Barry Bonds doesn't belong in jail. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.
In the court of law, Bonds probably got what he deserved, which was to be found guilty on obstruction charges but not perjury. Lawyers I talked to were somewhat surprised Bonds wasn't convicted on the perjury count involving his denial about ever being injected by anyone other than a doctor because his former personal shopper Kathy Hoskins testified that she witnessed Bonds' oft-jailed trainer, Greg Anderson, inject him. But on the main question, which was whether Bonds lied about knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs, the feds didn't prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bonds perjured himself.
The standards are high in a court of law, as they should be. For the Hall, it's a judgment call. Scoundrels and cheats are already in. So are foul-tempered jerks. Bonds may be all three. He is also one of the three greatest players I ever saw in his prime, along with Alex Rodriguez and Rickey Henderson. A baseball Hall of Fame would be empty without Bonds.
While I do believe Bonds took steroids (whether it was knowingly or not doesn't much matter to me, though if I had to guess, I think he knows everything that goes in his body), I don't believe all steroid users should be excluded from the Hall of Fame. I'm not here to sit in moral judgment of another human being.
Of course I don't condone any usage, but I will point out Bonds' steroid taking was never flagged by MLB. He never failed a test (he passed the 2003 survey test) and he was never proven to have used after testing went into effect. I also believe the anecdotal evidence that suggests he didn't start using until 2000.
Unless a voter makes a moral judgment (and I won't judge voters who do that, either), the question voters need to ask, beyond whether a candidate ever used PEDs, is whether those drugs helped transform the player into a Hall of Famer. If there's a reasonable chance that player would have fallen short of the Hall without the extra help, I won't vote yes. I vote no on Mark McGwire, who I like much better than Bonds. While I believe McGwire's achievements are clearly Hall worthy (it's a copout to say they aren't), I have strong reason to suspect the drugs helped him reach those heights.
As for Bonds, I don't think anyone could reasonably make the case that he needed drugs to be a Hall of Famer. When Bonds signed with his hometown Giants for $43.75 million in December of 1992 to become the highest-paid player in baseball history he was already the best player in the game, and he earned that contract through only good genes (his dad, Bobby, was also an incredible combination of speed and power) and hard work. He had a small head at the time, and he maintained that, at least in the literal sense, for several years to come.
"Phenomenal ... Best player I ever saw,'' said the Rockies' Jason Giambi, another great ballplayer and admitted former steroid user, on Thursday.
Giambi might have personal reason to overlook the value of steroids in others, but almost anyone who saw Bonds could probably echo Giambi's comment about him.
The case has yet to be made that steroids enhanced Bonds anytime before 2000. Anecdotal evidence suggests that he started using sometime before that season. He was so annoyed to see lesser-lights such as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa overtake him due to their drug regimens that Bonds decided to join the drug club. That's the story, and I believe it. Bonds knew he was the best, and he didn't want anyone stealing that title from him. So he started using.
It wasn't a good decision on his part. Although the 'roids enabled him to become the pseudo alltime home run king, it put a taint on everything he did in his career beginning in '00.
It also wasn't a good idea to stonewall prosecutors, to be evasive and obfuscate. The truth is always a good idea when the feds come calling. "Yeah, I'd say so,'' Giambi responded when asked whether he's happy to have told the truth and admitted his steroid use. "I went and did what I had to do. Even though it was eight years, it was nothing Earth shattering. It was things everyone already knew. I didn't know anything about Barry. I talked about my own usage and moved on. It was eight years, but I am done.''
Giambi is a natural truth teller. Bonds had more to lose. He was, at the time of his grand jury testimony, the single-season home run king and a real candidate for the Hall. That's no excuse, however, to stonewall the feds. Bonds probably got what he deserved from the government for it. He had to live through a gut-wrenching trial, and now he is a convicted felon.
Sentencing guidelines suggest a jail sentence of 15-to-21 months, but Judge Susan Ilston sentenced cyclist Tammy Thomas to six months of home confinement and track coach Trevor Graham to one year of home confinement after similar convictions.
Lawyers with some familiarity with the case told me yesterday that they don't believe the government will attempt to retry Bonds on the perjury charges, as they carry similar penalties. They came close to conviction on Bonds' claim that he wasn't injected by anyone but his doctor (according to one juror, that vote was 11-1 to convict on that count) and solid majorities voted to acquit (eight on one count, nine on the other) on the most relevant perjury counts. I've seen some lawyers quoted saying Ilston must show that the big fish doesn't get preferential treatment. But it's the opposite, I think. Already, they only went after Bonds in the first place because he's the big guy. There were plenty of baseball players who did steroids and plenty who were customers of BALCO. But he is one of two on trial. The feds have every right to prosecute one or some or none, but we can't forget the reason they went after Bonds in the first place is because he is who he is. Enough is enough now. Ilston has been reasonable before, and there's no reason to assume she'd opt to give Bonds jail time when she hasn't in the past. But if she does, well, it's fair to say he did do the crime.
Technically, because he wasn't convicted of lying, perhaps some Bonds supporter can try to make the case that the feds didn't prove he took steroids. And that may be so. But what proof did we need? As Giambi already said regarding himself, we already knew.
Even if the bigger body and head aren't quite proof that Bonds did steroids, his power totals late in his career are. Nobody improves their slugging numbers after 35 the way Bonds did. It just isn't humanly possible. We didn't need a long trial and millions of dollars and hours of manpower spent to tell us Bonds is a cheat.
It's fair to say that not all his numbers are legit. But enough of them are, in all great likelihood, to suggest he was Hall worthy before he became a steroid user. As I said, I believe he didn't start using until the 2000 season, by which point he had already:
• Won three NL MVP awards
• Won eight Gold Glove awards
• Hit 448 home runs
• Made eight All-Star appearances
• Had the highest WAR in baseball six times
It's probably easier just to promise not to vote any steroid users into the Hall. But I am not ready to wipe out an entire era. I can't prove that a majority of baseball players used steroids in that era, but the evidence suggests that many of the best players did. Just look at the MVP winners who have been linked to PEDs or have admitted using: Ken Caminiti, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez.
The Hall already inducted spitball pitcher Gaylord Perry without a stitch of uproar. Perry wrote the book (literally) on how to deface baseballs to get hitters out. A case can be made that Bonds' type of cheating is worse. But unlike Perry, I'd say he did it at a time when many were doing it, and he didn't start doing it until he already had a Hall of Fame career. I don't admire Bonds as anything other than a ballplayer. But that's what he was -- a ballplayer, probably the best I or many of us have ever seen.