SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Bonds won’t hold a press conference before his number is retired on Saturday. He is expected to simply give a speech before the game, which means he will avoid a topic he has shrugged off in recent years.
Since returning to the organization, Bonds has consistently shied away from serious discussions about his Hall of Fame candidacy. Two years ago, when he was appointed a special advisor to President and CEO Larry Baer, Bonds said he didn’t have any answers that were different that what he had said in the past.
“To keep talking about it doesn’t do any good,” Bonds said at the time.
He has stood by that statement, but as Bonds’ time on the ballot nears an end, he may soon be confronted with this: What if he had talked about it more? What if he had talked more, period?
It’s impossible to know exactly how voters might have responded to Bonds being more proactive in recent years, but he’ll get a strong hint of a true answer when another PED-tainted slugger gets on the ballot. In 2022, Alex Rodriguez, with a similar profile, will have his first shot at Cooperstown. His vote totals will be fascinating when put side by side with the lack of support given Bonds.
Rodriguez certainly will benefit from a younger electorate that has inched Bonds along over the years, but he also could benefit greatly from an ongoing overhaul of his image. Rodriguez joined the World Series broadcast and now is the star of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast. He is a regular at ballparks around the country, has been extremely active on Twitter and Instagram, and generally has followed a well-curated plan to change the perception that followed him for so many years in New York.
Bonds has been more active on social media in recent years and has at times considered doing some television work, but ultimately has shied away from the spotlight. That is certainly his right, and in retirement, Bonds has shown repeatedly that he prefers to go unnoticed more often than not. He slips in and out of the ballpark several times a season, occasionally posting up behind the batting cage without much fanfare.
But as he looks back, Bonds might find that there was a different approach. Rodriguez has joined Pete Rose and David Ortiz on FOX’s World Series broadcast, an opportunity that certainly would be available to the all-time home run king. A couple of years ago, a conversation Rodriguez and Rose had about hitting went viral, helping to remind viewers how brilliant the all-time greats are in the batter’s box. Players who have spoken to Bonds around the cage rave about what he has to offer, but thus far Bonds has preferred not to do so publicly, either on a local or national scale.
In a few years, we’ll find out if any of this matters, if five years of carefully altering his public imagine made a difference for Rodriguez. The guess here is that it will to some degree, even if it shouldn’t. The Hall of Fame, a museum, should be about numbers, but many voters, nearly half in Bonds’ case, have chosen to hold part of his legacy against him, ignoring the fact that he played in an era where many were doing the same thing.
Rodriguez did, too, but you can bet a few voters will be swayed by seeing him on television or chatting with him at the ballpark. Those same voters remember Bonds glaring at them as they approached his locker, and many hold a grudge. It’s not fair, and Bonds certainly sees that. As he sits just above the 50 percent mark in support, he continues to take the approach that, essentially, “it is what it is.” But perhaps there was another way.