At the news conference introducing Dusty Baker as the Nationals manager, someone asked about a certain former slugger possibly joining the staff as hitting coach. “We have not discussed Barry Bonds as a candidate,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. A couple of weeks later, Rick Schu was brought back as the lone holdover from Matt Williams’ staff, joined by new assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones.
Nothing against Schu and Jones, presumably fine gentlemen, but adding Bonds to the mix would’ve been a lot more interesting.
Washington and Nats ownership might be too conservative for such a polarizing figure, at least for his first baseball job since retiring after the 2007 season. Conversely, Miami and Marlins owner Jeff Loria have less aversion to risk and controversy. They see only upside in giving Bonds a shot to transfer some of his prodigious knowledge to willing pupils. According to multiple reports, he’s on the verge of joining Don Mattingly’s staff.
Good for the Marlins. Good for Bonds. Good for baseball.
There’s no reason to let an extraordinary baseball mind waste away if it wants to be engaged in the sport. Lesser talents, equally tainted, have already returned to the game without shame for past steroid use.
Williams, named in the Mitchell Report as an alleged doper, has gone from Arizona to Washington and back to Arizona. Mark McGwire is about to begin his third coaching job, on the Padres’ bench, after stints as hitting coach for the Dodgers and Cardinals. Manny Ramirez is a hitting instructor in the Cubs’ organization. Alex Rodriguez just capped a remarkable comeback season and showed tremendous insight and passion as a postseason broadcaster.
Bonds spent a week as an instructor with the San Francisco Giants during spring training in 2014. But the Giants already have two hitting coaches. Apparently set on returning to the game, Bonds found an opening across the country. Rich Aurilia, a teammate for more than a decade in San Francisco, told the San Jose Mercury News that “it definitely is a big loss for the Giants. Barry’s knowledge as a hitter was second to none; it doesn’t compare to anyone else I played with.”
All-time great players are often less-than-stellar coaches and managers. Being masterful and teaching mastery are different; the latter requires patience and tolerance that might be lacking in high-achievers who “got it” and don’t understand others’ failure to do likewise. But there’s evidence that Bonds enjoyed being a tutor and excelled at the task.
Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford liked the way Bonds offered instruction on swinging the bat. “He explains it in the simplest ways,” Crawford told mlb.com in 2014. “It’s cool to just listen to him. The big thing he was telling me was that my hands are fast enough to get to an inside pitch. I don’t need to cheat or use my body or shoulders to get to that pitch.”
Unfortunate choice of words to begin that last sentence. But Bonds didn’t need to cheat by using performance-enhancing drugs to be one of the greatest players of all-time. He was in the neighborhood beforehand. Besides, there’s not a substance in the world that could account for the unbelievable distance he put between himself and other legendary players. Consider some of these feats, compiled by Tim Marchman at Deadspin:
*Bonds reached base just 330 fewer times than all-time leader Pete Rose, in 3,284 fewer plate appearances.
*Bonds made 85 fewer outs than Ken Griffey Jr., in 1,302 more plate appearances.
*If you turned every one of Bonds’ homers into outs, his career on-base percentage would be .384, better than Alex Rodriguez’s .382.
*If Bonds returned to the major leagues, he would have to make 1,412 straight outs to drop his on-base percentage below .400.
I imagine some folks are vehemently opposed to Bonds being back in the game. I have first-hand knowledge that he could be a Grade-A jerk. He seemed to thrive on making himself unlikeable. But he won his appeal on an obstruction of justice conviction, passed every test for PEDs and never spent a day on the banned-from-baseball list.
My question isn’t whether he deserves an opportunity to coach. It’s why would he trade a life of leisure for the grueling grind of 162 games? Reputation repair, with the Hall of Fame in mind, is one popular theory. Boredom is another; too much free time can become burdensome to some people.
Or maybe he simply loves the game, misses it and wants to get/give back.Whatever the case, Bonds’ motivation is irrelevant if he can help hitters become better at the plate.
There’s no guarantee that a successful week in spring training will translate over the course of six months. We have no idea whether Bonds will enjoy the thankless job’s routine and mundane aspects. We don’t know if the players will respond.
But there’s no doubt he knows more about hitting than anyone else alive (and maybe dead, too). No one else has a better resume. As soon as he expressed an interest in coaching, I’d express interest in having him. There’s nothing to lose in giving him a shot.
Good for the Marlins, him and baseball.