Oh, how times have changed. It was not so long ago that San Francisco Giants fans raged at Barry Bonds’s drawn-out, stormy farewell. Long gone, it seems, is the bombastic slugger who infuriated teammates, opposing players, executives, fans, and just about everyone else who came within a half-mile radius of him. Now Bonds has been welcomed back into baseball, as the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach, and if you ask your average San Franciscan, odds are they think he’s (more or less) a swell guy.
Is Bonds fully back in the public’s good graces? No. Of course not. But if you were to awaken from a decade-long coma and check in on baseball Twitter (“It’s, like, a micro-blog, and whatever you do, don’t mention the no. 69…”), you’d be forgiven for thinking that all of his misdeeds, from BALCO on down, had been wiped away. This, of course, is not exactly a reflection of reality: there are many whose view of him will never be brightened, and his odds of ever entering the Hall of Fame remain exceedingly slim. But if Bonds’s ability, as a one-time jerk par excellence, to rework his image in the Bay Area is any indication, one of baseball’s most controversial figures of all time may still be able to win back the hearts and minds of the wider public.
So listen up, disgraced sports heroes of the world. Were you a jerk? Did you cheat? Were your sins relatively small, in the grand spectrum of sinning? Then behold: The fallen hero’s guide to winning back the public’s affection, as perfected by Barry Bonds.
1. Be very, very, very, very sorry, and perhaps even self-aware.
Bonds made news this week for apologizing for his general assholery. And boy, was he a jerk during his playing days. An example of his ability to endear himself to those around him: When he was a standout at Arizona State, his teammates once voted to kick him off the team. He was unapologetic, and made it through his career with his middle fingers in the air more or less the entire time. This is not a good long-term strategy! A nice salve? Tell a reporter that you were “a dumbass,” “straight stupid,” and “flat-out dumb” in the space of a few minutes.
2. Continue to be an amazing athlete.
Why did you get away with it all for so long? Ah, yes: stupendous athleticism. On your apology tour, it’d sure be nice to remind the powers that be of what once was. We’re not saying you need to be able to win a home run derby at age 51 … but it wouldn’t hurt.
3. Have a charming social media presence.
For a few years after Bonds left the Giants, he kept quiet, insofar as a pending court case would allow. Gradually, though, he began to live a wealthy retiree’s best life, joining Instagram and Twitter to document it more thoroughly. Here’s Bonds taking a selfie while biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Here’s Bonds with Guy Fieri. Here is his delicious French toast. Do you want to be Barry Bonds when you hit 50? I do.
4. Hope that your old team becomes really successful.
Like wildly, deliriously successful. Who wants to live in the past when success is pouring down from the rafters in the present? The indiscretions of the aughts were so long ago. After all, Barry Bonds kept baseball in San Francisco — and now the team wins the World Series every other year. Why shouldn’t he be celebrated as a legend?
5. Go full dad.
Whether Bonds has actually turned a new leaf is another question. This week, Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson told Fox Sports that Bonds refused to take a picture with him earlier this season. (Bonds apologized after the story broke.) But the home run king has come a long way, and if his image rehabilitation in San Francisco is for real, Bonds may still go down as something markedly less sinister than an antihero.
First San Francisco, then Miami, then … Cooperstown? (No.) (But maybe!) (No.) But if you’re a one-time hero whose name is often paired with the word “disgraced,” you might have something to learn from Barry’s work.