Bonds on hunting trip when indictment hit

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

When the grand jury indictment came down with his name on it, Barry Bonds might well have been standing in the woods with a shotgun in his hands. And so he was.

On the day the feds went after baseball's biggest game, Bonds was on a hunting trip with former teammate Ryan Klesko somewhere in Colorado.

And, what do you know, it was the government that bagged a five-point buck; four for perjury and one for obstruction of justice.

In an already touchy winter marketplace for the man who hit more home runs than anyone, who divided a nation's baseball fans, and who played seemingly without regard for a federal investigation into his relationship with BALCO and his hazy testimony of it, Bonds' career might have seen its last day.

That would be Sept. 26, 2007, against the San Diego Padres. He was 0 for 3, his last at-bat ending in a flyout to center field against Jake Peavy, who, coincidentally, had the news of his Cy Young Award on Thursday swamped by Bonds' legalities.

In the weeks since the San Francisco Giants announced they'd no longer have anything to do with their meal ticket, Bonds had been preparing for free agency.

Before that, he'd talked about playing at least another season, maybe a few more, bringing those knees back to life and putting more distance between himself and Hank Aaron. Recently, he'd opened the possibility of returning to the Giants, which was news to the Giants.

His ego said there would be plenty of opportunities for the slugger who led his league in on-base percentage and was third in at-bats per home run. He'd insisted he could still play left field, that he'd be a productive designated hitter, and that, he said, "I told Peter Magowan that even if I'm a part-time player, I'm still better than your everyday players. And it's a wise idea to keep me around."

You can bet that was to be the sales pitch from his agent, Jeff Borris, in every phone call over the next month. To the Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers. To the Oakland Athletics. To the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres.

Yeah, he's 43. But he's better than your 30-year-olds. He's the best 43 you've ever seen, and he'll carry your offense.

Speaking 24 hours before the indictment, Borris had said Bonds' only preference was to play for a team "that has a chance to win the World Series. American League or National League, doesn't matter."

There is no reason to believe he won't continue working those phones. It would appear, however, the conversations will be shorter. Borris did not return a message left for him Thursday night.

Bonds lately has been a morning regular on L.A.'s beaches, running the coastline, pounding the wet sand, pushing that old body into more baseball, more home runs, more Hall of Fame votes.

I'd say he can probably pull up, take a water break, mop his shiny brow.

He has a court date in three weeks.

Bud Selig is leaning in. George Mitchell is replacing the batteries in his tape recorder.

Whether or not the government can prove its case, is there a baseball owner (outside of, perhaps, San Francisco) who relishes the announcement that his club has just signed Barry Bonds?

Is there a general manager ready to answer those questions, turn his clubhouse into the one-man circus that was the Giants' clubhouse, risk a suspension handed down from Selig or – worse – jail time for his left fielder and cleanup hitter?

Is there a fan base that will sit still for the broad grins and bring-it-on haughtiness of its brand new reason to buy tickets and a parking spot?

"I don't know if he's going to get a job now," one agent said. "Who wants to go through a whole season with Barry?"

Damn, the guy can hit. Everybody knows it. Forget the power numbers; he just led the league in intentional walks for the 12th time in his career. Nobody wants to pitch to him.

And, you know, innocent until proven guilty and all that.

Not to mention, in the time it takes to flip through the first few pages of the Mitchell Report, Bonds will have gained plenty of company on the All-My-Dentist-Prescribed-Me-Steroids Team.

If nothing else, the decline in growth-hormone levels among Major League players has reached a crisis point. Selig ought to have somebody check the power lines around big-league ballparks.

Those guys will have jobs. Bonds is different, because Selig could act, the government could act, and Bonds could plead out, and your middle-of-the-order bat could be gone, just like that.

A former large-market general manager said that if he were still running things, and he absolutely needed a DH, and Bonds was perfect for his club, and Bonds was potentially the hitter that would put him in the playoffs …

… he wouldn't sign him.

"No," the ex-GM said. "Not me. Because it would be difficult to expect to have him available for all 162 games. Right away, it would just be too dangerous."

He pointed out: On a 25-man American League roster that included Bonds, you'd have, say, 12 pitchers, eight regular position players, an extra catcher, two bench players and, potentially, two DHs.

There's not enough flexibility in that.

"He had a limited market to start with because of his physical issues," the former GM said. "Now his attendance is in question. It's like carrying a guy you believe has a real serious injury. It's so debilitating to your offense."

Maybe somebody will take a shot. But, there's probably better hunting elsewhere.

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