Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader, says that Major League Baseball has given him a “death sentence.”
That was the message he told Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic over the weekend when describing his time in and around the sport since his retirement following the 2007 season:
“I feel like a ghost . . . A ghost in a big empty house, just rattling around . . A death sentence. That’s what they’ve given me . . . My heart, it’s broken. Really broken.”
Bonds is not really all that upset with not being elected to the Hall of Fame. He says he wishes the BBWAA and the Hall would either fish or cut bait on him so he’s not asked about it all the time, saying, “if they don’t want me, just say you don’t want me and be done with it . . . Just be done with it.” But, he says, he doesn’t think about too much.
No, the bigger issue, he says, is simply not being made to feel welcome around the game.
He doesn’t get specific about it, but you get the sense from it that he wanted another chance at being a hitting coach. As you’ll recall, he spent one year with the Miami Marlins in that capacity. He’s been back to Giants camp every year since then and has been asked to advise, but he was not seriously considered for the extremely large coaching staff new manager Gabe Kapler has put together. Bonds seems to also chafe at being limited to being a meet-and-greet guy for the Giants organization. An ambassador type who talks to sponsors and season ticket holders as opposed to doing something more substantive.
Which, OK, I get that someone with greater aspirations may not much care for that. At the same time, however, Bonds (a) didn’t necessarily distinguish himself as the Marlins’ hitting coach; and (b) the considerable talk between he and Baggarly about hitting in the article — and it’s good talk — does not necessarily suggest that Bonds is up on current instructional and analytical methods. He’s not dismissive of them in the way some veterans are, but there’s a clear sense that he’s of the previous era when it comes to that stuff. On some level I also wonder if Bonds’ extraordinary gifts as a hitter might limit his usefulness as a coach. For example, how can he teach someone to have his batting eye? A batting eye that may have been the best in the game’s history. A lot of superstar players have run into that problem as a coach. What separates all-time greats from mere big leaguers is that mere big leaguers simply cannot do what they do.
Of course the elephant in the room is Bonds’ legacy outside of the batter’s box. We need not recount it all here, but his notoriousness for both his attitude as a player and his legacy as the most visible — and only successfully prosecuted — player of the PED era no doubt limits the number of teams who would be willing to employ him in a substantive role. As it is, the Giants have embraced him more than many might’ve expected in recent years, retiring his number and celebrating him in much the way any team celebrates one of its all-time greats. Beyond the Giants, though, he’s a far tougher sell.
As always, it’s interesting to hear from Barry Bonds and Baggarly deserves kudos for getting a guy not known for opening up about much to open up a great deal. On some level, though, it seems that a mid-50s Barry Bonds is no closer to connecting to the baseball establishment than a mid-20s or mid-30s bonds was.