King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Chemistry Experiment 3: The Giants are happy and loose without Barry. Will that mean anything? Plus: ESPN's soap opera.

By King Kaufman
Published March 7, 2008 11:00AM (EST)

The San Francisco Giants, fresh from the long winter of Barry Bonds' discontent and enjoying an invigorating spring of freedom and equality, are fertile ground for a chemistry experiment.

Much has been made of new center fielder Aaron Rowand's weekly team-building bowling outings and Barry Zito's move into Bonds' old suite of four lockers in the spring training clubhouse, parceling it up with Matt Cain.

The players and manager Bruce Bochy are talking about how they're a team now, with no more of the old double standard, about how they'll have fun together off the field and scratch and claw together on it, manufacturing runs and swaggering with warrior spirit, as noted on the matchy-matchy T-shirts they've been wearing.

"One can debate the value of team chemistry from now until the Tampa Bay Rays' first World Series victory parade," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman, who endured years of Bonds' scorn on the Giants beat. "There is no question that talent and execution are more important, and the Giants have much room to improve on both counts after a 71-91 season.

"Even so, a reporter who visited the home clubhouse at Fenway Park when the Giants played in Boston in June was struck by the jocularity and fellowship inside a room populated by youngsters and superstars who together won a World Series four months later. It was a stark contrast to the way the Giants tiptoed through Bonds' clubhouse."

Another stark contrast, though clearly one not lost on Schulman: the talent on the field that had led the Red Sox to 96 wins and the Giants to 71. If the Giants had had Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia tiptoeing around Bonds' suite of lockers rather than Dave Roberts, Pedro Feliz and Ray Durham, that would have goosed the number in the win total a lot more than weekly bowling night.

At least I think so. Not everybody does, and thus, the experiment.

Bonds, under federal indictment for perjury, remains unsigned, and Phil Taylor writes in the current Sports Illustrated, "Any team that does develop a serious interest in Bonds would be wise to consider all the good vibrations coming out of the Giants' camp now that he's gone. It's hard to imagine that Bonds' presence could do more for a new club than his absence has done for his old one."

Baseball Prospectus says that last year, Bonds was worth about seven wins over a replacement-level player -- a borderline major leaguer, that is. The Hardball Times assigned him 21 win shares, meaning he was responsible for about seven team wins, total, not above anyone else. Either way, a pretty good contribution but not, thanks to limited playing time, a superstar one.

So let's see how the happy, harmonious Giants do without him. Will they warrior-spirit up and manufacture their way to 80 wins? That would be an eyebrow-raiser. They look from here like they'll struggle to get that magical 63rd win, the one that staves off the 100th loss.

We may never know how some other team will have its on-field fortunes affected by the injection of Bonds' bad juju into its clubhouse, but if that happens we'll keep a close eye on that too.

The petri dishes are ready. This column eagerly awaits the results and frankly hopes they turn out in chemistry's favor. I'd love to be able to use that right here in the Salon offices, where quite frankly I've grown tired of tiptoeing around Cary Tennis' suite of four cubicles.

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One thing ESPN does beautifully: TV ads [PERMALINK]

ESPN takes a lot of guff from this and other corners, but one thing the four-letter has consistently done well over the years is TV advertising. The "This Is SportsCenter" campaign is reaching "Simpsons"-like levels for quality and longevity. The latest, featuring Teddy the Roller-Skating Cockatoo, takes a swing at user-generated content.

But it's rare that even that line of ads makes me laugh out loud, which the network's spot for its fantasy baseball product made me do the first time I saw it. The spot is a pitch-perfect parody of soap operas, complete with a hospital patient struggling to spit out "Don't trade Prince Fielder!" before flatlining.

It turns out there's a local angle, to the extent there can be such a thing as local in cyberspace. Mark St. Amant, who wrote about fantasy bass fishing for Salon last week, is the creative director-copywriter for the account, meaning he co-wrote the ads. St. Amant works for the Arnold Worldwide ad agency in Boston.

The ads have such a realistic soap look because they were shot on the sets of "One Life to Live" and feature actors from that show and "General Hospital"; they were directed by Frank Valentini, a top ABC soap executive producer and director. ESPN fantasy experts and ballplayers also appear, plus Jorge Posada's wife, Laura, who slaps the guy on the dance floor in the one spot that's aired so far.

St. Amant reports that "Torii Hunter was a great actor and really dug into his role, studying the script on his plane ride in and bringing a ton to the part." That's Hunter in the first ad, playing a police interrogator yelling, "You calling me stupid?" Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez and Posada also appear.

The first ad actually consists of highlights of longer-format "webisodes" that appear on ESPN's Web site. Funny stuff, but -- no way to come this far without criticizing the worldwide leader -- needs a better video player.

Previous column: A-Rod and the home run record

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    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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