SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The man has been gone for years, his superstar aura has dissipated and now even the name of the recent Giants legend is rarely uttered by his former teammates.
Jury selection for Barry Bonds' trial begins today in a U.S. District Court in San Francisco, where he remains a popular figure even as he stands accused of perjury and obstruction of justice. But you wouldn't necessarily know it by spending time around his former ballclub.
Bonds, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, is not quite forgotten amongst his ex-teammates, but the majors' career home run leader and seven-time National League MVP doesn't come up as topic of conversation much either.
"No, I can honesty tell you I don't think it has," said Giants outfielder Nate Schierholtz, who played with Bonds in 2007. "If you heard his name around the clubhouse, it was about how great of a player he was. You'd never hear it in a negative way."
If the defending World Series champion Giants can help it, there will be no raining on their reigning.
Though he never formally announced his retirement from a 22-year career that included 2,935 hits, 762 home runs and 2,558 walks, Bonds, now 46, hasn't played since 2007. During the past four years his old club has had such thorough turnover that only six of Bonds' former teammates remain in a Giants uniform: starters Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito, closer Brian Wilson and Schierholtz. Only Cain overlapped with Bonds for more than one full season.
None of those approached by SI.com last week admitted to closely following the news of their former teammate's trial, which stems from testimony he gave before a grand jury in 2003 about BALCO and whether he knowingly took steroids.
"I read the
"Not really," Lincecum said. "I'm just paying attention to spring training."
Wilson declined to answer any questions about Bonds.
The rigors of preparing for the season no doubt occupy most of the players' time, not to mention that the youth of the players -- of the six, only Zito was older than 25 in '07 -- means they were mostly in the nascent stages of their careers as Bonds concluded his career and may not have been as close to him. One can only speculate if their public indifference in Bonds' legal troubles is a way for the players and team to purposefully distance themselves from potential negative publicity.
Even manager Bruce Bochy had only taken the reins of the Giants in 2007, thus managing Bonds only one year, though it was the season in which Bonds passed Hank Aaron on the career home runs list. With interest soaring around the defending champs this spring and with another season to prepare for, Bochy said he had not been following news of the trial.
"I'll be honest, no," Bochy said. "I hope things work out for Barry, but I haven't had time to pay a lot of attention to it."
Seemingly reminded of how soon the trial was starting, Bochy then asked a club official in the room for an update.
During last October's playoff run, Bonds was often visible in the first row of AT&T Park, but his appearances in the clubhouse were fleeting. Players such as outfielder Cody Ross and relief pitcher Javier Lopez noted that Bonds made only quick cameos with the team.
"I can't speak for everybody, but I would say the majority of us probably have no idea what's going on," said Ross, who sometimes mans Bonds' old spot in San Francisco's leftfield. "For the past few years he's done a fairly good job of staying out of the spotlight."
That's not to say Bonds' greetings were unwelcome by the Giants.
"It's always good to have him around," Schierholtz said. "His presence is something that you don't really feel often around anyone else. He just has a superstar aura about him. It's hard to explain."
Bonds did speak to the media before Game 1 of last year's World Series and indicated an interest in returning to baseball as a hitting coach, telling reporters at the time, "I have a gift and sooner or later I have to give it away."
Accepting such a position could carry a major obstacle for Bonds. Before Mark McGwire began work as the Cardinals' hitting coach, there was tremendous public pressure on him to come clean about his own steroid use. Presumably, Bonds would be expected to do the same, except his might come with a legal hurdle. While McGwire famously refused "to talk about the past" before Congress, Bonds denied knowingly using steroids to a grand jury, the very claim which prompted this trial.
If Bonds were to be acquitted of his perjury charge -- which would legally clear him of lying but not absolutely prove that allegations of his use of performance-enhancing drugs were false -- then he would never be able to come clean like McGwire, as he would essentially be retroactively proving the prosecution's case. (The point, of course, is moot if he actually is clean). If convicted, however, the truth would essentially already be on the public record, perhaps making the transition easier.
Prior to accepting the coaching position with St. Louis, McGwire had been tutoring several major and minor league hitters in the offseasons near his home in Irvine, Calif. It is unclear if Bonds has done anything similar, though it is clear how younger players gravitated toward his talent.
Schierholtz was a rookie in 2007, toggling between Triple-A Fresno and the majors. He carved out regular playing time in his two months with the big-league club, batting .304 and manning rightfield opposite Bonds in left. As a fellow lefthanded-hitting outfielder, Schierholtz predictably had an admiration for Bonds' tools.
"His ability to hit is like nothing I've ever seen, just the way the ball sounded off his bat," Schierholtz said. "As an outfielder, I just remember shagging his batting practice. I thought a couple of times my glove was going to break at how hard his line drives were hit.
"I liked observing the way he went about the game. What he did in the batting cage was the most impressive thing. I've never seen anyone with such quick hands."
A perjury trial in which a conviction may not even require jail time -- others sentenced by this judge, Susan Illston, in BALCO cases have received only home confinement -- rarely attracts such attention, but at the core of the proceedings that start today are whether Bonds' impressive abilities, as he insists, were naturally gained. What slim chance he has of clearing his name would go out the window with the proof-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt of a conviction.
And while his former Giants teammates may back him, it'll be with quiet support and from afar. This is a new team with a new title, and nothing will change that.