Cubs can learn from Giants’ experiment with Barry Bonds
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter May 27, 2014 11:28PM
Updated: June 29, 2014 6:40AM
SAN FRANCISCO — Put Barry Bonds in uniform again as a teacher and mentor? Give him access to influence your bright, young players during a spring training before an expected playoff run?
Not even the San Francisco Giants were sure that was a great idea when they discussed a one-week reconciliation with their former steroid-using, often selfish, always controversial slugger.
And Bonds is their guy.
“The biggest challenge is hopefully the player is committed to being on the same page as you are when he comes in, and at the same time humble enough to be able to be in the background,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday night at AT&T Park, where many of the Cubs still remained baffled and amused two days after hearing that the Cubs had hired Manny Ramirez as a minor-league “mentor” and player-coach.
“You’re not in the forefront anymore. You’re not getting all the attention,” Bochy added. “No. 1, it’s the commitment to do whatever you can for the players and the organization. And part of that is being humble enough to give your time and your effort without looking for attention and credit.”
Bonds, whose career ended in the BALCO steroid scandal that led to a felony obstruction of justice conviction, had told the Giants and media for years that he wanted to come back and help young players despite a track record of ignoring and dismissing young teammates.
Even when the Giants agreed to bring Bonds to spring training for a week as a guest instructor, they weren’t sure it would work.
“No,” Bochy said, “you have to see it happen.”
And even after seeing a largely uneventful week in March, with Bonds on good behavior throughout, the Giants still aren’t certain whether they’d consider doing it again.
Which makes the Cubs’ decision to take a chance on Ramirez look even more surreal, especially when it involves every hope the front office is pinning its competitive plans on: the prospects.
Javy Baez, meet Manny Ramirez.
“It’s one of those deals, if he’s changed in a way where he’s going to be open to help and be unselfish, this could be a great fit,” said Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller, a Red Sox teammate during Ramirez’s most controversial “Manny being Manny” moments, “because he is one of those guys that understands the game and can help some people.”
Even team president Theo Epstein, the Red Sox general manager who eventually was forced to trade Ramirez over his behavior in Boston, admits the risk involved in putting the former lightning-rod teammate and repeat-offender drug cheat into the Class AAA clubhouse.
But Epstein downplayed the level of risk, said the club had “vetted the PED issue thoroughly” and that the arrangement can be “terminated” swiftly if an issue arises.
Publicly, players have talked this week about the value of having a guy with Ramirez’s hitting accomplishments around to impart his knowledge. Privately, many are as skeptical as any media critic has been, joking about his sometimes bizarre behavior as a player and teammate, and questioning the wisdom and the message of embracing even a “reformed” steroid user.
Top prospect Baez told the Des Moines Register that Ramirez is one of his favorite players.
“You won’t know until it happens,” said Mueller, who described Ramirez as a more generous and open teammate privately than he showed publicly. “But I think on the basis of what probably Theo and other people have talked to him about, there’s enough reason [to think] he has probably turned a corner and is a different person.”