POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Apr 14, 2011
Federal prosecutors yesterday finally did what a lot of major league pitchers struggled with and got all-time home run leader Barry Bonds rung up.
It wasn’t on any of the three deadlocked counts of perjury, which would have been a judicial version of a down-the-pipe fastball. Instead, it was a San Francisco jury opting for a single count of obstruction of justice, something more akin to Bonds being called out for stepping beyond the batter’s box.
But as Al Capone, someone known to have swung a savage bat himself, learned, it isn’t just the big ticket charges that can haunt you.
In Bonds’ case, he may well avoid jail time on a conviction that federal sentencing guidelines say could carry a 15-21 month sentence. But it certifies him as a cheat on and off the field and, if the felony conviction holds, Bonds’ larger, more enduring penalty will likely amount to a ban from the sport’s Hall of Fame.
At age 46, it could well be a lifetime rejection for someone who has so soiled some of sports’ most storied records.
Desperation to keep an avenue open to Cooperstown, you suspect, was in part why he so obfuscated and dodged the truth to a 2003 grand jury investigating steroids dealing in the first place. That and a mountain of “I’m-Barry-Bonds-and-nobody-is-going-to-question-me” arrogance that undoubtedly steeled the government’s resolve to pursue the case for seven years.
Hall voters have correctly demonstrated a strong disdain for anyone linked with performance-enhancing drugs in their career. Witness the cold-shoulder reception of the candidacies of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez in past balloting.
Bonds, now and for the foreseeable future, will stand as the most tainted figure of the steroids generation, even as Roger Clemens goes on trial this summer on allegations of lying to Congress.
Yesterday’s verdict says that eight women and four men of a jury found Bonds’ previous statements of denial to a federal grand jury so misleading and calculated as to be egregious. This much they apparently agreed upon, even though they split on the various perjury charges.
In that they are like the vast majority of sports fans who long ago came to view as spurious, if not downright laughable, Bonds’ claims of not knowingly using performance-enhancing substances and pursuing an edge beyond the rules.
The dubious assortment of friends and associates Bonds surrounded himself with in this misadventure said a lot about what he had become, even if you believed only a fraction of what they claimed on the witness stand. You figure the jury realized as much in reaching its decision.
The sad part is that Bonds, the best player of his generation and a seven-time National League Most Valuable Player, didn’t need to go to the laboratory to put himself on a path toward the Hall of Fame. Just as he didn’t need to continually contort the truth when confronted afterward. He was already well on his way before accepting the first injection.
And, he might still have gotten to Cooperstown if he hadn’t let arrogance get the better of him.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.