Giants Just Can’t Shove This Issue Aside


So, Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent exchanged dugout shoves in the most public demonstration of their unusual relationship, and the thing about it is that 20 or 21 of the other San Francisco Giants consider both to be incorrigible and probably wouldn’t have cared if they had put each other out of commission--although it might have made catching the Dodgers in the National League West a little tougher.

It isn’t that Bonds and Kent are totally isolated on their own little islands in the Giant clubhouse, where Bonds’ suite of corner lockers at Pacific Bell Park comes with a luxury reclining chair and the recent warning that reporters are no longer welcome.

Kent, after all, probably has J.T. Snow on his side and Bonds is believed to be supported by Reggie Sanders and maybe Shawon Dunston--didn’t Bonds give him a Mercedes-Benz last year as reward for predicting he would hit 73 home runs?--but consider that their teammates pretty much stood around and watched as the league’s two most recent most valuable players (pugilists?) went at each other in the dugout at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium Tuesday night.


It took trainer Stan Conte and Manager Dusty Baker to serve as the principal peacemakers, with Baker and Kent reportedly exchanging words and Kent later saying it was no big deal because he and Bonds have taken their version of “Family Feud” to similar levels about half a dozen times and why should that translate to a dysfunctional relationship?

Besides, Baker told reporters after the Giants had lost to the Padres, 10-7, “it happens in your job too. I’ve seen sportswriters nearly come to blows in my office.”

Media hotheads are one thing. A potentially disruptive exchange between star teammates is another.

The Giants were busy sweeping up after Bonds and Kent on Wednesday, saying the right things, but one wonders if the microscope won’t be a little more intrusive now, if the race in the West got a little tougher for a team only four games over .500 since opening the 2002 season with six straight wins, including a three-game sweep in Los Angeles.

Bonds, the Bay Area-born son of former Giant star Bobby Bonds and godson of Giant Hall of Famer Willie Mays, and Kent, the blue-collar Texas rancher, have kept their respectful distance, neither friends nor particularly friendly, for five years. They have also managed to keep those half-dozen other incidents out of the public eye. Now, with the Giants 4 1/2 games behind the transformed Dodgers, their relationship has been exposed as a potentially ticking time bomb and one more hint of internal problems with the Giants.

It was only a week ago, for instance, that Bonds, a target for opposing pitchers, ripped his own pitchers for failing to protect him, to which Giant pitchers have yet to respond, and it was only a week ago that Baker took a shot at Kent, who bats behind Bonds, by saying he wasn’t surprised at how often Bonds was being walked, but was surprised at how often the strategy was working.

Assistant General Manager Ned Colletti cited the team’s inconsistency at the plate when he said Wednesday:

“Our struggles have a lot more to do with [a lack of] offense than any friction or personality conflicts. We deal with friction and personality conflicts all the time. Even teammates can find it difficult being neighbors when you play every day. I mean, a lot more happens than people know about.

“Will this be disruptive? I don’t think it will be any more disruptive than Kent’s comments in Sports Illustrated last year. We worked through that and we’ll get through this. It’s one of Dusty’s strengths.”

Colletti referred to Baker’s people skills, which Larry Baer, the Giants’ chief operating officer, also acknowledged.

“I would never condone fighting, but if you look at baseball history, it’s the good teams, the high-performing teams, that tend to have the most tension and conflicts,” Baer said. “The reality is that Barry and Jeff are passionate, emotional guys who care about winning.

“We have a high degree of confidence that all of this can be repaired. We still have high expectations for the year, and that’s where our focus is.... The Dodgers have played great, but there are no awards given to teams on June 27.”

Nor will Bonds and Kent be honored for their Tuesday night skirmish that, by all accounts, started when Kent jumped on third baseman David Bell for a play he had made in the second inning. Bonds defended Bell, Kent told Bonds what he could do, and Bonds put his left hand on Kent’s throat and shoved him against the dugout wall.

Baker interceded, and Kent reportedly said, “I want off this team,” to which Baker is said to have told him, “Don’t ever say that again,” and Kent reportedly replied, “It’s his team anyway. Of course, you’ll take his side.”

By the end of a game in which Bonds and Kent each homered, with each high-fiving the other, Baker was refusing to discuss specifics, Bonds was maintaining his recently imposed media boycott and Kent was talking only to Bay Area reporters, saying, “Just add that to the half-dozen times we’ve done it before.” Kent added that if there was any dislike after five years, “I don’t think we’d be playing together. I think we do a lot of good things for this team that benefit him and benefit me. I think if you guys try to create a dysfunctional relationship, that’s a farce too, because that’s not true.”

Perhaps, but this will definitely be the last year they play together, and if the Giants could get comparable value for Kent, if they could find a club willing to take on the rest of his $6-million salary, he might be gone before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline rather than when he becomes a free agent at the end of the year.

It is Bonds’ team, and no matter what the hard-nosed Kent thinks about the left fielder’s poses after his long and frequent home runs, his failure to run all out on some ground balls and base hits, the elbow padding he’s allowed to wear when batting, the time off he gets when games become routs and the in-your-face schedule he’s allowed to keep, nothing will change that.

It is Bonds’ team, and sources said the Giants remain angry with Kent for failing to tell the truth about the motorcycle accident in which he was injured during the spring, disappointed at his lack of production behind Bonds this year and concerned that he has allowed his role as the National League’s union representative to interfere with his focus at the plate.

“When Jeff won the MVP two years ago, he turned it into a competition with Barry. He challenged himself,” a club source said. “Since then, Barry has blown him away, and it seems to have played on his psyche. It’s as if he’s no longer up for the challenge.”

Well, Bonds and Kent challenged each other in the dugout Tuesday night, and their teammates enjoyed standing and watching.