The Giants have invited Barry Bonds to be a batting instructor for a week in spring training. This is controversial news for reasons I don't need to explain, but before I get started, here's where I stand on Bonds the person — just so you'll know.
Bonds is the most unpleasant baseball player I ever covered. There could be somebody else. I'm blanking on him, whoever he is, right now. I recently spoke to a former Giant who referred to Bonds as Good Barry and Bad Barry. I agree. Bonds has at least two personalities.
Being Bad Barry comes easily to him. I believe Bad Barry has no conscience, although I could be wrong. It seems being Good Barry requires great effort from Bonds — like running to the left field wall, chasing a deep fly ball when his body was mechanical and bloated his last few years. But Good Barry, the smiling giggler, does exist.
My opinion on appointing Bonds a visiting batting instructor may surprise you. I think it's fine and proper.
I used to have a different opinion. Keep this guy away from the team, keep him away at all costs. Not anymore, although I must say, when reporters recently asked Bruce Bochy about Bonds, Bochy was businesslike, correct, polite, but hardly enthusiastic.
Why is it OK for Bonds to instruct young Giants?
Let's start with the legal-moral stuff. He paid his price to society, not an expensive price to be sure. He endured house arrest in his mansion for a minute or so. He also is a convicted felon. He carries something like the Mark of Cain on his forehead, a red "F."
And while Mark McGwire got back into the family of baseball by confessing and apologizing for his PED sins and Bonds has not and won't, such self-ratting-out is not a requirement for anything and seems anti-American and highly degrading.
Barry Bonds always had his integrity as an unpleasant person. And he's entitled to it.
It's likely Bonds wants to rehabilitate his image by being included in spring training. An impossibility, but he's entitled to his delusion. He may want to appear in camp as the sage, as the man dispensing wisdom. This might help his Hall of Fame chances.
He may want the adulation of younger players. He may want a chance to be the center of media attention — he'll sure be that. And he may want the chance to dangle the media. He was good at that.
But, and this is important, he may be good at teaching. He may be sincere about this enterprise. He had the most beautiful, most economical swing I've ever witnessed.
Orlando Cepeda raves about Bonds' swing, says he never saw anything like it.
Bonds was brilliant at sizing up a pitcher, setting up a pitcher. He was a giant among baseball players — even before he became a chemical giant — and no one should forget that.
When I was in Arizona, Jeff Kent was a visiting batting instructor — it's like being a visiting professor at Cal. He took the job seriously. During batting practice, he stood behind the cage — toward the left as you look at the pitcher — and he would peer at the batter with his piercing eyes. And you knew he was thinking and calculating and judging.