The Washington Wild Things have become the second minor-league team this month to make a publicity-stunt offer to a big-name free agent. The team, which plays in the independent Frontier League, has offered Barry Bonds the league-maximum monthly salary of $1,200, plus a 50-50 split on merchandise sales, a single king-size room on the road and, if he wants, a host family.
There are also performance incentives.
The team's really going all out with the pitch. Check out the Photoshopped image portraying Barry as a Wild Thing. How can he not see that and say, "Where do I sign?"
Bonds' bright future as a Wild Thing may have been thrown into doubt Thursday when prosecutors in San Francisco indicted him on perjury and obstruction of justice charges for allegedly lying to a grand jury in the BALCO case four years ago when he said he didn't use performance-enhancing drugs.
The Wild Things are following in the Veeckian footsteps of the Toledo Mud Hens, who offered Alex Rodriguez a contract two weeks ago after New York Yankees hench-son Hank Steinbrenner sniffed at A-Rod's decision to opt out of his contract by saying, "Does he want to go into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee, or a Toledo Mud Hen?"
The Mud Hens, the Detroit Tigers' top farm team, worked up a Hall of Flame plaque featuring Rodriguez wearing a Mud Hens hat, sent A-Rod's agent, Scott Boras, a letter inviting the star to come play in Toledo -- assuming he'd be willing to switch positions, since the Mud Hens already had a third baseman -- and got some nice publicity out of it.
Rodriguez, who made a public overture to the Yankees Wednesday, didn't sign with Toledo.
The Wild Things' hook for Bonds is that they don't play in the Washington that's near Baltimore, or even the Washington that's near Idaho, but rather in the Washington that's in western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Bonds began his career with the Pirates.
"Many of the great ones eventually return to where their careers began," Wild Things general manager Ross Vecchio said in a press release. "Babe Ruth began his career with the Red Sox and then finished with the Boston Braves. Willie Mays started with the New York Giants and finished his career with the Mets. And, of course, Hank Aaron began and finished his career in Milwaukee. This contract gives Barry the opportunity to play once again in western Pennsylvania as he continues his career."
And he didn't even mention Tito Fuentes playing out the string with the Oakland A's.
If I were Barry Bonds, I'd do it.
Don't get me wrong. I understand very few things in this crazy world, but I'm very clear on this: I'm not Barry Bonds. But if I were him, at this point in this career? Yes, I'd do it. Assuming I'm not busy in prison, which doesn't seem likely, I'd go play for the Washington Wild Things.
Why not? What does Bonds have left to accomplish in the major leagues? He's set the home-run record and reached pretty much every other milestone within his reach except for winning the World Series and getting his 3,000th hit. More on those in a second.
By signing with the Wild Things, he can accomplish several things. First of all, he'd get to play baseball. He's always talking about how much he loves baseball and he just wants to keep playing it, right? So no problem there.
Second, he'd get to have fun. If there's one thing that looks like it's been missing from Barry Bonds' baseball life for the last few years, it's fun. I have seen people pursue a turkey sandwich with more joy than Bonds exhibited or inspired as he pursued Aaron's home-run record.
But how much fun do you think it would be to be Barry Bonds playing in the Frontier League? The accommodations -- even with a king-size single room on the road -- would be a little drab compared to what he's used to, but it'd be a nonstop love-fest.
Bonds would finally be accorded the love and adulation he feels he deserves, and it wouldn't just be at home. He'd be a god wherever he went. Steroids? Indictment? Who cares. Barry Bonds is playing tonight! Right here, in Chillicothe, Ohio! Or Florence, Ky.! Or Evansville, Ind.!
Third, it'd be kind of a delicious thumb of the nose at Major League Baseball. OK, maybe that's fourth, after being able to hit .738 with 40 home runs in a 96-game season, but I'll bet it'd be pretty fun for a guy like Bonds to take his ball and go play somewhere else. Take that, Mr. Hands in Your Pants Pockets commissioner.
The $1,200 a month probably won't go far in the Bonds household budget. Even the merch money probably won't. But how much money does Bonds need? Baseball-Reference.com estimates that he's made about $185 million in his career.
Besides, there are money-making opportunities beyond the contract if he signs with the Wild Things.
Bonds playing bush-league ball is a ready-made reality TV show, if not a movie deal. It's also a great opportunity for Bonds to buff up his image. The superstar getting down with the people, playing for the love of the game. I can see the more arch elements of the advertising business pricking up their ears.
He'd have to manage not to be a complete jerk for the three months of the Frontier League season, which is a huge hurdle, but without the pressures and the grind of the big leagues, who knows, maybe he can pull it off.
You're laughing, but if this were 1975 and I were talking about George Foreman, you'd be laughing just as hard. Though I have no idea how you'd find Salon without the Internet having been invented yet.
So about that World Series and 3,000th hit. He's a free agent, so I think he should pull a Roger Clemens and sign with a contender in mid-August. That would give him a much better chance of getting to the World Series than trying to figure out over the winter who's going to contend.
It would also give him more teams to choose from. Clubs are pretty comfortable in November and December crinkling up their nose at the thought of signing Bonds, but come mid-August, what team in a race would turn down the chance to add a huge bat for a pro-rated quarter-year salary? Even at a $20 million rate, more than Bonds made last year, the team would only be out $5 million.
Sensibilities tend to get a lot less delicate when there's hard money to be won. Pennant first, then ethics, as Bertolt Brecht said.
Bonds would have to miss the last two or three weeks of the Frontier League season, but he'd just have to make that clear beforehand. I don't think the Wild Things are going to insist on him signing for the whole year or not at all. A bonus: The Wild Things would save $600 in salary if Bonds leaves Aug. 15.
Bonds needs 65 hits to get to 3,000, which I have no idea if he cares about. I wouldn't. I mean, it's not like Barry Bonds would be anything with 3,000 hits that he isn't already with 2,935, but these things are important to some people, and maybe Bonds is one of them.
He wouldn't get his 65 hits if he spent most of the year with the Wild Things. So if he wanted 3,000 he'd just have to come back and play in 2009, which he's been saying he plans to do anyway. Playing DH in the independent minor leagues would have saved him some wear and tear on his legs, and he'd be spiritually refreshed, ready to return for a full season of major league ball, unless he wants to pull another Clemens and wait till mid-season to sign.
I think signing with the Wild Things is a no-brainer. I'm surprised he hasn't done it already.
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