Nobody was better at hitting the ball out of the park than Barry Bonds.
Not Babe Ruth. Not Hank Aaron. Not anyone.
Only time will tell whether one of the most feared sluggers in Major League Baseball history is able to transfer his skills to the Marlins, who announced Bonds as their new hitting coach on Friday.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be good at this or not,” Bonds acknowledged. “I’m not making promises. But I will be dedicated to it.”
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In a hire that dropped out of the clear-blue sky like one of his many tape-measure blasts — as Bonds has no prior coaching experience and no connection with Miami or the Marlins other than the 38 of his record 762 home runs he belted off them — the legendary but controversial baseball figure is headed to South Florida.
And it was all owner Jeffrey Loria’s idea.
It was Loria who contacted Bonds two months ago to see if he would be interested in becoming the Marlins’ hitting coach. After giving it some thought, the 51-year-old former player — a seven-time MVP and 14-time All-Star — said yes.
“The only way I’m going to find out is only if I try,” said Bonds, who dated himself somewhat by repeatedly referring to the team by its former name (Florida) and not its current one (Miami). “I know some people are going to be upset. I know some people are going to be happy. I can’t make everybody happy, and that’s just the bottom line. I learned that over time. If I don’t try, I won’t know.”
The reaction from Marlins players was all glowing.
“Genius,” Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton said in a TMZ interview.
Said Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich: “He’s one of the best hitters of all-time, someone who was able to master the craft. I’m excited to be able to work with and interact with him every day.”
Dee Gordon, last season’s National League batting champion who is largely devoid of home run clout, poked fun at himself in what advice Bonds might be able to provide him.
“I ain’t got no juice,” Gordon joked. “There ain’t a whole lot he can do for me to help me hit more homers.”
Bonds brings plenty of stature to a coaching staff headed by new manager Don Mattingly. But he also brings his share of controversy. Dogged by speculation he took steroids during an era in which the usage of performance-enhancing drugs was prevalent in the sport, Bonds is returning to the game on a full-time basis for the first time since his retirement in 2007.
He was indicted on perjury charges in the BALCO drug scandal and later convicted for obstruction of justice, a court decision that was overturned in April.
It is because of that part of his past that Bonds, a shoo-in Hall of Famer otherwise, has failed to gain entrance to Cooperstown in his four years on the ballot, never receiving more than 40 percent of the 75-percent threshold required of baseball writers to induct him.
“I don’t vote, so I don’t know what that chance would be,” said Bonds, whose name is back on this year’s ballot. “I’m a Hall of Fame baseball player. No doubt in my mind. No doubt in my heart. God knows that. That’s all that matters to me. I’ll leave the voting process up to you guys.”
Bonds said his only concern now is helping the Marlins, who scored the second-fewest runs in the National League last season, finished a distant third in the standings and haven’t reached the postseason since 2003, the second-longest drought in the majors.
“I’m really up for the challenge,” he said. “I’m no longer a player. My focus is on them. My focus is to bring out the best in each and every one of those guys.
“I’ve been away for a while. I can only ride my bike so much. But baseball is who I am. This is what I was raised to do. This is what God put me on earth to do.”
▪ In addition to Bonds, the Marlins announced the rest of their coaching staff:
▪ Bench coach: Tim Wallach.
▪ Pitching coach: Juan Nieves.
▪ Assistant hitting coach: Frank Menechino.
▪ First-base/infield coach: Perry Hill.
▪ Third-base coach: Lenny Harris.
▪ Bullpen coach: Reid Cornelius.
▪ Catching coach: Brian Schneider.
▪ Outfield/base running coach: Lorenzo Bundy.