A Happy Ending for Barry Bonds?

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Getty Images

Iʼm really not a happy-endings kinda guy. It could just be my crabby nature, but I figure it owes to growing up in the early ʽ70s loving American new wave cinema; movies like Dog Day Afternoon and Network gave me my passion for real-life conclusions.


And I really, really donʼt like happy endings in sports. If weʼve seen the last of Brett Favre playing pro football, Iʼm fine with the fact that his last pass was forced into double coverage, intercepted, and led to the opponents' winning field goal in a playoff game. It doesnʼt diminish his greatness one bit; fifteen stellar seasons outweigh one gaffe. Ditto Michael Jordan, who finished his career taking garbage-time free throws for a mediocre Washington Wizards team getting blown out by the Philadelphia 76ers.

That said, Iʼm rooting for a happy ending for one of sports most vilified figures, Barry Bonds.

Yes, that Barry Bonds, the home run king.

Bonds would like to play baseball this season, but no teams have expressed much interest. Itʼs not hard to see the teams' perspective. Bonds is under federal indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice. Heʼs 43, and a tad injury prone. And until the Roger Clemens media circus left him in the dust this week, he was the public face of baseballʼs performance enhancing drug scandal, a player booed vociferously wherever he went. And before the steroid scandal, Bonds was widely hated as an arrogant man; his disdain of fans and the press probably cost him an MVP earlier in his career.

If there was ever an athlete in need of a happy ending, heʼs it, and hereʼs how you get it. Bonds should offer his services to his first pro team, The Pittsburgh Pirates, and offer to play for the league minimum salary. Yes, he made $15 million last year, but according to www.baseball-reference.com, Bonds has made $188 million playing baseball; in the name of boosting his public image, he can afford a pay cut.

In returning to Pittsburgh, Bonds would be honoring a tradition of home run champions. Hank Aaron rather famously broke Babe Ruthʼs record playing for the Atlanta Braves, but Hammerinʼ Hank spent the final two years of his career back where it began, in Milwaukee. Babe Ruth may have built Yankee Stadium as the saying goes, and he started his career with the Boston Red Sox, but he hit the last six of his 714 home runs as a member of the Boston Braves in 1935.


So it makes all kinds of elegant historical sense for Bonds to return to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the team should want him back. Pittsburgh baseball fans havenʼt had much to cheer about since Bonds left via free agency after the 1992 season. The Pirates have not had a winning season since that year, and they have lost 87 games or more every season this decade. A new ballpark, PNC Park, notwithstanding, the Pirates have finished in the bottom third of attendance every year since Bonds departure.

Can Bonds still play? He can definitely still hit. Had Bonds played enough to qualify, his .480 On-Base Percentage would have led the league by a very wide margin, but a skeptical fan might think that figure was inflated by pitchers figuring that they didnʼt want to be the guy to give up number 756. However, Bonds .566 slugging percentage also ranked among the best. He may be known for home runs and steroids, but the simple fact remains that Bonds is one of the best hitters in baseball history and those skills havenʼt atrophied much with age.


Can he still field? Well no, he will have to be lifted in the late innings for defensive replacements. However, heʼs no worse in the field than four or five other left fielders in the game right now. In baseball left fielders are on the team more for their ability to hit, not field.

Wonʼt he be impeding the progress of the Pirates young players? Yes, but only a little. Put Bonds in LF, and he will bump Jason Bay to RF and put Xavier Nady, a young but not really still developing player out of the lineup. Put him at 1B and heʼll bump another young but not really still developing player, Adam LaRoche, to the bench. Itʼs a small price to pay.


The first move belongs to Bonds and his agent Jeff Borris. If he wants to play and continue to be a pariah then he can sit around and wait for some team to make him an offer in the ballpark of the 15.5 million. But if Bonds actually wants to ride out the end of his baseball career on a high note, then all roads lead to Pittsburgh.

Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.

Martin Johnson writes about music for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate and beer for Eater, and he blogs at both the Joy of Cheese and Rotations. Follow him on Twitter