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November 19, 2007

The End of Barry Bonds

So this is how it all ends for baseball's most notorious player. Not in the locker room, or the Hall of Fame – but possibly in a courtroom, or even prison.

Barry Bonds, baseball's record holder for both single-season and career home runs, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on 19 separate counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. The charges stem from Bonds's 2003 testimony before the grand jury investigating BALCO, the Burlingame, California-based lab/drug emporium of which Bonds and several other elite athletes were clients. Bonds had claimed on the witness stand that he had not knowingly used steroids, and that he assumed substances he had received from BALCO were "flaxseed oil."

What took so long? Surprisingly, the answer ties in with the U.S. Attorney firing scandal of earlier this year. The previous U.S. Attorney for Northern California who initiated the BALCO case, Kevin Ryan, was one of those fired under suspicious circumstances by the Bush Administration. When a replacement took over, he set to reviving the BALCO case, which led to Bonds's indictment on Thursday.

As has been made obvious by a pair of excellent, bestselling books – Mark Fainaru-Wada’s and Lance Williams's "Game of Shadows", and Jeff Pearlman's "Love Me, Hate Me" – to say that there is a mountain of evidence that Bonds had knowingly used steroids may qualify as the understatement of the decade. When federal agents raided BALCO they found drug calendars, samples with Bonds's name and initials on them, and numerous other evidence against the slugger. And on top of that, more than one witness – including Bonds's former mistress – has come forward to confirm his steroid use.

And that's to say nothing of Bonds's appearance: It's not normal for a man's head to double in size over a period of 3-4 years, much less the rest of his body.

Bonds appears to have gotten some comically bad legal advice: All the money for lawyers in the world doesn't help when your attorney fails to prevent you from blatantly committing perjury before a grand jury. Jason Giambi had the foresight, when asked the same questions by the same grand jury, to admit that he had in fact used steroids. And Mark McGwire may have permanently destroyed his reputation and credibility by refusing to either answer questions or take the Fifth before a congressional committee when asked about steroids, but at least he was smart enough to avoid lying under oath.

According to the narrative of the two aforementioned books, Bonds made the decision to start using steroids prior to the 1999 season, in reaction to the record-breaking '98 season by McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Had Bonds simply retired at that moment instead, he would likely be a Baseball Hall of Famer today.

Now that Bonds is 43 years old, not under contract to a team, and under federal indictment, it appears his career is over. Whether a team would sign him for next year was in question even before the indictment. Now, with a legal proceeding likely dragging on for months or even years, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which Bonds will ever wear the uniform again. He could also be suspended – a federal indictment was enough to get Michael Vick suspended from the NFL this year, even before he plead guilty to dog fighting charges. At any rate, the indictment, conviction or no, may be enough to keep Bonds out of the Hall of Fame.

So where will it go from here? Bonds could plead guilty, which would entail admitting guilt, which itself would entail admitting that he had lied to the public for years. That's what Marion Jones, the star Olympic sprinter and another BALCO client, did earlier this year.

Yes, it's true that baseball itself, and especially its owners, ignored the steroid problem throughout the ’90s, when skyrocketing home run numbers were selling tickets. Yes, it's true that much of the media ignored it as well, and that many of them have been excessively nasty to Bonds, whom they almost universally loathe.

But none of that undoes the evidence suggesting Bonds lied under oath in federal court, and if he did that, then all of his problems are of his own making.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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