It may look and smell like a publicity stunt, and it sure has been easy to poke fun at the Miami Marlins over the years, but you want to know the truth?
Hiring Barry Bonds to be a hitting coach could be a stroke of genius.
The Marlins are on the verge of reaching an agreement with the controversial home-run king to become their new hitting coach, splitting duties with Frank Menechino, two people with direct knowledge of the discussions told USA TODAY Sports.
The Marlins have offered Bonds the job, and barring a last-minute change of heart, Bonds plans on accepting it, the two people told USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are ongoing.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has been a staunch supporter of Bonds for many years, including when the slugger broke Hank Aaron’s home run record in 2007 amid allegations of steroid use. But Bonds has backing beyond the owner, with new manager Don Mattingly and Menechino, who each have spoken to Bonds in recent weeks, on board with the move.
Bonds, 51, who was a guest hitting instructor in the San Francisco Giants’ spring-training camp two years ago, has been open to returning to the game as a full-time coach. He was hoping it would be in the Bay Area, where he has lived since selling his Los Angeles mansion for $22 million last year.
“I know the game of baseball,” Bonds told USA TODAY Sports this year. “I know hitting. And I know it better than anybody.”
The hiring would draw enormous scrutiny and a fair amount of criticism given Bonds’ link to steroids. Then again, he never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. And the federal appeals court in April overturned his felony conviction for obstructing justice for the testimony he gave before a federal grand jury about his connection to PEDs produced by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO).
Really, with the exception of Hall of Fame voters, baseball has been able to forgive many of those tainted by PED use.
Matt Williams was identified as an alleged doper in former Senator George Mitchell’s 2007 report on PED use in Major League Baseball but later went on to manage the Washington Nationals for two years.
Mark McGwire, who acknowledged that he used PEDs, had stints as the hitting coach with the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Even New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, who was suspended for the 2014 seasons for PED use, is back in good graces with Commissioner Rob Manfred.
So why shouldn’t Bonds be welcomed back?
Bonds, his former teammates and peers will tell you, is a hitting genius considered one of the smartest players ever,
The biggest question was whether Bonds would really want to have a full-time role in baseball with the grueling hours and strenuous life as a hitting coach.
Yet, twice divorced and with his kids now grown, Bonds may be looking for a new challenge. A cycling enthusiast, you can only ride a bike up and down the hills of San Francisco until it’s time for something else.
Now, he has it.
Sure, it may be a spectacle at first, just another sideshow that has become part of the Marlins’ fabric. It won’t last. Bonds won’t let it. He won’t sit down and answer questions about his past at every stop on the Marlins’ circuit. He never did as a player, so he’s not about to start now.
The way Bonds sees it is no different than the way he described Rodriguez’s comeback in an interview with USA TODAY Sports.
“This guy is not running for president of the United States,” Bonds said. “He’s not running for commissioner. We’re not running for political office. We’re just ballplayers.
“We’re not God. We’re imperfect people. We’re human beings.”
Now, eight years after Bonds last played, believing that baseball colluded against him when no one offered him a job after hitting 28 homers with a .480 on-base percentage in 2007, a team finally is ready to embrace him again.
Who knows what impact Bonds will have on the Marlins, but after eight long years, it’s about time baseball welcomed him back.