The U.S.government was finally able to pin a felony on Barry Bonds (assuming the verdict isn’t set aside by the judge), and it only took six years and about $10 million to do it. Considering that the original indictment included 11 counts, the lone guilty verdict doesn’t seem like much of a victory for the prosecutors. Even in baseball’s generous salary structure, eight figures is a lot to pay for a batting average below .100.
Perhaps the ultimate irony in the Bonds’ trial was that the slugger’s only conviction came on an obstruction of justice charge that wasn’t directly related to his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. Essentially, Bonds was found guilty of making bizarre statements to the grand jury. Although some of the comments do seem evasive, one wonders if the jury ever witnessed one of the homerun king’s past press conferences? If so, they might have viewed Bonds’ rambling, defensive responses in a different light.
Regardless of how you feel about Bonds, or the government’s conduct in its dogged pursuit of him, it’s hard to draw any meaningful conclusion from the outcome of the trial. In fact, much like most of the attempts to delve into the root causes of steroid era, nothing was really accomplished. Like the many sanctimonious media exposes, the commissioner’s Mitchell Report, and Congress’ investigative committee hearings, the Bonds’ trial was a charade…a way to shift blame and justify a false sense of moral superiority.
Not surprisingly, many in the media have used the conviction as either a vehicle of vindication or a means to overstate the ramifications of the steroid era. Howard Bryant’s ESPN column is a perfect example. Incredibly, he tries to argue that the use of steroids was as shameful a stain on the game as the era of segregation. According to Bryant, segregation was a “societal issue”, which somehow mollifies the blight. This is exactly the twisted logic that has elevated the personal use of chemical substances to the heights of immorality.
Bryant’s exaggeration goes even further by suggesting that the steroid era is the most “discredited period in the history of American professional sports”. Of course, Bryant’s assessment ignores the hundreds of NFL players who used steroids in prior eras, not to mention the rampant use of amphetamines that existed for decades in every major sport. Such inconvenient truths apparently don’t fit nicely into the narrative that has turned baseball’s steroid users into villains.
If Barry Bonds hadn’t been implicated in the BALCO scandal, one wonders if the moral outrage over steroid use in baseball would have been so vocal? That’s all water on the bridge now, but in the process, several other great players have been swept away in the tide. Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and David Ortiz have all been implicated as steroid abusers, which has obviously created quite a dilemma for the Hall of Fame. After all, when you can construct a team of non-Hall of Famers that is better than one consisting of those enshrined, that conflict can’t be ignored.
Before all is said and done in the legal arena, Barry Bonds could wind up being vindicated if the obstruction verdict is overturned, a strong possibility according to many legal experts. However, for most baseball fans, the only important verdict is the one that takes places in Cooperstown. Although it doesn’t seem likely that Bonds will be enshrined anytime soon, that negative verdict could also eventually be set aside. As a more educated Hall of Fame electorate emerges, or a more efficient voting process is adopted, deserving players like Bonds, Clemens and Rodriquez, among others, should gain their just reward.
Although some would like to selectively erase the past, the steroid era is a permanent part of baseball’s history. The players were real and their performances are permanent. That’s why, like it or not, Barry Bonds is still the all-time home run king. A felony on his record doesn’t erase the ones he set on the field. Nothing can change that…not a federal conviction nor Hall of Fame voter vigilantism.