Programming note: Giants Insider Andrew Baggarly is in Arizona; check back for his coverage throughout spring training and watch SportsNet Central nightly at 6 and 10:30 p.m. for all the day’s MLB news.
MESA, Ariz. – Barry Bonds didn’t want to take off his Giants uniform after the 2007 season. He wanted to play one more season.
He’ll get at least part of his wish soon.
Let the calendar circling begin: Bonds is scheduled to travel to Arizona on March 9 and find a uniform waiting for him at Scottsdale Stadium the following day as he begins a weeklong stint as a spring training guest instructor.
My guess: it’s not going to be the standard, ballyhooed Barry Arrival Day. There won’t be a “clean out your own closet” type of news conference. The Giants are bracing for a bigger media presence, sure, and Bonds probably will hold court in some fashion or another. But it won’t be anywhere near the sideshow that came with the annual springtime State of Bonds from his playing days.
The distraction will be minimal, and the gain could be great.
Just speaking from my experience, having covered Bonds from afar since 1996 and on a daily basis over the final four years of his career, he really will be an asset to Giants hitters. And in more ways than one.
Not every great hitter makes a good hitting coach. When I covered the Angels, I saw Rod Carew struggle to click with a lot of guys. Carney Lansford obviously didn’t work out when he was with the Giants – the only coach to be shown the door in seven years under Bruce Bochy.
But the things that Bonds did so well can be applied to any hitter: Be short, be direct, stalk the pitcher like prey and be ready to strike.
Bonds never stepped out of the batter’s box between pitches. By design or not, that made him even more intimidating to the man on the mound. He wasn’t fiddling with his gloves or distracted by his equipment or even his own thoughts. He didn’t let out deep puffs of air. He never looked like he was trying to gather his focus.
He already had it.
Yes, there is a mountain of evidence to support the position that Bonds’ feats were chemically enhanced. His legacy should be tainted to a degree, and you can decide for yourself how warm or cold you like your bath water.
But however you feel, you can’t deny he was an absolute marvel to watch. He was the best, most brilliant hitter I’ve ever seen, that’s for sure.
It’s his own fault to an extent, but Bonds will never get widespread recognition for his intelligence at the plate. At the height of his powers, he wasn’t just Babe Ruth. He was Ted Williams, too. He was exponentially better than other players from his era, many of whom were themselves exponentially better because of performance-enhancing drugs.
Put aside the 73 home runs in 2001. A few years later, in 2004, Bonds was walked 232 times. He was intentionally walked 120 times. It was the greatest colluded effort to take the bat out of a hitter’s hands in major league history. He was left with just 373 at-bats. And he still hit 45 home runs. Of all the fly balls he hit, nearly 25 percent left the yard. That is still astonishing to me.
He hit .362 and won a batting crown, too.
So when Bonds tells current Giants hitters to wait for their pitch … well, they just might listen to the man. Nobody was better at being patient. Nobody was better at being aggressive.
Who stands to benefit from Bonds’ input the most? It’s a question I’ve been asked a few times. My first thought was Brandon Belt, just because he can be the type of left-handed hitter to blend power and on-base skills, if only he can have a more consistent approach.
But actually, I would go with Brandon Crawford. He’s a left-handed hitter. He has a relatively simple swing but goes through dry spells when it tends to get long. We’ve all seen his power potential but it hasn’t always shown up in games. Crawford is also a lifelong Giants fan who cheered for Bonds for as long as he could remember. You know he’s going to be s sponge.
Hitting eighth provides a unique set of challenges, but I’ll bet that Crawford alone will have a better season based on what he can pick up from Bonds over a week of spring training. And that’s worth a day of distraction, isn’t it?