The needle once moved for Barry Bonds in this city, so to speak. But it isn’t budging now. If he wants to vacate his life here, sell his beloved bicycles and become the new hitting coach of the Miami Marlins, he surely realizes there won’t be an emotional fan rally on King Street begging him to stay or a counter offer from the Giants asking him to serve in an instructional or ceremonial capacity.
He is free to move on in silence.
In fact, 3,000 miles away sounds just about right.
Not even the crickets care. Of San Francisco’s various social oddities, few have been more awkward than watching Bonds try to find his place culturally after his sad, sordid slog to sport’s most tainted individual record. He may have hit 762 home runs, but he never can own this place, not the way Joe Montana did and the way Stephen Curry does now. They are regal, and he is rogue, leaving behind a tattered trail to a performance-enhancing-drugs era that we’d like to anesthetize if only Major League Baseball would allow us. Everywhere we look, there are reminders: Mark McGwire is the new bench coach of the Padres, Matt Williams spent the last two seasons managing the Nationals, Alex Rodriguez was a critically acclaimed postseason TV analyst after a season of warm ovations at Yankee Stadium. All deserve to work again in the industry they smeared, for no other reason than the complicity of being enabled by a commissioner and team owners who were too busy counting megaprofits to powerwash their PED-filthy sport until, one fine day in 2005, Congress embarrassed Bud Selig into Hazmat mode.
My problem is, must Bonds and his ilk be employed as coaches and managers … teachers? They could be turnstile greeters, radio broadcasters or fantasy-camp mainstays and no one would have an issue, but no matter how expertly Bonds used his laser focus to drive a pitched ball with a wooden bat from sea to shining sea, the revolting reality remains that he was boosted by BALCO juice. If he’d fessed up, at least he could impart his lessons of wrongdoing in an educational context. Alas, Bonds will deny involvement to his dying day, even after others who were implicated, including A-Rod, admitted deceit when caged and nailed. Bonds toyed with the feds like so many washed-up relievers, wasting the money of taxpayers who cringe to this day that the “Get Barry” fund wasn’t devoted to, say, homelessness. After the feds officially dropped their criminal case against “the all-time home run leader,” technically leaving his record clean, Bonds thought it would lead to an instant return to AT&T Park, where Giants CEO Larry Baer has maintained he’d eventually find a significant spot for him in the organization.
But what could that be? The triumphant legacy of Baer, Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy is the bridge built from Bonds’ troubled waters — plenty of Splash Hits and kayaks but too much blood and disarray — to a proud, upstanding, much-envied island as a three-time World Series champion. As the New Age Giants have morphed into the antithesis of the Bonds Giants, how could two disparate cultures be integrated as a daily dynamic? He cheated and disgraced the game when, almost to a man, the team’s current clubhouse — symbolized by Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Brandon Crawford — honors the game with integrity and a commitment to a proper ethic. When the club did invite Bonds to 2014 spring training as a special instructor, it seemed more a token gesture than an attempt to seriously help bat speed and torque. Bam Bam Meulens and Steve Decker are the hitting coaches, firmly entrenched as the offense — which could have more gusto with the possible addition of a Bochy fave, Justin Upton — settles in among the most productive in the majors. The Giants can revere Bonds’ knowledge of the batting craft, but even he wanted to be a mascot, there is no place for him.
Lou Seal, too, is entrenched.
Has it occurred to Bonds that the Giants have played both sides — telling him what he wants to hear but not coming through with the actual job? Has he noticed how 48 men are honored on the Wall of Fame — and he is not one of them? Has he noticed that his jersey hasn’t been retired? The “756” plaque is affixed on the brick wall in right-center field, but the only ballpark mention of Bonds, other than a few references on the Port Walk beyond the outfield wall, is at the Barry Bonds Junior Giants Field across the street. The plaza belongs to Willie Mays. The cove belongs to Willie McCovey. The statues belong to Mays, McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda.
Yeah, absorbing all of that, Barry Bonds might want to take his talents to South Beach, where Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria always has liked him even if the orange-red colors won’t. The new field manager, controversy-phobic Don Mattingly, is said to be on board, but the big question is how Giancarlo Stanton will receive Bonds. When healthy, Stanton is a slugging force. Beyond an occasional tip, there isn’t much he needs to hear. Will Bonds, in typical form, try to overpower him with wisdom and turn it into an ego trip? And what about the incumbent hitting coach, Frank Menechino? Will Bonds treat him like Jeff Kent or, God forbid, a media member? Barry knows how to hit a baseball like few men alive. He knows little about handling people, a prerequisite of coaching.
Every time a PED miscreant is given a second chance, we are reminded that sports is filthier than ever, that the labs always will outdistance the cops. Russia and Kenya should have syringes on their national flags. With the Summer Olympics on the horizon, brace for daily scandals in Rio, some involving the USA.
Baseball will have its periodic setbacks, too. But the Giants have long graduated from the dark days. At the moment, they’re more concerned about the already dwindling free-agent market for standout starting pitchers after Boston signed David Price for $217 million over seven years and Detroit signed Jordan Zimmermann — whose right arm had been coveted by Sabean and Bobby Evans — for $110 million over five. Now, the focus of management and the fan base is on outmaneuvering the Dodgers for Zack Greinke.
Barry Lamar Bonds?
Now he’s just somebody that we used to know.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.