Time is right for Bonds to rehabilitate image
All-time home run leader sharing wisdom in Giants camp as guest hitting instructor
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- He arrived at 8:55 a.m. local time and by about 8:56, new pants already needed to be summoned by the Giants' clubbies.
That's the first thing that strikes you, of course. The former monster of a man has shrunk down to a size-35 waist and a cyclist's frame, and judging by the gregarious manner with which he greeted reporters, players and support staff at Scottsdale Stadium, perhaps the ego has settled more comfortably into a preferred size.
Barry Bonds is the first to admit he's not the surly and unapproachable sort he once was, going so far as to dismiss that oft-demonized persona as a "character" he once played.
"I needed that guy to play," Bonds said on his first of seven days back in orange and black as a special guest instructor at Giants camp. "I needed him. It was who I was at the time, [but] it's not who I am in my day-to-day life.
"[Now] I'm the same person but just a different character. It's like you've got this guy over here that's crazy and this guy over here that's not? I'm more in the middle. I can still be crazy, but I'm a lot calmer."
This will be billed as a rehabilitation stint of sorts, an opportunity for Bonds to repair relations with the media and, ergo, the public and re-establish ties to a Giants team that, like 29 others, turned its back on Bonds after 2007, amid performance-enhancing drug allegations that later led to a perjury trial and felony obstruction of justice conviction.
In truth, though, opinions as strong as the ones surrounding Bonds are often hard-earned and rarely revised. Bonds' already limited Hall of Fame support declined in this year's ballot results (from 36.2 percent to 34.7), and it would take an almost wholesale revision of the Baseball Writers' Association of America mindset toward those known or believed to have used PEDs -- not simply a week under the Spring Training sun -- to help his cause.
But the 49-year-old Bonds' mere presence here as a member of the Major League Baseball community in good standing -- to say nothing of his inclusion on the ballot -- ought to illustrate the silliness of any effort to ignore history and all it entails.
So maybe this instructor stint will serve as some small reminder of the unique talent that existed beyond the hints and shouts and court dates and public persecution and, yes, beyond the general jerkiness, too.
Maybe one of the greatest players of his own or any generation is, you know, worth having around.
"He still had to hit the ball, man," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "He still had to square it up. You still had to have good hand-eye coordination. You still had to know when a strike is a strike and a ball is a ball. You still had to go up ready to hit. So the guy obviously has an understanding of how to hit, and that's what we're trying to pull out of him."
Bonds' first day on the job predictably dealt primarily with the media, with all the expected questions about PEDs ("I already went to court, and that's where I leave it") and the Hall vote ("I think you guys are all adults, so I have no advice for you") and the cameras fine-tuned on his every interaction with Bruce Bochy and Hunter Pence and Buster Posey and the others.
The expectation is that, come Tuesday, the media scrutiny will have died down a tad and Bonds can better go about the business of watching batting practice and imparting some words of wisdom upon the members of this Giants roster.
No telling how much he can move the needle when it comes to pulling more power out of Brandon Belt's bat or more consistency out of Pablo Sandoval's swing. Coaching is an inherently limited enterprise, even moreso in a seven-day spring spurt. Bonds mentored the Astros' Dexter Fowler this offseason, and, back in his playing days, the Giants used to have him speak to their top prospects in camp each spring.
Other than that, Bonds has bupkis on the coaching resume, so let's just see how it goes.
"You give it a shot," he said. "I don't even know if I'm good at this. But I have seven days to figure out if I am."
The Giants, always eager to embrace their past with the inclusions of the likes of J.T. Snow and Will Clark and Jeff Kent and Rich Aurilia, lose nothing in the experiment. And if Mark McGwire can go to work as a respected hitting coach and Jason Giambi can be hailed as the glue that holds the Indians together and Matt Williams can go from the Mitchell Report to a managerial seat, why should Bonds be a baseball pariah?
"It's exciting to have a chance just to talk baseball with him," said Posey, "and see if you can take away something from him and apply it to your game that makes you a little bit better."
Anything more than that is probably too much to expect. Bonds admits to nothing on the PED front, and, as McGwire has proved, admission is not necessarily a stepping-stone toward Hall voter acceptance anyway. If this is about bridging the gap between 34.7 percent and 75.0 percent, Bonds figures to be disappointed by an unmoved electorate that somehow doubles as an omniscient authority on morality.
But this assignment does at least acknowledge that Bonds did his time -- the 30 days of house arrest, the two years of probation and the seven seasons of spectator standing at AT&T Park. And now the time is, indeed, right to bring him back, in an official capacity, into the organization's -- and baseball's -- good graces.
It does no harm, and it might just help. Bonds can't necessarily change people's opinions about him, but he can reclaim some small plot of land on the Major League map. And if he does so with a more pleasant and approachable personality and the humility to understand there's more to a man than 762 home runs, well, all the better.
You can still pack a lot of wisdom into that shrunken uniform size.