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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
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-Wadas 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
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