Author: Chris Nelson
It has been a hectic off-season for Major League Baseball already. First to make headlines this off-season was the controversy over Alex Rodriguez’s opting out of his contract with the Yankees while the Red Sox were winning game four of the World Series. Scott Boras, A-Rod’s agent, has received plenty of criticism over the timing of this announcement and rightfully so. But in the end, Boras and Rodriguez both ate humble pie, as no other team could offer A-Rod his $350 million dollar asking price and he was forced to crawl back to the Yankees.
The drama over Joe Torre’s swift departure from New York and his equally swift replacement of Grady Little in Los Angeles has also been particularly entertaining. Some, including Torre himself, have called the Yankees contract offer “an insult,” but the controversial offer did allow Torre to leave New York on his own terms and inherit a rather positive situation in LA. Not only has Torre’s move west renewed the great Dodgers-Yankees rivalry, it has allowed both clubs to venture forth into new eras-a necessity in LA and in New York, despite what some Yankees fans may say.
However, the most interesting development in the off-season thus far is Barry Bonds’ indicted on federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges. If convicted, Bonds could face up to 30 years in prison. The indictment came as a surprise to many, considering the feds have been after Bonds since 2002 and most baseball writers and legal experts felt that the government’s case against Bonds had stalled. The surprise indictment led to speculation that Bonds’ former trainer, Greg Anderson, had decided to testify against Bonds-Anderson has spent the majority of the past year in prison for refusing to testify against his former client and his release from prison just hours after the indictment helped to fuel this speculation. However, there has been no indication that Anderson has flipped.
The indictment charges that Bonds lied to the federal grand jury in December of 2003 when he said he did not knowingly take steroids given to him by Anderson. Bonds is also charged with lying that Anderson never injected him with steroids. The new evidence which has allowed the government to pursue Bonds is unknown and there has been much speculation on what that evidence might be, but the charges against Bonds are very serious indeed. Prosecutors are unrelenting when they believe they can prove an individual lied to a grand jury, and they have shown this unrelenting attitude towards Bonds as it has taken the prosecutors nearly four years to get an indictment. If proven guilty, Bonds will not get a gentle slap on the wrist. If convicted, he will most certainly spend several years in prison.
Even if Bonds is not convicted, he has now played his last game in a major league uniform and his place in the Hall of Fame is now in question. Several sports writers, including the great Peter Gammons, have said that they believe Bonds will not make the Hall of Fame if convicted of perjury and obstruction. Gammons has also said it will be difficult for Bonds to get in with the cloud created by the indictment alone. Moreover, Bonds’ records are now even more in question. There is already popular support for an asterisk next to Bonds’ 762 home run record, and a conviction would make this movement all the more legitimized. With this indictment, Bonds’ legacy is now entirely steroids and it will be difficult to even discuss pre-1999 Barry Bonds without referring to his juiced pursuit of Hank Aaron’s record.
Although it is disturbing enough that Bonds holds one of the most storied records in all of sport, perhaps there is something more troubling about this case: the fact that the government has been treating steroids in baseball as matter of national security. Remember the Congressional committee set up to investigate steroids in baseball? The one where Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro embarrassed themselves so thoroughly—remember? More embarrassing than the weak, feeble lies pitched by these tainted players is the fact that the government is responsible for cleaning up baseball’s mess. Instead of our tax dollars being spent to fight terrorism, educate our youth, and provide more uninsured Americans with health care, the government has spent millions of dollars pursuing the issue of drugs in sports.
It is hard to believe that MLB’s lack of leadership has made government involvement necessary in the game, but apparently baseball cannot clean up its own mess. As we all eagerly await former Senator George Mitchell’s report on the steroid era, it is hard not to think that Senator Mitchell’s talents could be better utilized working toward peace in the Middle East like he has done in the past. Hopefully, the Bonds indictment signifies the beginning of the end of the steroid era and that the government can go back to pursuing real criminals and not egotistical, insecure frauds who cheat for fame and instead gain infamy. Perhaps after the issue of Barry Bonds is resolved, we can again expect the MLB to be capable of leadership and self-governance. Now that would be a truly sweet off-season development.
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