Bonds dared feds to indict him ... and they did
Barry Bonds has played his last game, worn his last major league uniform, defied the truth for the last time. His baseball career came to a wrenching, unfulfilled, but fitting end the exact moment he was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice Thursday afternoon.
This is more damaging than an asterisk. This is potential prison time. This is substantial fines. This becomes Bonds' true legacy.
The government says Bonds lied during his federal grand jury testimony four years ago. Those alleged (and I use the word only to be polite) lies impeded the federal investigation. What, Bonds thought the feds would just forget about the laughable flaxseed oil defense?
An attorney with a long history of dealing with the feds once told me that you never, ever lie to their investigators or to their grand juries. If you do -- and they figure it out -- the feds will be as unrelenting as Bonds was in his chase of Henry Aaron's all-time home run record.
It's safe to say that the government wouldn't have waited this long to indict Bonds unless it was certain it had enough for a conviction or a plea bargain. That doesn't guarantee the feds will get either one, but generally speaking, you don't go after the game's home run leader and his considerable legal team without a certain degree of confidence.
"You don't get in trouble unless you do something wrong," said Kevin Ryan, the former lead prosecutor for the BALCO case. "There was an opportunity for him to help the investigation, but he chose a path that led him to this point.
There was an opportunity for him to help the investigation, but he chose a path that let him to this point ... I'm not surprised by this indictment.
--Kevin Ryan, former lead prosecutor for the BALCO case
"I'm not surprised by this indictment."
What a dismal day for baseball and for anyone who paid good money to watch Bonds hit who knows how many home runs with the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs in his body. The shame of it all is that his natural talent would have been enough. But according to the indictment, Bonds couldn't resist what the syringes -- or "the clear" or "the cream" -- could provide.
Of course, I think Bonds cheated. I've thought it ever since I read and re-read the damning book, "Game of Shadows." I've thought it ever since I saw Bonds become a human Transformer, his body going from 180 pounds or so as a college player, to 185 or so pounds as a Pittsburgh Pirate, to 240 250 pounds as a San Francisco Giant (the perfect nickname for his bizarre physique). I've thought it ever since Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, took a vow of silence, no matter how long he had to stay in prison.
"It's a tragedy, no question in my mind," said Ryan, now in private practice in San Francisco. "It's a tragedy for Barry Bonds, a tragedy for baseball. It's not good for sports. But maybe this thing is going to have some closure now."
Essentially, Bonds perpetrated a fraud. Government prosecutors don't necessarily care that he perpetrated that fraud against Major League Baseball and its customers. They care that he didn't (allegedly) tell the truth to a grand jury. The rest is icing on Bud Selig's cake.
MLB's commissioner will put on his best grave look for the cameras, but privately it's a Bud Mardi Gras. The government is trying to do what Selig, the owners, the union and, sure, the media, wouldn't or couldn't do: stop the cheating. Check that -- not stop the cheating, but make it clear what happens if the feds become involved.
I don't envy Bonds these past few years. Forget about the pressure of chasing down the dignified Aaron and his record. That was nothing compared to the queasiness that comes with knowing the feds aren't going away, no matter how often your lawyer threatens them during news conferences held on a courthouse's steps.
Bonds isn't the only one sweating through his shirt. Any player who took steroids or performance enhancers will sleep a little less easy tonight. Bonds' indictment could be the tip of the hypodermic needle.
Thursday's legal bombshell also could have a profound effect on the Mitchell report, which is due any millennium now. Will news of the indictment empower George Mitchell and his investigation, in which he's reportedly wrapped up his talk to players? Will players be more inclined to cooperate if Selig comes calling after the Mitchell report is delivered? Absolutely.
Meanwhile, Bonds can pretty much forget about those 65 hits he needs to reach 3,000. He's finished. Done. The owner of the game's most valued record is now in a legal meat grinder that won't stop until he plea bargains or goes to trial and takes his chances with a jury.
I think you're going to see a jury trial. I don't think the government is going to blink on this one. I don't think the other side is going to blink either.
"I think you're going to see a jury trial," Ryan said. "I don't think the government is going to blink on this one. I don't think the other side is going to blink either."
If I'm Bonds' attorney, I make sure this case never sees the light of a jury room. Sure, there's a chance Bonds will walk. There's also a chance that he'll be convicted. And if he is, just ask Martha Stewart how much fun she had in federal prison after being convicted on four felony counts of conspiracy, obstruction and making false statements to investigators.
If only Bonds had played it smart instead of smarmy. He should have taken the offer of government immunity, told the whole truth and then, said Ryan of the feds, "we'll call it a day."
Instead, Bonds did it his way. He did it the Marion Jones way. To use a Ryan phrase, he decided to "drive outside the lanes." Bonds all but dared the government to indict him. Well, here they are.
Be careful what you wish for.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography, "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.
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