Barry Bonds, back in majors as Marlins coach, stumps for Hall of Fame

ByMark Saxon ESPN logo
Saturday, February 20, 2016

MIAMI -- Aside from a weeklong stint as a guest instructor with the San Francisco Giants two springs ago, Barry Bonds donned a major league uniform for the first time in nine years this week, slipping on the home whites of the Miami Marlins.

Speaking at an introductory news conference at Marlins Park on Saturday, the all-time home run king, drastically slimmed down from his playing days, said it felt "natural" to return to the fields and batting cages of spring training and that he was excited to rejoin what he called the "fraternity" of major league players and coaches.

As for another fraternity, Hall of Fame voters, he offered a little advice for when they next cast their ballots.

"God knows I'm a Hall of Famer," Bonds said.

In the latest round of Hall voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America, Bonds -- his candidacy attached to steroid allegations from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative investigation -- got 44.3 percent of the votes cast, leaving him nearly 31 percent short of the threshold for admission.

It was his highest vote total in his fourth year on the ballot.

"I know that I'm a Hall of Fame player," Bonds said. "I don't really need to get into that. I'll leave that to you guys to make that determination. That's not my fraternity.

"But in my fraternity, in Major League Baseball, there's not one player that ever could sit there and say that I'm not one. There's not a coach who ever coached me that says I'm not one."

Bonds, 51, finished his career in 2007 as the all-time leader in home runs (762), walks (2,558) and intentional walks (688) to go along with a career 1.051 OPS.

The Marlins staged Saturday's news conference at their annual FanFest, sparsely attended on a cool, overcast day. The Marlins averaged just more than 21,000 fans last season, leaving them 28th out of 30 teams in attendance.

Bonds' return to the dugout has been viewed by many observers as a marriage of convenience. He can begin to reform an image tarnished by alleged PED use in light of Hall of Fame voting, and the Marlins get a little boost in exposure.

The momentum for Bonds' return to the game he dominated for nearly a decade began with an October phone call from Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to Bonds -- even before the team had its next manager, Don Mattingly, in place.

Team president David Samson said Bonds' hiring is not a publicity stunt.

"For better or worse, and you can ask our PR staff, we don't think about publicity when we do anything," Samson said. "We do what we think is right, so we did not give that a thought. We think Barry can help our hitters get better and help us win games."

Bonds inherits a roster that's far from bereft in hitting talent. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton averages around 35 home runs a season and has a career .909 OPS. Leadoff man Dee Gordon led the National League in batting average (.333), stolen bases (58) and won a Gold Glove after being traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Bonds is confident, however, that he can still teach Marlins hitters a thing or two about squaring up baseballs.

"I hope they don't think they know more than me, because they don't," Bonds said jokingly.

Gordon, who hit a career-high four home runs last season, said he won't try to learn how to muscle up to hit more.

"If I catch one, it's lucky and I'm fine with being lucky two times a year," Gordon said. "I'm hoping to go from four [home runs] to two."

Many people believe Bonds' absence from the game for the past eight seasons resulted from the sport wanting to distance itself from the PED era. His conviction for obstruction of justice stemming from the BALCO trial was overturned on appeal by the Ninth Circuit last spring.

"I think Barry belongs in baseball, there's no question about it," Samson said. "He's an important part of baseball history. So having him back on the MLB side matters, and I'm glad he's a Marlin."

Bonds said it's not up to him to explain why he hadn't returned to the game in the intervening years since his retirement.

"I don't think that's a question I can answer," he said.

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