Barry Bonds has found his perfect refuge in Miami.
Here at the toe of the Florida peninsula people come to reinvent themselves. Here at the bottom of the country’s drain pipe, between the swamp of the Everglades and the warm ocean waters, people come to get lost or cleansed.
Here is where Bonds will be back in a baseball uniform for the first time since he retired in 2007 as the game’s home run king. Never has such a hallowed milestone been met with such disdain. Bonds was a great hitter before his body ballooned and his numbers were tainted. Then, as his head grew too big for his cap, he became the surliest villain of the steroid era.
But Miami is the capital of second chances. The Marlins have hired Bonds as hitting coach. This was the idea of owner Jeffrey Loria, who knows what it’s like to be loathed by fans.
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The San Francisco Giants passed on the chance to give their former star a job even though he received good reviews from the Giants he coached for a week during 2014 spring training. He has not been added to the Giants’ Wall of Fame, either.
Loria is not one to worry about how things might appear or how people might react. His ownership strategy could be described as “impulsive” or “volcanic.” In so many ways, Bonds is an ideal fit for the Marlins.
Among those he’s tutored is Miami’s own Alex Rodriguez, the Yankee who is three places behind Bonds on the career home run list but just ahead of Bonds on the list of players involved in the most notorious doping scandals. To see those two working together in the cage — what caption would be apt for that priceless image?
Rodriguez has admitted he took performance-enhancing drugs and apologized. So has Mark McGwire, the only other player besides Bonds to hit 70 homers in a season. McGwire’s the bench coach for San Diego after successful stints with the Dodgers and Cardinals.
Bonds, 51, remains defiant and defensive about what he did and why he did it years after he was the prime target of the BALCO investigation. His 2011 trial on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges related to doping included ugly testimony from a former mistress on his arrogance and violent temper and from teammates who got drugs from Bonds’ personal trainer and fall guy Greg Anderson. Bonds’ conviction was overturned on appeal in April. Prosecutors are weighing whether to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I know some people are going to be upset; some people are going to be happy,” Bonds said of his return to baseball. “I can’t make everybody happy, and that’s just the bottom line. That’s life.”
Of all the sports Bonds could have chosen to stay fit and competitive, he chose cycling — another sport damaged by its doped heroes. He helps sponsor a women’s team in California. Yet Bonds — the godson of Willie Mays — realized he missed baseball and had a desire to share his expertise.
“I love cycling; I can only ride my bike so much, and I love that sport,” Bonds said. “But baseball’s who I am. This is what I was raised to do. This is what God put me on Earth to do, and this is what God blessed me to do. The only way I’m going to find out is if I try.”
Don Mattingly, the Marlins’ new manager — the seventh under Loria — endorsed the Bonds’ experiment and must be convinced that one of baseball’s biggest prima donnas is willing to spend long, anonymous hours working with reserves coming off injuries or Giancarlo Stanton when he’s in a slump.
“The only way that I’m going to be able to do this, or give the information that I have in my brain, is I’ve got to be in the trenches with them,” Bonds said. “That’s what my dad did. That’s what Willie did. It’s easy to walk in for a day and say, ‘I’m Barry Bonds, and I’ve done this.’ You can get their attention for a minute, but what can you fix in a day? But me being there day in and day out, I think I bring a lot to the table for them.
“If I don’t bring any value, you don’t have to worry about me. I’ll go home.”
Bonds is leaner now and probably not as horribly insufferable as he was as a player. He says he doesn’t care about public opinion, and that’s the way he counseled Rodriguez to think when Rodriguez returned from his one-year suspension.
“Who cares, man?” Bonds told Bonnie D. Ford for an ESPN story. “We love the game, we love competing. Let’s go back. Sometimes you have to move backward to go forward. Let’s go backwards, son.”
Miami, scene of so many second acts, would be an accepting place for Bonds to rehabilitate his image. Perhaps he would even come clean here. He believes he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, “no doubt in my mind and no doubt in my heart,” he said, and believes he’ll get voted in eventually. But he’s deluded if he thinks he will ever see his induction.
For now, he’s glad he’s not an exile.
“I played my years in baseball,” Bonds said. “Me coming back to the game, I’m in a different capacity. I am now a rookie coach, and that’s all I think about. It’s not about me. Now my job is to help other players fulfill their dreams.”