Al Pedrique doesn't look like a coward. He is a 52-year-old Venezuelan who fought his way into a brief major league career as a scrappy infielder. The current Charleston RiverDogs manager is one of the least likely candidates in baseball to make a mockery of the game.
But controversy swirled around Pedrique in September of 2004. As interim manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he instructed pitchers to walk San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds for most of a three-game series in Phoenix.
Pedrique was widely quoted as saying he didn't want Bonds to hit career home run No. 700 at the Diamondbacks' home ballpark. So Bonds, over a three-game series from Sept. 10-12, walked six times, twice intentionally.
“I'm sorry for the fans,” Pedrique said at the time. “I'm sorry for baseball. But that's the way it is. In this game you have to have a lot of pride, and the way this year has gone for us, this would be the last thing that we need.”
Pedrique paid dearly.
William Rhoden scolded him in a New York Times column, getting Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to say Pedrique's comment “deserves further scrutiny.”
Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci called it “professional cowardice.”
Pedrique was fired with a 22-61 record after the 2004 season. He hasn't managed in the major leagues since then. His name is unfortunately linked with Bonds in baseball discussions, trivia contests and web searches.
A big misunderstanding, Pedrique says.
Nothing wrong with the strategy. It was the perceived presentation of a variation on the popular approach to dealing with bashing Barry Bonds.
That was the problem.
“Definitely. No doubt about it,” Pedrique said at Riley Park. “The people who know me, know that I played this game long enough at all the levels up to the major leagues and that I coached and managed all the levels and that I have a lot of respect for the game. I have a lot of integrity. I would never say or do anything that hurts the game.”
Pedrique insists that what started as basic strategy laced with an attempt at humor grew into something uglier.
“I just told the guys, 'Hey, if Barry Bonds comes up and we still have a chance to win the game, we're going to walk him. We're not going to let him break the record in our park,'” Pedrique said. “A lot of the guys laughed about it, but it went out in public like I didn't respect the game. It was the opposite, 100 percent.
“I was trying to be funny and I probably didn't explain myself as well as I should.”
Still, the Diamondbacks did walk Bonds — Pedrique's former Pirates teammate — a half-dozen times as America was gripped with Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's career home run record (Bonds passed Aaron's 755 and retired with 762). One of the walks came with Arizona down 5-1 in the seventh inning.
But there is evidence to suggest Pedrique is getting a raw deal:
• Everyone was walking Bonds in 2004. He walked 232 times, a major league record.
“Didn't the other 29 managers in baseball do the same thing that year?” Pedrique asked. “What was the difference for me? The comment I made?”
• Arizona almost tied that game they trailed, 5-1. Chad Tracy just missed a two-run homer in the ninth inning of what ended as a 5-3 loss.
• Diamondbacks pitching was really bad in 2004 — 14th in the National League in earned run average.
• Arizona won the series opener, 2-1, partly thanks to Bonds getting an intentional walk.
• And Bonds did homer in the final game of the series, career No. 699 off Mike Koplove late in a 5-2 San Francisco victory.
Almost a decade later, no regrets.
“I don't feel bad about it,” Pedrique said. “I don't regret what I did or what I said. It was all part of the game.”
Hoping for the majors
He served as Houston Astros bench coach in 2010 and 2011 but quit when they asked him to switch to bullpen coach.
Does the Bonds flap keep Pedrique from getting major league managerial or coaching jobs?
“I hope not,” he said. “If it does, that would be ridiculous. I didn't do or say anything to hurt the game; I didn't hurt anybody. Another 29 managers that year were walking Barry Bonds.”
Pedrique frequently talks to RiverDogs players — Class A hopefuls in the New York Yankees farm system — about “respect for the game.” He and his family enjoy Charleston.
But he longs for a return to the big leagues.
“I think I've proven myself,” Pedrique said. “I can help organizations with the years of experience I have. The Yankees and other organizations know I would like to get back (to the majors). Sooner or later, hopefully I will get another shot.”
He never brings up the Bonds thing. He doesn't duck questions, either.
Maybe time, perspective and understanding will convince baseball doubters that Al Pedrique isn't such a bad guy after all.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff