Barry Bonds might have broken Hank Aaron’s career home run record as a member of the Cardinals, not the Giants, if he and the Redbirds had been able to agree on a compensation package.
Ten years ago, in December 2006, the Cardinals and Bonds, a free agent, expressed mutual interest in exploring a deal.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who urged the front office to pursue discussions, was fascinated by the possibility of having Bonds and Albert Pujols in the same batting order.
“I was intrigued by the idea,” La Russa said to St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Joe Strauss. “… I’m thinking it might be there for (Bonds) in St. Louis … We have an opportunity if he thinks he fits with us.”
For Bonds, who had been with the Giants since 1993, the Cardinals looked appealing for at least two reasons:
_ La Russa had a track record of successfully managing, and protecting, sluggers (Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco) whose reputations had been tainted by suspicion of performance-enhancing drug use.
_ Bonds, 42, never had played on a World Series championship team and he knew his time for doing so was running short. The Cardinals, who won the 2006 World Series title, had qualified for the postseason in six of the previous seven years. The Giants had losing records in each of the previous two seasons.
Bonds “has thought seriously about playing alongside Albert Pujols in St. Louis,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.
La Russa envisioned a 2007 Cardinals batting order of David Eckstein at shortstop, Jim Edmonds in center field, Pujols at first base, Bonds in left field, Scott Rolen at third base, Juan Encarnacion (or Chris Duncan) in right field, Yadier Molina at catcher and Aaron Miles at second base.
Bonds still could produce. In 2006, he had 23 doubles, 26 home runs, 115 walks and 77 RBI in 130 games. With 734 career home runs, Bonds needed 22 more to break Aaron’s record of 755.
Though negotiations didn’t get much beyond a preliminary stage _ the Cardinals wanted Bonds to agree to a deeply discounted salary _ the flirtation between the two parties appeared sincere while it lasted.
Shortly after he had surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow, Bonds became a free agent in October 2006. Though many expected him to stay with the Giants, other teams, most publicly the Athletics, were interested.
In a Nov. 11, 2006, column in the Post-Dispatch, Bernie Miklasz scoffed, “Scratch the ridiculous rumors of the Cardinals having an interest in signing Barry Bonds. There’s nothing to it. If the Cardinals make a run at any prominent free-agent hitter, it will be Alfonso Soriano.”
However, a month later, during the baseball winter meetings in Orlando in December 2006, La Russa became convinced Bonds was available and he encouraged the Cardinals to meet with Bonds’ representatives, the Post-Dispatch reported.
The Cardinals met with the Bonds group, including Jeff Borris, the slugger’s agent, and then had internal meetings to discuss the matter. La Russa requested a meeting with Bonds, though it was unclear whether that session occurred.
However, Bonds did meet with Tigers manager Jim Leyland in Orlando. Leyland, who was Bonds’ manager with the Pirates from 1986-1992, “wasn’t acting on behalf of the Tigers,” the Mercury News reported.
“Leyland and La Russa are very close and it’s thought that Leyland might have been gathering a read on Bonds for his good friend,” wrote Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News.
The interest was serious enough that Cardinals officials considered polling their key players to get their take on the notion of Bonds joining the club, the Post-Dispatch reported.
“Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, back to back? It’s more than a fantasy league lineup _ and more than a rumor,” the Mercury News told its readers.
Show me the money
When the discussions between the Cardinals and Bonds’ representatives turned to money, it became evident a deal wouldn’t occur.
The Cardinals had offered another veteran free-agent hitter, Luis Gonzalez, a one-year deal at $7.3 million, the Post-Dispatch reported. Bonds was seeking more than $10 million a year.
“It’s not realistic,” La Russa said to Strauss, “because if he comes with us he would only be making pennies.”
“We couldn’t pay him,” La Russa concluded.
Wrote the Mercury News: “Barry Bonds is intrigued with playing under the St. Louis arch, but the money is pointing him someplace else. Bonds isn’t known for leaving cash on the table.”
The San Jose newspaper predicted Bonds “would return to San Francisco if the Cardinals cannot approach the Giants’ offer.”
Pressed by reporters, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty snapped, “There’s nothing on with Bonds. I’m sick and tired of people asking that. We don’t have money for Bonds.”
On Dec. 7, 2006, Bonds and the Giants agreed on financial terms. Bonds would receive a $15.8 million base salary in 2007, plus bonus incentives that could increase the package to $20 million.
Naturally, just the idea the Cardinals would consider signing Bonds created controversy among Cardinals fans and media.
Bryan Burwell of the Post-Dispatch opined, “The Cardinals’ brief but unrequited dalliance with Barry Bonds turned out to be just like every other naughty romance: loaded with provocative attraction, potentially perilous consequences, a tinge of remorse, a hint of shame and a ton of relieved hindsight.”
Burwell asked, “Would the most despised man in all of sports suddenly have found a safe and welcome haven in the bosom of Cardinal Nation?”
Miklasz’s take: “The Cardinals and their fans have a history of embracing Mark McGwire and baseball’s steroids culture, so why draw the line at Bonds?”
In his final season, Bonds hit 28 home runs for the 2007 Giants. On Aug. 7, 2007, he hit career home run No. 756 off Mike Bacsik of the Nationals, breaking Aaron’s record. Bonds finished with 762 career home runs.
Previously: Albert Pujols and the start of his NL MVP run