Time for Giants to kick

It was not a good sign when Lou Piniella looked at the lineup and overall shape of the San Francisco Giants and decided to take a managing job about 1,900 miles away in Chicago.

And it wasn’t a good sign when I ran into Giants’ Chief Operating Officer Larry Baer this week and told him I wanted to talk to him about the team. He said if I wanted to talk about the “Barry negotiations” he

wouldn’t be able to comment “and that’s been the same for everybody.”

But that wasn’t going to be my question. What I’d like to know is: Why are the Giants negotiating with Bonds at all?

The Giants appear addicted to Bonds in a way that the former superstar is stuck on himself. And it’s a sad thing, because the only way the team is ever going to get back to its former prominence is to watch him hit from afar — and hope he breaks Hank Aaron’s home run record with another team.

I have been a season ticket holder since the day Pac Bell, or whatever they’re calling the park this year, opened. And I’m sure most fans would agree with me that it was quite a run — a few division titles, one pennant and the World Series championship that almost was. For more than a decade, visitors to the ballpark got to see the best player in baseball at his very peak, one of the greatest sport shows on earth.

That memory, however, has faded under the grim light of reality. The Giants are managerless, have a lineup of mostly mediocre and over-the-hill players, have slim pickings in their farm system and probably can’t afford to keep their marquee player — Jason Schmidt, not Bonds. They shouldn’t try to keep Bonds for numerous reasons — the distractions, the ego, the injuries, the story — but mostly because they need a new identity and direction.

This has nothing to do with alleged steroid use, for which Bonds has never been found guilty. I consider the BALCO story one of the most overblown, self-serving and overlong tales in recent memory, and I will be happy the day it dies. I don’t care if Bonds cheated anymore than I do if Gaylord Perry threw spitballs or Sammy Sosa used a corked bat.

Bonds was the best player in baseball when the Giants signed him in 1993 and he remained so for a decade. If he used steroids — and it’s clear most people think he did — then he’d be in a long lineup of major league stars, none of whom are being asked to give up their records or go to jail.

Yet Bonds is so clearly not the player he was just a few years ago, and it’s time to shake up the formula for how the Giants build their team. For years they’ve surrounded him with veteran journeymen, hoping they’d be able to add enough to let Bonds carry them on his back. But now he can barely carry himself, and it’s time for him to carry his tired legs into a batting box for another team and another city.

I hate to say it, but the Giants need to become the A’s — a cast of mostlyno-name, yet promising young players who, together with enough pitching and seasoned managing fashion a winning team. It pays to remember that three years ago a team put together in similar fashion — the Detroit Tigers — lost 119 games. Today, they are playing in the World Series.

Tigers fans suffered through the growing pains, and now their team is one of the best stories in sports.

Baer told me that the team realizes it needs to be “younger and healthier and better.” But he also said the organization doesn’t believe it needs to completely rebuild, adding that he thinks a competitive club can be built quickly through trades, free agency and the minor league system.

“Our organization prides itself on shooting for the World Series every year,” he said. “We’re not looking for some period of time to get back into contention. We want to win in 2007.”

So do the fans — but not at all costs. Bonds has more baggage than a railroad car, and trotting him out for another painful season is just going to prolong the inevitable. Baer agreed that the Tigers’ formula is a good one, and with Bonds’ $18 million salary, they could get two or three proven position players.

“It all comes down to the judgments you make on players,” Baer said.

He’s right. And now is the time to make the most important one of all, as in “Bye, bye, Barry.”

Ken Garcia’s column appears weekends in The Examiner/Independent. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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