Barry Bonds was convicted by a federal jury of obstruction of justice Wednesday, ending a trial that clawed at the rawness of baseball's recent past, and in some ways sought to determine Bonds' proper place in it.
On that count, 12 of the all-time home run leader's peers found instead for ambivalence, which seems about right.
On three charges that Bonds perjured himself before a grand jury investigating the BALCO scandal eight years ago, the jury could not agree. What remains is a conviction on the technicality of evasiveness, a mistrial, a possible sentencing and an appeal, all leaking from the words and misdeeds of Bonds and a game he once dominated.
The jury found little common ground, but to a generation of baseball fans it would declare that Bonds was at least evasive when he grew several uniform sizes, 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, and when he scowled at those who dared doubt his historical displays of power and competence and innocence.
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.
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 that he hadn't intentionally used performance-enhancing drugs. And it revealed nothing new about the game or its recent past.
[Photos: Barry Bonds perjury trial photo gallery]
According to witnesses, Bonds and his family sat without expression during the reading of the verdict. This was, by his attitude and testimony, beneath him.
He did not take the stand during the trial, for which two dozen witnesses were called. His personal trainer and long-time friend – Greg Anderson – was imprisoned for refusing to testify. Bonds' former personal shopper – Kathy Hoskins – told the jury she saw Anderson inject Bonds, who previously admitted to taking undetectable synthetic drugs provided by BALCO, but not by injection, and only after being told they were flaxseed oil and an arthritic balm. It was Hoskins' testimony that appeared to most sway the jury, though even her accounts could not bring a perjury conviction.
The single charge that stuck 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 – before U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston – was poignant for its impact on the game.
[Related: Bonds shows no emotion to verdict]
But it did not stand alone. Bonds is guilty of something close to but perhaps not exactly lying, his body of work soiled – as is the game he played, 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, 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.
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.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, MLB commissioner Bud Selig chose to view the past two weeks as affirmation.
"This trial," he said, "is a stark illustration of how far this sport has come." The San Francisco Giants had no comment.
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.
And in what would appear to be the end, the government got its ticky-tack conviction, and Bonds got his empty mistrial, and once again baseball got nothing but the shivers. Nobody wins and everybody loses, which is just about right.
- Barry Bonds