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Bonds indicted

by Matt Smith

The Barry Bonds saga hit a new low this week with the announcement that he has been indicted by a federal grand jury on four counts of perjury and one count of obstructing the course of justice.

While the official confirmation did seem to cause some shock, this has been in the offing for well over a year. The insinuation has been that the grand jury were convinced of their case, but that it has taken a while to put together enough evidence to make them confident of gaining a successful conviction. The Bonds’ camp have used this delay as evidence of a campaign to ‘get’ Barry, firmly trying to place him in the role of the victim. That point of view may find a hint of sympathy for some in relation to the way Bonds has been vilified by accusations of drug use at a level well above every other ballplayer. However, the charges in question move well beyond allegations of drug use alone.

The legal side will run its own course and it’s probably unwise to speculate too much on how it will turn out. We can consider the impact on his future Major League career though. I’ve yet to see a comprehensive timetable for the upcoming process, aside from Bonds having to appear in court on 7 December, but it’s safe to say that this will be a drawn-out affair.

Had Bonds been contracted to an organization (e.g. signing an extension with the Giants), then the immediate situation would have been more complicated for MLB. As the governing body of every major sport has to when confronted with this type of situation, Bud Selig trotted out the “everyone’s innocent until proven guilty” line in response to the announcement. Whether a league can suspend a player while court proceedings are taking place is often a legal minefield.

As it is, the potential embarrassment of seeing Bonds performing (and increasing his career home run record total) while this legal action is ongoing will be avoided. Bonds’s free agent status has put paid to that. No team will sign him with this hanging over his head. All of the negative publicity and problems it would cause will simply not be worth it. Anyone running a book on which team Bonds was likely to join during the off-season may have to wrap it up, unless they had included a prison team as a joke.

Regardless of the outcome, when you consider his age and the fact that Bonds was looking to play for one more season, the indictment has almost certainly brought an end to his career. That won’t be the end of the story for MLB though. Far from it. Bonds might not be coming back, but his presence is not going away. While seeing Bonds in a Major League uniform would be a massive story next April, not seeing him in one is going to be an all-consuming news event just the same.

Then we’ll have the Hall of Fame debate in five years’ time.

Fairly or not, baseball’s name will be dragged through the mud as a result of the indictment as well. The coverage of the story in British newspapers today is testament to that. Add in the impending Mitchell report and the public image of the sport, as projected by the media, could well be at odds with the evidence Selig put forward this week about baseball being more popular than ever before.

Selig was correct in drawing attention to the booming state of the game. Let’s hope one man’s plight doesn’t overshadow this fact, whatever the outcome of the proceedings.

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