Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hammer falls on Bonds

Hammer falls on Bonds
Major League Baseball knew this day was coming
Posted: Friday November 16, 2007
Barry Bonds is set to appear in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Dec. 7.
Heinz Kluetmeier/SI

The number 762, which today looks very much like the final number, is an asterisk unto itself.

Barry Bonds hit what may very well be the final home run of his career on Sept. 5 against Ubaldo Jimenez, a young man who was born just two years before Bonds hit his first home run. Seven-hundred-sixty-two has the authenticy of a curbside Rolex, the honor of Ben Johnson's 9.79. There is nothing commissioner Bud Selig needs to do. Doubt and disgrace are lined up to be its perpetual companions.

The number 732 is what counts. Officially, the case number is 3:07-CR-00732-WHA, the United States of America vs. Barry Lamar Bonds. You tell me the team that would dare sign a 43-year-old designated hitter who is under indictment by the federal government, which officially has called him out as a liar and a cheat of criminal proportions. Given Bonds' instinct to resist, and given the delusional world in which he has created for himself, you would expect he is prepared for a lengthy and costly legal fight, a fight that would seem to subsume whatever playing days he might have had left. It could be years before he goes all Marion Jones on us, like Pete Rose gone clean, if the day ever does come at all.

Think about it: the all-time home run leader is forced into exile by a federal felony indictment. Doesn't exactly have the ring of a Mastercard commercial with tinkling piano music, now does it? And you can bet nobody in the Major League Baseball offices is too broken up over it. They will root hard for Alex Rodriguez to get to 763 quickly.

On days like this I go back to what Gary Sheffield once told me he told Bonds the one winter they shared a house, workouts and, apparently, some wonder cream. "Barry," Sheffield said he told Bonds one particular day when he was fed up with Bonds' attitude, "you treat people like [garbage] enough, it's going to come back to haunt you. People will look for reasons to get you."

Understand this: the BALCO investigation began as a dumpster-diving crackdown into steroid distribution. Bonds was not a target, only a client. And if he wasn't its most famous client, he was its most arrogant and defiant. He did everything but wag a Palmeiro finger in the face of the feds, daring them to come after him. This went on for four years. So here are the feds, loaded with these doping calendars and, as we read in the indictment 732 now, at least one positive drug test, and they've already built cases against Jones and the track coach Trevor Graham, and they're supposed to let the biggest, most defiant fish off the hook? Not happening. It's human nature. It may explain the curious timing of the HGH leaks out of Florida: Rick Ankiel just when he is baseball's Cinderella, Scott Schoenweis while he is in a wild pennant race, Paul Byrd when he is in the ALCS, Jose Guillen when a decision on his option year is in play ...

It turns out that Bonds was going to get indicted all along. Greg Anderson, his trainer, never did flip, at least according to his attorney. The supporting information in the indictment is almost entirely from information the United States attorney's office has held for years. Here are the details of the four perjury charges:

• Count 1: That Bonds gave false testimony when he said Anderson did not provide him with steroids in 2000 and 2001.

• Count 2: That Bonds was not truthful when asked if Anderson or anyone else had ever injected him with drugs.

• Count 3: That Bonds was not truthful when he said Anderson never gave him growth hormone.

• Count 4: That Bonds was not truthful when he said he did not receive the cream and the clear (or what Bonds thought to be flaxseed oil) until prior to the 2003 season.

To make these charges, the feds must have strong evidence that specifically rebuts Bonds' statements. For instance, federal agents, according to grand jury proceedings, possess doping calendars that indicate that Bonds tested positive for two anabolic steroids in November of 2000. (BALCO would routinely send out clients' blood to be tested.) So what took so long if Anderson didn't provide the tipping point? Maybe it wasn't too long. This is a federal felony indictment we're talking about. The same people who are crying "what took so long" are the same ones who would have been crying "rush to judgment" if the indictment came down in 2004. The feds don't bring an indictment unless they are rock-solid sure they have a winnable case. There is no reason to rush. Besides, the presiding U.S. attorney and the attorney general both were replaced during the investigation.

But you do have to wonder how much of this was done with MLB people inside the loop. Was it coincidence that Bonds gets indicted five days after former Sen. George Mitchell closed the door on receiving evidence and conducting interviews for his steroid investigation?

You can listen all you want to people claiming this to be a "sad day for baseball," but it's a day baseball knew was coming. On the morning of Bonds' indictment, Selig announced that baseball topped $6 billion in revenues for the first time, allowing it to claim it has topped the NFL as the biggest cash cow in North American sports. Taking Bonds out of the equation, the way the suits at MLB see it, is not a bad thing for business.

So maybe this is how it ends for Bonds, like so many mobsters and white-collar criminals, with the coverup instead of the crime bringing about the downfall. Of course, this is an indictment, not a conviction. He will get a chance to clear his name, to fight the charges, and we should let the process play out. But to be playing major league baseball next spring, Bonds needs the government to have a weak case after four years of preparation, to be flat wrong about these doping calendars and drug tests. He needs his name cleared quickly at trial and with certainty. And after that he still needs a team to believe that he is worth the baggage, right or wrong, of being the face of The Steroid Era, an era baseball so clumsily is trying to bury, like nuclear waste rods in the desert. The odds of all that falling into place for Bonds are enormous, much greater than one in 732.

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