Barry Bonds has been dropping less-than-subtle hints these last few years. He wants to be invited back to the ballpark, wants to be reunited with his estranged family, wants to be wanted. As far as we know, he hasn’t demanded his own lounge chair or large-screen TV or, for that matter, insisted on occupying an entire section of the Giants clubhouse.
Those days are history – the good, the bad and, one can only presume, the steroids.
This time when he called, the Giants not only picked up the phone, they welcomed the greatest hitter of his generation to serve as a guest instructor for a week in March. If not a complete rapprochement, the latest development is a thaw in a relationship that had been in deep freeze since Bonds walked out of AT&T Park during the season finale in 2007.
Yes, during the season finale.
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Barely able to run because of his creaky, cranky body, he was pulled late in the game and already on the freeway when his teammates entered the clubhouse. There weren’t any complaints, though. Instead of being disappointed or disgusted by his breach of baseball etiquette, the Giants were giddy with relief, a lightness being restored with the exit of their moody superstar and his heavy presence.
So what changed? Why the warming trend?
Because the Giants no longer feel like hostages. If this Bonds/Giants marriage is to be revived for something more than an annual one-week cameo, general manager Brian Sabean, manager Bruce Bochy and CEO Larry Baer will dictate the terms.
The special treatment and double standard no longer exist, and frankly, never should have existed. The lounge chair. The large-screen TV. The inordinate amount of real estate Bonds occupied in the clubhouse. The perks were both excessive and unnecessary.
Most importantly, in the six seasons since Bonds made his exit and went off to deal with divorce, BALCO, a conviction for obstruction of justice, a search for a second career, and all the other stuff common folks cope with on an almost daily basis, the Giants discovered that life without their mercurial left fielder wasn’t so bad.
The successes of the post-Bonds era include two World Series titles, Buster Posey’s MVP season, Tim Lincecum’s two National League Cy Young Awards, Matt Cain’s perfect game, Madison Bumgarner’s emergence as the ace of the staff and capacity crowds in the most beautiful ballpark in all of sports.
But about that ballpark? If Bonds hadn’t signed with his father’s old team when he became a free agent? The most beautiful ballpark in all of sports might never have been built. The Giants probably would have scooted off to Florida.
There are plenty of other reasons the Giants are tentatively extending a hand, including that Bonds is a visionary when it comes to plate discipline and framing the strike zone. It would be absurd not to recognize he has a lot to offer Pablo Sandoval and the other free swingers.
It would be equally ridiculous, of course, to ignore Bonds’ difficult personality and his complicity in the steroid era. The “cream” and the “clear” still sound like the name of a bad cartoon. Yet the extensive list of cartoon characters – players who admitted using PEDS or have been punished and/or implicated as a result of baseball’s never-ending investigation – includes Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Matt Williams, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera.
(Former pitcher Denny Neagle, another player cited in the Mitchell Commission report, said his favorite movie is the “Sound Of Music”. So what does that mean? The hills are alive with the sound of ... juicers?)
Bonds will be forever linked with steroids and might never be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That would be unfortunate because he was baseball’s best player before he was introduced to PEDS. But that’s a topic for another day. When he arrives at spring training in the next two weeks, his big head will have shrunk, both for obvious reasons and not so obvious reasons.
Life offers an ongoing course in humility, and professional athletes are rarely exempt. Two weeks ago at the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans, it was impossible to take two steps without encountering a former player pursuing a return to the game. TNT superstar Charles Barkley wants to be a general manager. Chris Webber wants to come back to the Kings. Larry Bird wanted a break, then became bored by retirement and returned to the Indiana Pacers.
So no one should be surprised that Barry Bonds is itching to re-engage with his old club. But it will be fascinating to see whether he can adapt to the new world order. If he insists on a lounge chair and his own big-screen TV, the Giants undoubtedly will direct him to the nearest exit. If he blends in with the other ex-Giants who make appearances at spring training, proves capable and willing to impart his brilliance, then we’ll see more of him, perhaps even a lot more of him.