November 16, 2007

The Grand Jury Asterisk

A federal grand jury in Barry Bonds' home turf placed the asterisk on his home run record that baseball declined to provide. Bonds received indictments for perjury and obstruction of justice yesterday for his actions in a federal investigation into illegal distribution networks of steroids. Given that he claimed no knowledge of steroid use, the perjury indictments demonstrate the grand jury's conclusion from the evidence that Bonds knew well that he juiced himself to win baseball's most prized records:

Barry Bonds, baseball's home run king, was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice Thursday and could go to prison instead of the Hall of Fame for telling a federal grand jury he did not knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs.

The indictment, culminating a four-year investigation into steroid use by elite athletes, charged Bonds with four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Shortly after the indictment was handed up, Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, was ordered released after spending most of the past year in prison for refusing to testify against his longtime friend.

The 10-page indictment mainly consists of excerpts from Bonds' December 2003 testimony before a federal grand jury investigating the Bay Area supplements lab at the center of a steroid distribution ring. It cites 19 occasions in which Bonds allegedly lied under oath.

An attorney familiar with the investigation told ESPN's T.J. Quinn that the government obtained the results of positive steroids tests for Barry Bonds during a search of BALCO facilities. The source said the positive results did not come from confidential testing conducted by Major League Baseball and the players association. In approximately 2001, MLB conducted tests to guage the level of substance problems among players. The government subpoenaed those records.

The release of Anderson is curious. Did he finally roll over on his friend? The positive steroids tests may not be entirely applicable, even if they came from BALCO rather than MLB. In order to prove perjury and/or obstruction, one has to prove an intent to mislead, and Bonds could still say that he didn't know that the preparations he received contained steroids. The grand jury likely found evidence of his knowledge and his active participation in a cover-up -- and Anderson could have provided that.

Bond's team reacted with typical arrogance. His attorney, Mike Rains, complained that a Justice Department that didn't know that waterboarding is torture couldn't tell the difference between prosecution and persecution, either. He accused prosecutors of "unethical conduct" without offering any specifics, and Rains didn't take any questions, either.

Should Bonds get the asterisk, or if convicted of perjury and obstruction, get removed from the record books altogether? Some will undoubtedly say yes, that cheating cannot be condoned, and that Bonds' use of steroids cheated pitchers and other players from honest competition. I'd have more sympathy to that argument if pitchers and other players hadn't also juiced themselves along the way, and if baseball had lifted a single finger in the years Bonds played to stop steroid use.

Not every baseball star juiced to achieve success, of course. But baseball allowed and even encouraged players to buff up, to put astronomical offensive numbers on the board in order to generate intense interest in the game. After its labor woes, MLB needed fireworks like the Sosa-McGwire chase, and Bonds' effort afterwards. As long as dingers put butts in the seats and clips on ESPN, baseball wasn't about to challenge the basis for their new success.

It's easy to target the arrogant star at the center of this controversy. He's mostly dislikable, and he's allegedly a liar to boot. However, Bonds doesn't deserve an asterisk for his records. Major League Baseball deserves an asterisk for an entire era of its statistics, and everyone -- the owners who reaped the profits, the players who refused to police themselves, and the fans who ate the sausage without caring how it was made -- should take the blame for it.


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