Ray Foldy (Getty Images)
Barry Bonds’ return to baseball has produced a smile we haven’t seen in years.
Nine seasons ago, Barry Bonds walked away from baseball with more questions attached to his name than answers. Allegations of using Performance Enhancing Drugs, the threat of jail time stemming from perjury and obstruction of justice charges clung to him like a five-game hitting slump. Bonds ultimately drew a walk on both, but when it comes to his Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown, the greatest player of the last four decades may strike out looking.
Just when many had become used to not seeing Barry Bonds around, he appears reincarnate as a hitting coach for the Miami Marlins. Ushered in by new skipper Don Mattingly, Bonds is looking to pass along invaluable knowledge to a young roster, most importantly to a talented star rightfielder named Giancarlo Stanton.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb
In an early season meeting against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton fell victim to a nasty breaking ball from Clayton Kershaw. No shame in being rung up by Kershaw — the game’s best lefty and overall hurler. In the top of the next inning the camera panned away to Barry Bonds speaking with Stanton on what went wrong in the at bat.
In the top of the 6th inning with men on first and second and no outs, Stanton took a Kershaw 1-0 fastball about 430 feet, clearing the wall in right centerfield. Stanton’s sixth round-tripper of the season and his eighth career home run at Dodger Stadium gave the Marlins a 5-3 lead on their way to a 6-3 win. The knowledge of knowing he had committed a cardinal sin against one of baseball’s .
One of the first people to meet Stanton on his return to the dugout was Barry Bonds.
Bond’s return to baseball didn’t come on a snap decision, it took some words of encouragement from his mother and his love for the game inspired by his father, the late Bobby Bonds and his godfather Willie Mays.
One forgotten fact in the PED allegations was Bonds was already an all-time great hitter. If PEDs allegedly allowed him to hit the ball farther, they didn’t allow him to hit the ball. The gift to hit a baseball better than just about anyone who ever lived was God-given and nurtured by his father.
This interview is the equal to a great composer giving details on creating a masterpiece.
I think the fallout from his last season in baseball and everything that will more than likely keep him out of Cooperstown has worn off. Fickle baseball writers — who pose as the gatekeepers to baseball’s holy grail are able to deny Bonds each time his name appears on a ballot for enshrinement. Many of whom see it as a chance to get back at Bonds — who’s never allowed them to attach their narrative to his existence.
You can take Cooperstown from Barry Bonds, but you can never take baseball from Barry Bonds.
Bond’s charge as a hitting coach is to enhance the careers of his pupils, whether it’s 42-year old Ichiro Suzuki — who is on the verge of 3,000 hits (2,948) or twenty-six year old super slugger Giancarlo Stanton. In his seventh season, Stanton has 191 career home runs, but with a long ball savant like Bonds in his ear, expect to see Stanton’s numbers increase as an overall hitter.
As I looked through photos and videos I considered for this piece, I noticed a smile on the face of Bonds in many of them. We haven’t seen him smile like this in years. For all he has given baseball and vice versa, the last 7-8 years of his career where pretty much without the joy he has now. He broke many of the game’s hallowed records with a hardened heart, hellbent on silencing his adversaries — who increased in number with each milestone.
The once bitter Barry Bonds is gone. He’s back in baseball and that alone gives him joy. In his heart he knows baseball needs him as much as he needs it. What player alive would refuse baseball advice from Barry Bonds, what coach wouldn’t consider him for their coaching staff? The numbers speak for themselves.
Even one of game’s great immortals can still be put to the test when summoned. In a late spring training session, Bonds bested the Marlins sluggers including Stanton in an impromptu home run derby, much to the delight of onlookers.
If you think this is some guy just making appearances to mend fences, think again. On a recent road trip to the Bay Area, Bonds balked at the opportunity to be honored by the San Francisco Giants because the time wasn’t right and would be disrespectful to his current employer.
That’s the way life is for Barry Bonds now. The grass is greener, the popcorn smells extra buttery and the bubble gum tastes a little sweeter.
It’s baseball and Barry Bonds on the simplest of terms.