Barry Bonds Returns to San Francisco in New Uniform, Embracing Coaching Life

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterApril 22, 2016

Miami Marlins coach Barry Bonds watches batting practice before a spring training baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Viera, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/Associated Press

Barry Bonds needed San Francisco, back when he didn't really have anywhere else.

He needed San Francisco, because nobody should have to deal with being hated everywhere. He still needs it now, even if so much of that hatred seems to have faded into history.

"That's my home," Bonds said. "Nothing in the world takes that away from me. Those are my people, my friends, my family, my history."

Oh yes, his history. We all know about his history.

He won't enlighten on it now, but maybe he doesn't need to. Maybe the early returns on his new life as the Miami Marlins hitting coach—great reviews from his players, little if any commotion among fans—are a sign the baseball world has moved on.

The steroid talk returns every year with the Hall of Fame voting, and no matter how smooth his new job is going, Bonds still isn't getting in.

But even if he can't get into Cooperstown, he has gotten back into baseball, so smoothly that it almost seems to have surprised him. He looks comfortable, not just around current players and former ones, but even around reporters.

He'll look comfortable this weekend when he's back in uniform at AT&T Park, even if that uniform now features the Marlins "M," even if his boss is Don Mattingly, the former manager of the hated Los Angeles Dodgers.

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Bonds has always felt welcome at AT&T Park, where he'll be for the first time in a visiting uniform this weekend.
Bonds has always felt welcome at AT&T Park, where he'll be for the first time in a visiting uniform this weekend.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Mattingly will have his Dodger Stadium homecoming next week, and perhaps that will be awkward. Bonds' San Francisco homecoming won't be, because if Bonds is now welcome in every big league ballpark, he certainly won't feel out of place in the one place he could always go.

"I can't say enough about how the Marlins have treated me, but San Francisco will always have my No. 1 spot," he said. "I always say I don't have fans in San Francisco. I have family. If you're family, you're always family, and that shouldn't change. My heart will always be at home.

"I love them unconditionally."

Other things have changed in the nine years since Bonds last wore a major league uniform. Yes, his body has changed, and you can make of that what you will. Bonds isn't going there, and when he's asked about his "legacy," he deftly turns it back on those asking the questions.

"What do you think it should be?" he asked. "I entertained you guys, so why are you asking me? If you feel I did something that entertained you to the point you were happy, you should write that. If you feel I didn't, you should write that.

"I gave all I had on that field, and I hope I did a good enough job for you guys to remember it or be happy. If not, God bless you. There's another generation to worry about."

In San Francisco, you know they felt entertained. It was true in a few other places, too, because no matter how you feel about anything he put in his body, Bonds the player was quite the show.

Bonds hasn't always had a smile on his face, but it's there more often than not in his new job.
Bonds hasn't always had a smile on his face, but it's there more often than not in his new job.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Bonds the coach is not, because hitting coaches are never the show. Being a hitting coach means showing up early and spending hours in the batting cage under the stands. It means leaning on the cage on the field during batting practice. It means standing in the dugout and cheering for others.

"You're here for the players," said Mattingly, a one-time hitting coach himself. "Your career's over. Your success comes from theirs."

Anyone who watched Bonds celebrate Marcell Ozuna's first home run of the season from the top step of the Marlins dugout can see he's taken to it quickly. He puts in the time, and the emotional commitment, too.

"I don't know why anyone would question his dedication," Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon said. "When you need it, he gives you what you need."

Bonds works with assistant hitting coach Frank Menechino, a holdover from the previous Marlins staff. Menechino, who had an undistinguished seven-year major league playing career, has the traditional background for a hitting coach.

Bonds, a seven-time Most Valuable Player who holds baseball's all-time home run record, does not. But maybe the old idea that great hitters can't be great coaches is changing.

Mattingly was a great hitter, and so was Chili Davis, a respected hitting coach first with the Oakland A's and now with the Boston Red Sox. So, for that matter, was Mark McGwire, a hitting coach in St. Louis and Los Angeles before he became the bench coach in San Diego.

McGwire, like Bonds, was out of the game for a while, with many believing that his steroid connections would always keep him out. There was some controversy when he did come back, in 2010 with the Cardinals—a lot more controversy than Bonds has faced so far this season.

It really has been smooth for Bonds, and if the Marlins players are tired of answering questions about him, they're still excited to work with him.

"Before I worked with him, I was a fan," infielder Chris Johnson said. "I thought he was the greatest hitter ever to walk the planet. Now I get to pick his brain."

Johnson and other Marlins said Bonds doesn't dwell on his own accomplishments. But he does draw on his own experience.

He can speak to Giancarlo Stanton about getting pitched around, because Bonds once walked 232 times in a season. He walked 2,558 times in his 22-year career.

"That's a lot of missed at-bats," Bonds said. "I missed five years of plate appearances."

Bonds has quickly developed relationships with many Marlins, including star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.
Bonds has quickly developed relationships with many Marlins, including star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Stanton, the biggest threat in the Marlins batting order, doesn't face anything near that. But Bonds was a master at being ready the one time a pitcher threw him a hittable pitch, and he has spent time with Stanton trying to teach him to do the same.

"He's real knowledgeable, and he's been a good presence," Stanton said. "He's told me that sometimes teams are going to come at me, and sometimes they're not."

A hitting coach can't just deal with the stars, and he can't just stick with the guys having success. The fear with a hitting coach who was a star is that he can't get through to hitters with less talent, but Bonds insisted that's not an issue for him.

"I can relate," he said. "I can say I was 17-for-100 at one time. I let them know I'm going to ride and die this with you. As a coach, if you believe in that guy, he's going to work hard for you. I don't see you as a failure."

It's hard to know yet whether Bonds the hitting coach is a success or a failure. The Marlins as a team are hitting .263, seventh in the majors, but their other numbers aren't as good.

But who can say how much impact Bonds has had, one way or the other?

"I know if I didn't [have an impact], they should run the other direction real fast," Bonds said. "Because I would."

What's easier to judge is how he has taken to the job, how comfortable he looks and how much time he has been willing to put in.

"I'm enjoying it," Bonds said. "I just knew it would be a lot of work, and I like it. It's fun. They're good guys."

To the Marlins, Bonds is a good guy, too. This weekend in San Francisco, they'll find plenty of people who agree with them.

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

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