Barry Bonds has turned down the volume by keeping a low profile since 2007, his final year as a player. Now the polarising home run king is back in the major leagues as hitting coach for Stanton and the Miami Marlins.
Bonds wore his familiar No25 and a smile as he faced a cluster of notebooks and cameras during media day Saturday at Marlins Park. The session included no boos or questions about steroids, and only one brief reference to the Hall of Fame, where Bonds is an uncharacteristic 0 for 4 in the annual balloting.
He received 44% of the vote in January, a career high but far short of the 75% needed for induction. Nonetheless, he said he considers himself a Hall of Famer.
“There’s not one player that ever could say I’m not one,” he said. “There’s not a coach who ever coached me who says I’m not one. In my heart and soul, and God knows, I’m a Hall of Famer.”
Bonds will likely hear some jeers around the NL this season. Marlins players have expressed no reservations about working with the steroids-tainted slugger, however, and Stanton sounded enthusiastic despite an inadvertent choice of words that caused a few double-takes.
“I’m going to go in the lab, get to work and see what we can come up with,” he said.
Bonds will begin working with Stanton, reigning NL batting champion Dee Gordon and two-time AL batting champ Ichiro Suzuki, among others, when the full squad reports for spring training Tuesday in Jupiter, Florida.
“He can help everybody,” veteran infielder Chris Johnson said. “If you can’t pick something up from him, I don’t know who can help you. You’d be an idiot not to be picking his brain all the chances you get.”
Bonds might agree. He said he knows what will work if a player is willing to put in the time, and as a mentor, he said he can be another Willie Mays.
“It’s great to be in the position I’m in, the same thing as my godfather Willie was,” he said.
Bonds said spring training will be a time to develop relationships and perhaps step on toes. He was already acquainted with Stanton, who played against Bonds’ son in high school in Los Angeles and grew up a fan of the Giants slugger.
“Me and my brother would fight over his rookie cards and stuff,” Stanton said. “I still have a couple I stole from him.”
Bonds is the career leader in home runs with 762 and a seven-time NL MVP, but the Marlins are treating him like one of the guys. Ace Jose Fernandez, a .190 career hitter, joked that he can hit the ball farther than the new hitting coach.
“I’m 51 years old, so he’d better,” Bonds responded with a laugh. “If he doesn’t, he’s terrible.”
In recent years Bonds worked as a guest instructor for the Giants in spring training and privately tutored several players, including Alex Rodriguez. Hiring him in Miami was team owner Jeffrey Loria’s idea, and new manager Don Mattingly supported the move.
Bonds said he has missed competition and clubhouse camaraderie, and saw coaching as a way to honor his late father, former major leaguer Bobby Bonds, who taught Barry how to hit.
Bonds convinced the Marlins he’s willing to put in the long hours the job requires.
“I’ve been a hitting coach, and I know how much time it takes,” Mattingly said. “I wanted to make sure Barry was ready for that, and he was.”
Mattingly, a six-time All-Star, said the hiring upgraded his staff’s collective resume.
“Between me and Barry,” Mattingly said with a smile, “we hit over a thousand homers.”