Is the Fall of Barry Bonds Imminent?

For 15 years, Barry Bonds has slugged and bullied his way into becoming baseball’s most powerful man. But the Feds may hold more power.

By Eric Gouldsberry, This Great Game—Posted November 18, 2007

TGG Opinion

When it comes to breaking down the personality of Barry Bonds, two words have always come to my mind: Stubborn and arrogant. But when the Federal government handed down an indictment on the disputed home run king this past week, I thought a bit more about it and decided that neither of those two words provided an ultimate definition of someone with as complicated a character as Bonds. So I reached for the thesaurus.

Overbearing. Insolent. Inflexible. Defiant. Obstinate. Put all those words together and you might have something, but I was looking for that one, single word that would reflect a complete idea of the man Bonds is.

Then I came across “imperious.” Which led me to “tyrannical.”

There it is, folks. Tyrannical.

You see, Barry Bonds is the king. Not just of the home run, but of all of baseball. He has had his way for over 15 years. He doesn’t hold court in the commissioner’s office or own a team, but, using his bat, his slugging percentage, his on-base percentage and all the records he owns, he’s a ruler all the same, and a tyrannical one at that.

Bonds shoves to get what he wants, and when others shove back, they lose. Jim Leyland shoved back. Bonds responded by departing Pittsburgh to the financially greener pastures of San Francisco and leaving the Pirates without a winning record ever since. Mark Carreon and Jason Christenson shoved back. They both got traded by the Giants. Jeff Kent, the Most Valuable Player, shoved back. The Giants didn’t resign him. Dusty Baker, the Giants’ popular and successful manager, shoved back. The Giants let him go.

Actually, the Giants didn’t trade or release all of the above. Bonds, ruling by tyrannical proxy, did. He didn’t order or suggest any of it, but everyone knows the score. If they stayed, Bonds’ tyranny would have become more intolerant, initiating his own variation of martial law and oppression in ways Pervez Musharaff could only dream about.

But now, someone new has shoved back: The Federal government. It also does not own a team or run the commissioner’s office. But it, too, is king. It may not be tyrannical, but it is powerful. And Bonds, the tyranny within baseball, will likely meet more than his match when he and the Feds butt heads in a court of law over charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in the BALCO grand jury case.

It was back in 2003 when Bonds stepped into a Federal courthouse in San Francisco and testified before a grand jury in a case involving BALCO, the nutritional supplements enterprise that was charged with the creation and distribution of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds, a BALCO client, would be given immunity so long as he told the truth. When he denied on the stand that he ever accepted or took steroids through his personal trainer, Greg Anderson, who was allied with BALCO, the Feds believed Bonds was lying. Four years later, the Feds believe they have the evidence to prove it.

Some believe a plea deal is possible, avoiding the trial and allowing Bonds to move on with playing his final year or two of baseball. This won’t happen. It is clearly not in Bonds’ tyrannical nature to negotiate towards something tantamount to a confession of steroid use, especially in the wake of years of defiant denials. The trial is on.  

Bonds may be thinking he is baseball’s version of O.J. Simpson, who got off on double murder charges. But Bonds is not going up against bumbling attorneys like Marcia Clark or Chris Darden; the Feds are serious, armor-plated and ready for battle. And Bonds’ lawyer Michael Rains, as feisty as he is, doesn’t have the magnetic presence to dominate a courtroom like Johnnie Cochran.

For the Feds, their work is cut out for them as well. Though they have a 75% success rate in perjury cases, Bonds will be no walkover. He has mastered the art of manipulating and spinning questions back onto others he wishes not to answer to, including members of the media he refers to as “third-party.” If anyone can handle the heat and intensity of cross-examination from the Feds—and perhaps even successfully ricochet his responses back at them—it is Bonds, who many say is likely to take the stand in trial.

But Bonds needs to be careful. It was his arrogant defiance—built out of his tyrannical mindset—that has put him in this situation to begin with. Most other athletes who testified at the BALCO grand jury proceedings—Gary Sheffield, the Giambi brothers and football’s Bill Romanowski, among many others—all spoke the truth on the promise of immunity and admitted steroid use through BALCO.

Marion Jones, the five-time Olympic gold medalist, took the same apparent risk as Bonds when she flatly denied any involvement—and has paid the price. She recently pleaded guilty to her own perjury charges, could receive up to six months in prison when she is sentenced in January, and may be stripped of all her Olympic medals.

Will Bonds suffer the same fates? Some believe he can’t possibly be jailed, even if convicted, for something as “trivial” as perjury, but when you cross the Feds, nothing is trivial; they mean business. And if convicted, does Bonds see his infant home run mark erased from the record books? If Major League Baseball is smart, they shouldn’t. In a sport that has been pot-marked by various scandals and inconsistencies (dead ball era vs. steroid era, 162 games vs. 154), restoring Hank Aaron as the true home run king although someone else has more will open a Pandora’s Box from which other controversial records will be open to unending debate.

One thing regarding Bonds is all but certain. Unless the perjury trial quickly collapses, or if it proceeds and ends swiftly with Bonds emerging exonerated, his playing days are almost certainly over. Even before his indictment, major league teams were cautious about signing the Bonds, because of his age (43 going on 44 in 2008), his health (two bad knees) and all the “baggage” nee tyranny that he would bring to the clubhouse. But now with the indictment added, you can make a Pete Rose-sized bet that no team will touch Bonds.

When news of the indictment came down, many declared it a sad day for baseball. No, it wasn’t. Folks at MLB Central were hardly drooping their heads in woe over Bonds; rather, they were doing all they could to contain their glee. That’s because for years, everyone in baseball from Bud Selig to Peter Magowan to anyone wearing a Giants uniform have had to toil under the tyranny of Barry Bonds. But if the Feds nail Bonds in court, the tyranny will be relieved. The king will be dead. Long live…well, in the oft-spoken words of Bonds during his grand jury testimony, “Whatever, dude.”

2007 Baseball History2007: Bow if You Will, Spit if You Wish Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron’s fabled career home run mark, but few people are happy about it.