Joined: 10 Aug 2005
Location: San Diego CA - deep in the heart of SoCal
|Posted: Mon 1/2/23 7:07 pm Post subject: The Pirouette - 25 Years Later
|I guess I blew it with this one! I had it bookmarked to post a few months ago, then lost it.
I had this one noted to repeat--the Bill Plaschke column in the L.A. Times about the events of September 17, 1997, in San Francisco. The column was written ten years later, as the team was still trying to climb out of the disaster the previous decade had wrought.
Well, now here we are a quarter century later, and one thing remains certain--Bobby's Son will never be forgotten!
"Dodgers' Turn for the Worse, Courtesy of Bonds"
Ten years ago, Bonds added a smirk and a spin to a home run against the Dodgers in a crucial September game, a twist with long-reaching effects.
July 31, 2007
Beneath a lifetime of rage lies a single moment.
Behind three days of boos is a solitary scream.
You want to know why Dodgers fans despise Barry Bonds?
You want to know why, beginning tonight, they will land continuous insults on his runway-sized neck as he dares to break the career home run record at Dodger Stadium?
Two words. One swing.
Ten years ago, with a swat and a smirk and the single most arrogant move in the history of an ego-drenched rivalry, Barry Bonds changed the Dodgers franchise forever.
Ask any Dodger who was there.
"He hit the ball out, then spun completely around," said Eric Karros flatly. "It was crushing."
Ask any San Francisco Giant who was there.
"A big hit, a little twirl," said J.T. Snow, smiling. "It was tremendous."
The swing was Juan Marichal, doubled. The impact was Joe Morgan, squared.
The moment was the embodiment of everything that every Dodgers player and fan has hated about Barry Bonds.
The result was the one thing that every Dodgers player and fan had feared about themselves.
On a misty September night in 1997, at what was once called Candlestick Park, Bonds owned them, then taunted them, hitting a first-inning homer that led to a pennant-race reversal that led to an organizational upheaval.
It has taken the Dodgers nearly a decade to recover.
It will be forever before anyone around here forgets.
"That home run absolutely derailed us," Karros said.
It was Sept. 17. The Dodgers had arrived in San Francisco with a two-game lead over the Giants with 11 games remaining.
It was a traditional Dodgers team, filled with five rookies of the year and immersed deeply in Dodgers culture.
The general manager was Fred Claire. The manager was Bill Russell. The stars were the likes of Mike Piazza, Karros and Raul Mondesi.
They had made the playoffs the previous two seasons, losing in the first round each time, but were ready to go further. The kids had grown up. The manager was finding his niche. A return to greatness beckoned.
Four players finished the year with at least 30 homers. Five pitchers won at least 10 games.
"This was a very good team on the verge of something very special," Claire remembered.
All they needed to do was survive San Francisco.
Then, Bonds stepped up in the bottom of the first inning of the first game against a withering Chan Ho Park and changed everything.
With Darryl Hamilton on first base after a walk, Bonds crushed a Park fastball into the cheapest seats in right field for a two-run homer.
Just as the ball disappeared, Bonds' legendary tackiness appeared.
He dropped his bat and pirouetted in front of home plate.
Danced right in the Dodgers' faces.
Said Karros: "We were all just looking at him."
Said third baseman Todd Zeile: "I thought, 'Oh man, I've seen him do this before.' "
The Dodgers position players were enraged. The Dodgers pitchers, however, were indifferent.
Somebody should have knocked him down. Somebody should have let him know that he was still a jerk, and that the Dodgers were still the Dodgers.
But on a famously multicultural staff where several players barely understood each other, nobody communicated this message, and nobody felt empowered enough to do it on his own.
Bonds was allowed to continue swinging freely. The Dodgers' offense was demoralized. The Dodgers' morale blew away like one of those Candlestick hot dog wrappers.
The Dodgers lost the game, 2-1, by the margin of Bonds' homer. The following afternoon, their stunned confusion remained when they lost, 6-5, in 12 innings, after Bonds hit another homer and reserve Brian Johnson won it with a homer.
The Dodgers could have won that game in the 10th inning after leading off with three consecutive singles. But Russell inexplicably failed to pinch-run for lead runner Mike Piazza, so the bases were loaded for uncomfortable pinch-hitter Eddie Murray, who grounded into a double play.
Bonds' homer had touched every corner of the Dodgers' psyche. The Dodgers left town in a first-place tie, but were essentially finished.
They wound up losing seven of their last 11 games, and Bonds finished September by giving the Giants nine homers, 19 RBIs and a final two-game lead for the West Division championship.
"Those two days have stayed with me for the last 10 years," Claire said. "The devastation of those two days on our team will never go away."
Then things really got ugly.
If the Dodgers had won the division, they were loaded enough to challenge the upstart Florida Marlins. But by choking it away, they were vulnerable enough for the sharp claws of the new ownership group at Fox.
The Bonds homer didn't just wreck a season, it led to the disintegration of a culture.
Piazza wanted to sign a long-term contract extension that winter. The Fox folks refused, citing his failure to lead the team into the postseason.
Early the following season, with Fox leveling the same charges, Piazza was traded.
Soon thereafter, Claire and Russell were fired, with Fox again citing a lack of postseason success.
"You have to think that if we had beaten the Giants in that race, there would have been more pressure on Fox to re-sign Mike, and all the later problems would be alleviated," Zeile said.
Indeed, it says here that if the Dodgers had made the playoffs in 1997, none of the ensuing turmoil would have occurred, at least not until that team had a chance to win again.
"Beyond the immediate impact of those two losses, one can only speculate," Claire said. "But the 1998 season began, the plug was pulled and away it all went."
It has taken until now, nearly a decade later, with the team finally showing strong leadership and playing talented kids, for the Dodgers to reestablish some of the credibility that was lost in those moves.
But nobody will forget. Nobody should forget.
When Bonds takes the field this week with a fittingly ironic chance to hit his most important homer in the place he is most hated, Karros will be in the stands with his family, Zeile will be working on Hollywood production stuff and Claire will be tending one of his many business and charity interests.
Only those in the stands will be left to battle the memory, so forgive them when they do.
You want to know why Dodgers fans despise Barry Bonds?
Because of the time he danced on their grave.
"The Dodgers have always occupied an enormous place in the history of the game. If the Yankees are the most successful team in baseball history, the Dodgers are the most essential. Their legacy is unique."
-Baseball Hall of Fame