At 49 years old, Barry Bonds showed up to the San Francisco Giants spring training complex on Monday, put on his uniform, and took the field. Bonds was not looking to reclaim his spot in left field, a position he manned for the Giants for 15 years. Bonds’ return was as a coach. His impossible job is to show the team’s young hitters how to be as great at baseball as he was. His presence at spring training is not only valuable for the Giants but for the baseball community as a whole.
Bonds official title is roving instructor, and his duties seem to be to help with whatever he can. The best pure hitter in baseball history surely has a lot of knowledge to impart, but the bigger news is that Bonds is around Major League Baseball at all. He has been away from the game since his last contract ran out in 2007, and unable to find offers from other teams, Bonds had to call it quits. He has spent the last several years laying as low as someone of Bonds’ celebrity can, attending charity functions and cycling among his bigger hobbies. While some of that may be a simple function of the retired life, Bonds break from baseball was somewhat of a necessity to mend the broken relationship between he and the sport.
At this point, Barry Bonds is probably just as famous for the performance enhancing drug controversy as for his all-time record 762 home runs. Bonds is, perhaps along with Roger Clemens, the face of the so-called “steroid era” of baseball. Bonds was accused of receiving and using several performance enhancing drugs supplied by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-op (BALCO). As part of the BALCO scandal, Bonds was called on to testify in front of a grand jury, which later led to an obstruction of justice conviction for answering their questions evasively.
Prior to any of this, Barry Bonds was already known as a surly, egotistical me-first player. He received special treatment from the Giants and was harsh to the media. So, when opportunity arose, Bonds was hit with an incredible backlash. Writers and fans who were already tired of Bonds’ act finally had a legitimate tool to tear a baseball god down in to a mortal. It worked so well that no team wanted any part of Bonds even after a 2007 season in which his OPS was well over 1.000.
It is fruitless to single out Bonds as a villain for participating in something that the public has forgiven others for. Players like Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi emerged from the mess just as popular as ever. There is also a double standard heaped upon baseball that is not applied to America’s favorite sport, football. The NFL doles out steroid suspensions with little attention paid by the media. Maybe it is because baseball is the oldest of the “Big Four” American sports, more susceptible to narratives and legendary tales that something like steroids can easily taint, while a gladiator competition like the NFL can’t be so easily spoiled.
Barry Bonds does not necessarily deserve–or need–forgiveness from fans, but he should at the very least be welcomed back into the baseball community. He is as much a part of baseball history as anyone, and trying to sweep a decade or more of baseball under the rug is preposterous. He is a product of the era, not the other way around. His batter’s eye, rivaled by only Ted Williams in potency, was something to behold, regardless of how bulked up the man became. His time in baseball could be split into two separate hall of fame careers laid back-to-back. He was a big personality but his play backed it up. On top of all this, between he and his father, the family contributed three decades worth of time to Major League Baseball. Barry Bonds is someone baseball needs.
Now that Bonds has resurfaced at Giants camp it is the perfect opportunity for him to try and rebuild his persona. He is past the legal issues. He is past the pressure of playing a professional sport in the United States. What he can now do is act as a face of competition, as an ambassador of the sport for new young fans. Barry Bonds on the field is a sight that should be celebrated. It is the return of a baseball great.
Commentary by Brian Moore