Barry Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice Wednesday for telling a grand jury he did not knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs en route to becoming baseball’s all-time home-run leader, a San Francisco jury found. The jury failed to reach a verdict on three charges of perjury.
But in finding him guilty of obstruction, the jury essentially declared that Bonds was at best evasive and perhaps misleading when he claimed his personal trainer never injected him with banned performance-enhancing substances, when he thrust his arms over his head as he surpassed Hank Aaron in career home runs on a cool night by the San Francisco Bay, when he scowled at those who dared doubt his historical displays of power and competence and innocence.
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Bonds, the biggest fish in the big, scummy pond of baseball’s steroid era, could be sentenced to prison, but likely won’t be, because he’s still Barry Bonds, and to many the federal government’s case was as much about disgracing him as it was some technicality of truthfulness. In fact, Bonds’ lawyers asked for the sole conviction to be thrown out, but U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston declined to immediately rule on that request.
Beyond descriptions of cranial growth and testicular shrinkage, the Bonds trial cast little new light on a man accused of cheating the game, who apparently hoped to project himself as a victim of ambitious friends and scientists, and who under oath eight years ago testified he’d not intentionally used performance-enhancing drugs. And it revealed nothing new about the game or its recent past.
Charged with three counts of lying to a grand jury and one of obstruction, Bonds was found guilty of the last charge, for denying he knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs and for testifying no one other than his doctors gave him an injection.
Bonds’ felony conviction comes at a time when baseball finds the strays of its darkest phase being swept into a single pile. Because Bonds hit 762 home runs in a 22-year career and a record 73 in 2001, and because his swollen body and tape-measure home runs divided a nation curious as to the legitimacy of both, his case was poignant for its impact on the game.
But it did not stand alone. Bonds is guilty, his body of work soiled – as is the game he played and when he played it, as were so many others, and the verdicts keep coming.
Even as the Bonds jury deliberated over government accusations Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs during his career and then perjured himself before the grand jury investigating the BALCO scandal in 2003, Manny Ramirez(notes) retired Friday following a second violation of baseball’s drug program. (He also was among more than 100 players who showed positive during 2003 survey testing, according to a New York Times report.) Ramirez left the game with 555 home runs, and his reputation further smeared.
In July, 354-game winner Roger Clemens will defend himself in a federal court against accusations he lied to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform three years ago, when he testified he never used steroids or human growth hormone. A likely witness in the trial will be former teammate and pitcher Andy Pettitte(notes), a 240-game winner who admitted to using HGH during his career.
[Related: Bonds shows no emotion to verdict]
Of the 14 leading home run hitters in baseball history, six have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, and all played through the heart of the game’s steroids stain. One, Alex Rodriguez(notes) of the New York Yankees, is active. The rest have been banished to the low end of Hall of Fame balloting, or await similar fate.
Mark McGwire, whose 70 home runs in 1998 stood as a single-season record for three years, until Bonds hit three more, annually has received less than a third of the necessary votes for induction. Last January, after accepting a position as hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, he admitted he’d used steroids during a career in which he hit 583 home runs. He wept during his nationally televised confession.
Rafael Palmeiro, who hit 569 home runs over 20 seasons, in March 2005 told Congress, “I have never used steroids, period.” He demonstratively wagged a finger at the panel. Five months later, he was suspended from baseball after testing positive for steroids. He was named on 11 percent of Hall ballots in 2011, his first eligible year.
Bonds, 46, played his last game in 2007.
In spring training of that year, when he showed up at spring training, he dared federal authorities to make a case on him.
“Let ‘em investigate,” he said. “Let ‘em. They’ve been doing it this long.”
So they did.