Mention the name "Barry Bonds" to a baseball fan and the response isn't likely to be positive. Between the alleged steroid use, the BALCO investigation and his conviction on an obstruction of justice charge, Bonds has a well-earned reputation as a liar and a cheater.
His single-season record of 73 homers, which he set in 2001, and his all-time record of 762 career homers, are viewed as tainted, which is why he might not ever get into the Hall of Fame despite the amazing resume he had accumulated prior to when he allegedly began to use performance-enhancing drugs.
It won't stop him, however, from returning to the San Francisco Giants in an official capacity for the first time since his playing days ended in 2007. The 49-year-old Bonds will begin a one-week stint as a special instructor to Giants hitters on Monday March 10, joining a long list of former players, including Will Clark, Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow, who have done similar guest instructor stints in the past.
The added media scrutiny that Bonds' presence will bring to camp is a given, as manager Bruce Bochy has acknowledged.
“You understand there will be a lot of attention with Barry coming back, his first time coming back since he stopped playing," Bochy told Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. "Our goal is not to let it be a distraction. He’s here to help the hitters.”
But how much of an impact will he have on Giants hitters, if any at all?
Aside from the negativity that surrounded the end of his career and his tumultuous relationship with the media, Bonds is still widely-regarded as one of the greatest hitters of all time by his peers and, as Ann Killion of the San Franciso Chronicle pointed out in a recent article, younger players who don't carry the baggage of any former teammates will be excited to have him around.
Being one of the greatest hitters of all time doesn't automatically make Bonds a great instructor. He was blessed with talent, as he wasn't afraid to point out.
"It's called talent," Bonds once said. "I just have it. I can't explain it. You either have it or you don't."
This could certainly make it difficult for Bonds to explain hitting to someone who doesn't have "it", or at least not nearly as much as Bonds had. But the seven-time NL MVP was also a student of the game and had been surrounded by baseball his entire life.
He was three years old when his father, Bobby, made his major league debut with the Giants. By the time his late father's playing career was over in the early 1980's, Bonds was getting ready to make a name for himself at Arizona State University. Bobby was on the coaching staff for the Cleveland Indians when Barry was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the 6th overall pick in the 1985 draft and later served as the hitting coach on Barry Bonds-led Giants teams from 1993-1996.
In a 2013 article by Gwen Knapp of Sports on Earth, two former Bonds teammates, Shawon Dunston and Andy Van Slyke, raved about his baseball intelligence, which Van Slyke claimed was "off the charts".
"He wasn't the friendliest player," said Dunston, who played with Bonds during three separate stints with the Giants. "But he was the smartest, and that's why he was the best."
The article also passes on Bonds' unique ability to read pitches, as well as several anecdotes from former teammates, showing off a much friendlier side than the one that was portrayed in the media and one that began to embrace the role of mentor later in his career.
While his last few seasons may have been an exception, Bonds loved playing the game and enjoyed working hard at becoming better. Former Giants owner Peter Magowan recognized Bonds' enthusiasm for the game, as was evident by this quote that was printed in an article from The Boston Globe early in Bonds' Giants career.
Where Barry has truly affected the entire team is the way he has fun just practicing the game. He truly loves to play. And his defense is contagious. In one game, he made a game-saving catch and cut three sure doubles off at the line and held them to singles; in a couple of cases, his plays saved what would have been runs. He's made everyone in the field more aggressive. Defense is the most contagious aspect of baseball, and Barry has dramatically affected the way the Giants play the game.
Six seasons removed from the game, Bonds' enthusiasm for baseball might be stronger than ever. It's hard to imagine that type of enthusiasm, along with his extremely high baseball IQ and vast experience from being around the game in some capacity for over 40 years, to not have a positive impact on guys like Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval.
If things go smoothly during Bonds' week-long stint with his former club, it could also be the first step into repairing his relationship with Major League Baseball and the fans.
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