Graham is a catch, but he's no Barry Bonds

Updated: December 5, 2006, 2:53 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

With the anticipated indictment of track coach Trevor Graham on charges of lying to investigators looking into the biggest drug scandal in recent sports history, the BALCO case continues to evolve toward what prosecutors all along have suggested it is: a wide ranging, vastly encompassing look into an almost pathological system of cheating in sports.

Trevor Graham
AP Photo/The News & Observer, Scott LewisTrevor Graham is in the crosshairs of a federal indictment.
All of which raises the musical question: Barry Bonds?

You remember Bonds. Big guy. Home-run hitter. Placed front and center in the BALCO case as most sensationally and deeply involved, whose story was replete with lackeys running to and fro on his behalf and drug scientists proudly naming him as a "client" for their services.

Yet while others have been indicted and some have gone to prison on charges related to the case, the Bonds angle remains not only the most intriguing, but the least likely to become clearer. Last July, a grand jury was said to be preparing to indict Bonds any day. This just in: Still preparing.

Graham's was always one of those guilt-by-implication deals, and his indictment can't be considered a surprise. His name has been rolling around in the BALCO case almost from the day that first syringe arrived at U.S. Anti-Doping Agency offices in 2003, the one that helped USADA scientists unravel the formula for "the clear," a cutting-edge performance enhancer that before then had been untraceable.

It was Graham who mailed that syringe, an act he later tried to pass off as something like patriotism to the sport. Over time, it became clear that Graham was associated with and actively coaching all manner of either confirmed or suspected drug cheats: Justin Gatlin, Tim Montgomery, Marion Jones. Now the U.S. Olympic Committee has ordered the man to keep away from any of its training facilities, evidently fearing the same sort of taint by association. I'm still not sure why Graham mailed that syringe, unless he was hoping it would implicate rival athletes or coaches, but it's safe to say it didn't work out so hot.

So Graham is an interesting catch here, if that's how it plays out. But he's not really Barry Bonds, is he?

It's worth pondering at this point whether prosecutors will ever amass enough information to get to Bonds, the single most galvanizing figure in the BALCO story. The grand jury reportedly has looked into Bonds for tax evasion and perjury, and it jailed Bonds' best friend and trainer, Greg Anderson, not once but twice for refusing to testify. Anderson made it clear he wasn't going to roll over on Bonds. Do the prosecutors simply not have enough, absent that testimony?

The planetoid Bonds, with the questions of what he did and didn't do, essentially has its own orbit and atmosphere. It has its own media, including the devastating book "Game of Shadows." It has its own martyrs, the authors of that book, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who bizarrely may wind up doing the jail time most people had Bonds figured for, rather than divulge the source or sources of their most damning grand-jury information.

And it has its context, which is that of the modern game's most feared baseball slugger and very possibly its most reviled superstar ascending to the all-time home-run record. You have to know that Major League Baseball has been hoping the feds would somehow relieve them of the burden of watching this scene play out, but here we are, in the fall of 2006, and about Bonds there is no word.

Bud Selig has to face, now, the reality that Bonds will take down Henry Aaron's 755-homer total sometime next season. Even if Bonds is indicted between now and spring, the pretrial process of pleadings and motions hearings can take months to complete, and baseball's labor history generally makes it clear that Selig can't suspend Bonds for the mere act of being accused of a crime.

So Bonds will play on, right into the summer, into history. By then, Trevor Graham might have become the sixth person connected with the BALCO case to wind up with a "guilty" next to his name. Barry Bonds? Only in the court of public opinion.

Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days To Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland" will be published by HarperCollins on Jan. 23, 2007, and may be preordered on Amazon.com. A writer for the Sacramento Bee, Kreidler can be reached at mkreidler@sacbee.com.

ALSO SEE