Barry Bonds said he wasn’t sure after the last game of the 2007 season – the final out of which effectively marked the end of his 22-year major-league career – whether he would ever again put on a Giants uniform.
“You always hope so,” Bonds said. “You never know.”
On Monday, though, more than six years later, Bonds reunited with his former team as a spring training special instructor. Shortly before 9 a.m., Bonds walked into the clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium and ducked into the coaches’ room briefly before continuing to the players’ area, where he shook hands with several veterans and introduced himself to more of the players he’ll be working with in camp over the next week.
“It feels really good to be back,” Bonds said in a subsequent news conference that lasted 25 minutes with about 50 reporters. “It feels good to participate in this. It feels good to get back to the game that I love.”
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Continuing, Bonds shared his message to current Giants players: “Hopefully I’ll be a part of this for longer, but in seven days, please do not hesitate. All you guys, from the younger guys to the veteran players, come pick my brain and wear me down.”
Looking slim and fit – something he attributed to a newfound love of cycling – Bonds was engaging and laughed often while answering reporters’ questions as he sat next to Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who Bonds said was instrumental in his return. The Giants, Bonds said, reached out to him about helping out as an instructor, as they have with other past team members such as Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow and Randy Winn.
“We’re excited about having Barry here, who can help out in so many different aspects of the game,” Bochy said. “And not just hitting – this guy was a tremendous baserunner, outfielder. So I think it’s going to be good for both sides – good for Barry to see how this is going to work for him, but for our players to have the ability to pick, to me, one of the greatest minds in baseball.”
Bonds hit .276 with 28 home runs in his final season, during which he passed Hank Aaron as the all-time home run leader. He finished his career with 762 home runs and a .298 average, 1,996 RBIs and a record seven National League MVP awards.
Although he exited the game in 2007, Bonds did not shed the spotlight. In 2011, Bonds was convicted by a federal jury of one count of obstruction of justice, stemming from an investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and suspicions Bonds used steroids during his career.
Last year, a federal appeals court upheld the conviction, for which Bonds was sentenced to two years’ probation and 30 days of house arrest. Monday, Bonds avoided most controversial topics, including his association with performance-enhancing drugs.
Asked if he was prepared to admit he had used PEDs, as Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire did before his return to the game, Bonds answered: “I already went to court, and that’s where I’ll leave it. And I think anything outside that doesn’t need to be commented on.”
Asked if he feels he was blackballed from baseball after the 2007 season, Bonds said: “I don’t know. I don’t know what ‘blackballed’ really means.”
Bonds also declined to discuss the suspension of Alex Rodriguez and others stemming from the recent investigation into the Biogenesis clinic. He was, however, direct when asked if he feels he should be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Without a doubt,” Bonds said.
Bonds received 34.7 percent of votes in the latest Hall of Fame balloting, well below the 75-percent threshold required for election. He demurred when given the chance to share his advice to Hall of Fame voters.
“I think you guys are all adults,” Bonds said. “I have no advice for you.”
The Giants hope he’ll have plenty for their current players this week, though Bonds admitted he’s unsure how he will adapt to an instructor role. In recent years, Bonds said, he has worked individually with a couple of players, including Astros outfielder Dexter Fowler, but this is different.
“Right now, I’m more nervous at this than (when) I was playing, because it was only my mind and me,” Bonds said. “Trying to put that into other players, I don’t know.”
Several times, Bonds was asked if this may be the first step toward his getting back into baseball in a larger role, possibly as a coach or, eventually, a manager. He said he does hope to help the Giants in a larger role in the future – something Bochy left open as a possibility for this regular season – but a lot will depend on how this week goes.
As for whether coming back now is an opportunity to repair his image in a game that he dominated for years before becoming one of the poster children for its biggest dilemma, Bonds answered: “I don’t know about all that.
“The timing’s better now for me,” Bonds said. “Back then, it just wasn’t right. There’s a lot behind me now, and I just want to look toward the future.”