OUT OF THE PICTURE
Giants believe they'll have better chemistry without Bonds
Henry Schulman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
(02-12) 04:00 PST Scottsdale, Ariz. -- It should not take long to see a different clubhouse when the Giants open spring training Wednesday. Some of the players were contemplating changes even as they honed their golf games this winter.
"I just had some preliminary conversations with Randy Winn about keeping everyone on the same level," reliever Tyler Walker said. "If stretching is at 4 o'clock, you're out there or it's a fine, so nobody feels like somebody's getting preferential treatment."
You don't have to be Rodin to chip away at that quote and see a sculpture of Barry Bonds in repose at his locker while the rest of the Giants got loose outside.
There is much the players cannot control. Manager Bruce Bochy pens the lineups and general manager Brian Sabean will decide the roster, which he hopes to tweak before Opening Day to add offense, if he can.
One thing remains within the players' grasp: Only they can decide what type of clubhouse they want now that Bonds is gone. Only they can anoint leaders and declare the message they want to send to their fans and one another as they launch what could be a turbulent rebuilding season.
One can debate the value of team chemistry from now until the Tampa Bay Rays' first World Series victory parade. 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.
And make no mistake, it was his clubhouse.
"With his stature, he could trump anybody," Walker said. "His years in the league and his home runs were the biggest trump cards in the deck."
Walker envisions players who once took a "backseat" in leadership emerging to set a tone in 2008, such as Barry Zito, Bengie Molina and even the church mouse Winn, "because they're not afraid of stepping on somebody's toes."
Zito said some players were not "comfortable in their own skin" around Bonds, himself included.
"I'm excited," Zito said, "because people will be allowed to be who they want to be, not who they think they have to be because there is such a heavy presence in the clubhouse, such a superstar player."
Sabean has heard some players talk about a freer clubhouse.
"The players are excited to, on one hand, be themselves, and on the other hand, branch out a little bit," Sabean said. "We all know that in a lot of ways, Barry was bigger than life on the field and in the clubhouse. He was a very dominating personality. At least the players I've talked to, they're interested in making a statement."
That statement is "win together, lose together."
Bochy has expressed his desire for a grittier team, and Walker believes that something as simple as the stretching rule can help.
"I think it's the philosophy behind it that's going to lead to the wins," he said. "Everybody's accountable for his actions. If you go out to stretch late, what's that saying about your attitude that day? That you're going to give it 100 percent? That you're going to be a nose-in-the-dirt player? Are you going to go out and get after it or are you going to be the guy who's late for stretching?"
There will be many dynamics to watch in the weeks ahead, starting with the Aaron Rowand factor. He was known as a unifier in Chicago and Philadelphia, a guy who would invite 15 teammates to dinner and pick up the tab.
Another is how the Giants respond to their inevitable losing streaks. It is easy to promise cohesion now, when they are 0-0. How can anyone say they will keep it together if they implode?
How will the older players and the kids get along? That became a problem in Los Angeles last season, when the two camps splintered.
The Giants promise to infuse some younger players onto their roster who have grown together in the farm system, a novelty in these parts. Last year, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, Jonathan Sanchez, Daniel Ortmeier, Nate Schierholtz, Eliezer Alfonzo, Guillermo Rodriguez and Fred Lewis all spent some time at Triple-A Fresno, and the Grizzlies had their first winning season (77-67) since 1998.
Wilson said good clubhouse vibes played a role.
"Fresno used to be like a disease. There were never winning seasons," he said. "There was no team brotherhood, like we had last year. Everyone knew each other, and we were kind of joking around. We always had a good time. There was never a down point in the season where you lose seven games in a row and everyone hates each other. It wasn't like that.
"We just went on a four-game slide and said, 'OK, let's focus and steamroll these teams.' "
Nobody expects the Giants to do much steamrolling in 2008. But if they can stretch together, and laugh together, perhaps they can weather the adversity that is expected to blow their way.