Major League Baseball’s home run king will not be going to prison.
Instead, former San Francisco Giant’s star Barry Bonds, 47, was sentenced Friday to 30 days of home confinement, two years probation, 250 hours of community service, and a $4,000 fine. And all of that was suspended pending appeal, which may take up to a year.
While many disappointed fans may see the sentence as insufficient punishment for the man they feel irreparably tarnished the image of America’s pastime, most legal experts say the sentence was correct and proportional. They remind fans that Mr. Bonds was not being judged for his years of alleged steroid use, but for the single charge of obstructing justice, a far lesser charge than perjury, over which the jury was deadlocked.
“The sentence seems reasonable under the circumstances to me,” says Kevin Johnson, dean of the UC Davis Law School. He notes that the sentence was what the probation office recommended despite federal sentencing guidelines that recommend 15 to 21 months in prison.
“The sentence was soft but fair,” adds Mark Conrad, associate professor of law and ethics at the Schools of Business, Fordham University. “He was only convicted on one of four charges, and not the most serious perjury charges. He was convicted of misleading a grand jury – it did not justify a 15-month jail term that the prosecutors wanted.”
Bonds, who holds what is perhaps baseball’s most coveted record – 762 home runs – was convicted last April on one count of obstruction of justice for being evasive before a federal grand jury eight years ago that was investigating the use of drugs in sports.
He also had been charged with several counts of perjury for allegedly lying during the grand jury’s investigation of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) in Burlingame, Calif., which sold banned substances to athletes.
Bonds’s sentence could be a harbinger of what is to come for other athletes charged in connection with drug use, say other observers.
“The sentencing of Bonds should serve as a barometer for the likes of Roger Clemens, who faces charges of lying to Congress about his use of steroids and who likely will look carefully at how Bonds was treated in assessing his own defense strategy,” says Fernando L. Aenlle-Rocha, a former federal prosecutor in the Criminal Division of the United States Attorney's Office.
The court of public opinion, meanwhile, is where Bonds has the bigger uphill battle, say public relation specialists.
“[This] ends a public relations nightmare for Bonds and baseball. Beyond the Bay Area, Bonds drew very little support due to his stunning denials and his ‘I’ll beat this wrap’ attitude,” says John Goodman of John Goodman PR. “That hurt Bonds in the world of public opinion. He’s damaged goods and his marketability for endorsements and advertisements has been harmed greatly.”
He also feels the sentence will reflect badly on professional baseball.
“The wrist-slap verdict is a terrible setback for Major League Baseball, which has tried to convey a crack-down image of testing for steroids, and most recently HGH [human growth hormone]. But all the testing is meaningless if those accused can get off with easy sentencing. The average baseball fan is outraged, and feels another rich, entitled athlete got away with a crime that would have put the average guy in jail.”
But some sports writers feel that whatever fans feel, baseball has the Bonds case in its rearview mirror.
“Major League Baseball has moved on from Bonds and the BALCO case. The only question pertaining to Bonds is how long voters will wait before electing him to the Hall of Fame,” says Yahoo! Sports columnist Les Carpenter in an email. “Baseball has been lauded for its attempts to strengthen steroid policies – as evidenced by the pending 50-game suspension of National League MVP Ryan Braun after a random test showed high levels of testosterone.”