS at age 38 while hitting .341 overall. We posted the pre-BALCO/post-BALCO splits for him before, but it’s worth stating again: .290/.398/.556 through 1998 and age 33, followed by .319/.505/.721 from the 1999 season and age 34 forward. The Giants had no shame in running Barroid out there to make money, and the fans didn’t care, either.
Says a lot about the S.F. fan base, but we’ve covered that elsewhere. The sad thing is that even our own objective and retrospective analyses show that Bonds should have won 5 NL MVP awards before 1998—instead of just the 3 trophies he did win. Likewise, he never should have been allowed to win the four he won post-BALCO. It’s just ugly to look at the obvious fraud and realize MLB never did anything about it.
Exhibit B: Andrés Galarraga
The story is this: Big Cat posted an .895 OPS at age 39 while playing with the Atlanta Braves in 2000—coming off a 1999 season which he missed entirely due to injury. Hmmm. Strangely, though, at age 40 in 2001 with the Texas Rangers, Galarraga managed just a .734 OPS in 72 games before the Giants decided to trade for him in late July, while chasing a postseason berth in Bonds’ HR-record season.
No surprise: in 49 games with the 2001 team in The House That Steroids Built, the Big Cat suddenly remembered how to hit, to the tune of an .863 OPS. The S.F. organization ended up missing the playoffs, and it decided not to re-sign Galarraga. He went to Montréal for the 2002 season at age 41 and posted a .738 OPS. His career looked to be over at that point, except … no. Here came the Giants calling, again.
At age 42, the Big Cat once again found the Fountain of Youth by the Bay: He hit .301 with an .843 OPS in 110 games. So, the pattern here is that Galarraga was all but done midway through 2001, and then in two separate stints in his early 40s with the Giants, he posted an .849 OPS—sandwiched by numbers more than 100 points lower. Must have been that amazing coaching in San Francisco, right? Wink, wink.
Exhibit C: Jeffrey Hammonds
At age 32, this guy was washed up: Playing in 187 games for the Milwaukee Brewers from 2001-2003, the former Stanford star put up just a .720 OPS. The Brewers waived him in early June 2003, and within four weeks, the Giants had signed him. The results? You guessed it: an .849 OPS over 36 games as S.F. made its push to 100 wins and an NL West title.
Hammonds really fooled the Giants after hitting .400 in the 2003 postseason, as they turned around and gave him a seven-figure contract for 2004—where he promptly returned to his fading ways, putting up a .694 OPS in just 40 games before being released in early June 2004. Kind of amusing to see the scammers getting scammed here, in truth. Hammonds only played in 13 more MLB games, ever.
Exhibit D: Sidney Ponson
Over 12 MLB seasons with 7 different teams, this journeyman starter posted a 5.03 ERA. But for one shining moment (or four) with the Giants in 2003, he looked like a real major-league pitcher. Ponson posted a career-low 3.71 ERA with San Francisco over 68 IP as the team pushed for the postseason and those aforementioned 100 victories.
In no other full season over his career did Ponson ever manage a sub-4.00 ERA. The Giants had to know this was a fluke, too, as they chose not to re-sign him after the season was over. But like so many other cases, it’s amusing to see a terrible player’s most effective stint in the majors happen to come in The House that Steroids Built.
Conclusion: Doesn’t matter who suits up next to Bonds
The Giants were committed at this point, coming off a rare NL pennant in 2002, to Bonds and his PED ways. The fans were buying in; there was no sign of MLB intervention, either (thanks, Bud Selig). So why would the S.F. organization care if its players were cheating? Profits were higher than ever, and the Giants were well on their way to claiming the Bay Area baseball market despite being unable to win a title.
And since’s Bonds’ ego was eating up such a huge portion of the payroll—a whopping $15.5M alone in 2003—the team needed veterans on the cheap to come in and absorb some of Barroid’s flaxseed oil. Both Hammonds and Ponson came from organizations vastly overpaying them, and part of the S.F. organization’s trade deals was to minimize salary commitments.
After losing the 2002 World Series in brutal fashion, the Giants brass probably assumed it was this close to getting over the top, and relying on Bonds and his PED use to get the team there was the plan. The rest of the parts were interchangeable, as long as they got with the program. But it didn’t work out that way for San Francisco, did it? Hence their new approach after Bonds’ retirement.