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Barry Bonds Could Follow Big Mac's Path to Redemption with Marlins' Coaching Gig

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterDecember 1, 2015

Former baseball players Doug Glanville, left, and Barry Bonds talk before a baseball game between the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs in San Francisco, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

The story about Mark McGwire possibly becoming the San Diego Padres bench coach mentions the word "steroids" exactly once, four paragraphs into a 10-paragraph report.

Maybe it's just not that big a deal anymore. Maybe that's as it should be.

And maybe that's at least a small part of the reason Barry Bonds is talking to the Miami Marlins about becoming their hitting coach, as reported Monday by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.

Bonds followed McGwire on the road to infamy. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams wrote in their landmark book Game of Shadows that jealousy over McGwire's steroid-tainted 70-home run season in 1998 drove Bonds to start using the drugs himself.

So perhaps now Bonds has watched McGwire again and noticed how the story has changed in the six years since McGwire came out of seclusion to become a hitting coach with the St. Louis Cardinals. While McGwire will never fully escape the steroid cloud and may never make it to Cooperstown, he has made it back into baseball as a respected coach.

McGwire is seen now as a coach who cheated his way to that record season, but as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote: "It still stands as one of the game's most memorable achievements."

Bonds' achievements were even more memorable, but at least for now, they're seen as even more tainted. He broke McGwire's record with his 73-homer season in 2001, and later broke Hank Aaron's career home run record, but the proof of how little that means is how few baseball fans could tell you exactly how many home runs Bonds ended up with.

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McGwire was the hitting coach with the Cardinals and Dodgers and will be the bench coach with the Padres.
McGwire was the hitting coach with the Cardinals and Dodgers and will be the bench coach with the Padres.Danny Moloshok/Associated Press/Associated Press

Aaron, of course, had 755. Babe Ruth, as any fan knows, hit 714.

Bonds? If you care, the number is 762 (and yes, I had to look it up).

In the years since he retired after the 2007 season, Bonds hasn't gone into McGwire-like seclusion, but he has had limited exposure on the national baseball scene. He shows up at a few games in San Francisco, and he showed up as a special spring training instructor for the Giants in 2014.

He worked privately with other players, most notably last winter with Alex Rodriguez. Always a student of hitting, Bonds is reportedly pretty good at coaching it.

That doesn't mean the transition to full-time coach would be a simple one.

Forget for a moment all that goes into coaching at the major league level—the travel, the hours and the sometimes-ungrateful players. For Bonds to make this new career work, he'd need to follow McGwire's path. If he really wants to put the steroid talk in the past, he'll need to deal with it up front, just as McGwire did.

It's awfully hard to see Bonds doing that.

When he joined the Cardinals, McGwire "apologized profusely and repeatedly for his actions," as Matthew Leach of MLB.com wrote then. The steroid story faded, in large part because, after the apology, there was little left for McGwire to say.

It couldn't have been easy for McGwire. It would be a ton harder for Bonds, who always had a much-worse relationship with the media and with opposing fans, and who much more vocally and constantly denied his cheating.

Still, hitting coaches deal mostly with the players they coach. Many are next to invisible to the media. If Bonds never speaks publicly at all but his players succeed at the plate and praise him as one of the reasons, he'll have accomplished something.

Bonds looked comfortable as a special spring training instructor with the 2014 Giants.
Bonds looked comfortable as a special spring training instructor with the 2014 Giants.Chris Carlson/Associated Press/Associated Press

He won't be able to erase the past any more than McGwire has. He won't win many votes for the Hall of Fame any more than McGwire has. McGwire's vote total has actually fallen each year of his coaching career, to a low of 10 percent last winter.

Bonds, a slam-dunk Hall of Famer if cheating wasn't an issue, saw his vote total peak at 36.8 percent on the same ballot.

Cheating is an issue. That's as it should be. But just as McGwire has had a coaching career somewhat separate from all the good and especially the bad he did as a player, perhaps Bonds can, too.

As of now, he hasn't come close to escaping it. In Clark Spencer's Miami Herald story on the possibility he'll join the Marlins staff, the word "steroids" is included in the first sentence.

For now, that's still who Barry Bonds is.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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