Barry Bonds walked out of a San Francisco courtroom Friday, free as ever to play ball.
With four months left of what was to be his 23rd season, the one in which he would have reached 3,000 hits and maybe put a few more home runs between himself and Alex Rodriguez, there will be no more hearings, no trials, no legal disturbances before next year.
That, until February, leaves one middle-of-the-order slugger available to a game leaking long balls and running low on name-brand designated hitters.
Hell, an incentive-juiced contract, a few weeks of minor league Dairy Queen stops, and by the first of July Bonds could be feeding fastballs to Miguel Cabrera in Detroit, or reviving a dead offense in Seattle, or selling tickets in Kansas City.
If Bonds were ever to be about baseball again, he would upgrade no fewer than 10 clubs at designated hitter today, even without the get-reacquainted at-bats and Dairy Queens.
Put Bonds in Cleveland's lineup and the Indians, who batted .215 for the entire month of May and still somehow won 12 games, would run down the Chicago White Sox in two weeks. Give Bonds to Ron Gardenhire and the Twins would have the White Sox in one.
In two months and a week, New York Yankees DH's have hit seven home runs. The Florida Marlins have a second baseman who has hit almost three times that many by himself. Detroit's DH's have eight. Seattle's have three. There's a pitcher in the National League – Matt Cain – with one fewer than that.
(I don't know who killed the DH, but this would be as good a time as any to abolish a gimmick that appears to have run its course. Did baseball's forefathers create the DH with – and no offense to these guys – Jose Vidro and Aubrey Huff in mind? Probably not, since neither had been born yet, but that's not the point.)
Almost a third of the league (Boston, Cleveland, Oakland and Detroit) is on its second- or third-string DH, some (Manny Ramirez for David Ortiz) having worked better in theory than others (Jeff Larish for Gary Sheffield). The Toronto Blue Jays released their DH (Frank Thomas, who, after a big May, is on Oakland's disabled list) and the Los Angeles Angels have, like, six DH's.
Barry Bonds is a DH. He stands like a DH. He weighs like a DH. He swings like a DH. He even runs and fields like a DH.
And, when Bonds didn't get a contract this winter, when no one called in the spring, when he was unemployed on Opening Day, when he was slipping into that pretty pinstriped suit Friday, it was explained in some circles that baseball's owners and GM's didn't want the bother of Bonds' legal issues. Nobody yearned for a guy who was trudging back and forth to court, missing games, creating organizational distractions.
So, on the day the courts cut Bonds loose for the season, I called Jeff Borris, Bonds' agent. Anything?
"No," he said, "I did not receive any phone calls, nor do I expect any phone calls. There's not a single team out there that has any interest in Barry Bonds at any price."
At any price?
"At any price," Borris said.
Of course Bonds has been blackballed. You get to decide if the system drummed him out, starting from the top, or if 14 – or 30 – teams suddenly arrived at the same conclusion, that 24-and-1 does not fly. In a league in which Roger Clemens was allowed to leave his teams between starts and it was considered quaint. In a league speckled with users of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
Then you get to decide if it is warranted, if a pending investigation into whether Miguel Tejada lied to federal authorities three years ago is any less damaging than the charges against Bonds, that he lied to a grand jury and therefore obstructed justice. Tejada says he's not guilty. So does Bonds. One has a job.
Look, it's certainly possible that on a personal level Bonds had this coming. I'm leaning toward the government on the legal end; the feds are on a roll here. But, there wasn't a GM out there who really expected to see Bonds led from the clubhouse in handcuffs. That was never the issue.
So, Bonds can still play, Borris has forwarded his records of unanswered calls and rejections to the players' union, and now it's starting to look bad. The man hit 28 home runs in 340 at-bats last season. His on-base percentage was .480.
And he's not going to go quietly. Borris said Bonds continues to work out, continues to believe there's work out there for him somewhere, someday.
"He's definitely not retiring," Borris said.
But, this isn't about the baseball. And I'm not saying it's wrong. It just seems a funny time for baseball to grow a conscience.