The outcome of baseball star Barry Bonds’s federal trial isn’t likely to satisfy anyone – those working to end the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports or those who see the proceedings as an unnecessary prosecutorial vendetta.
Wednesday afternoon, a federal jury in San Francisco found Bonds guilty of obstruction of justice related to allegations that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. But a mistrial was declared on three counts of perjury.
Bonds’s attorneys are likely to appeal the single conviction as prosecutors determine whether to seek a retrial on the perjury charges.
The essence of the case against Bonds, the record-holder for home runs in a career (762) and in a season (73), is that he lied to a grand jury in 2003 regarding the use of anabolic steroids and the fact that he’d gotten injections from someone other than his doctors.
One of those who testified against him was Kimberly Bell, his former girlfriend, who said Bonds told her in 1999 or 2000 that he was using steroids. During that period, she said, he became “increasingly aggressive, irritable, agitated, very impatient” – behavior often associated with the use of steroids.
Other witnesses noted that Bonds’s physical appearance changed notably as he gained some 50 pounds, the once-wiry ballplayer becoming a bulked up slugger.
Making more difficult prosecutors’ job of proving Bonds’s intent in testifying to the grand jury was the refusal of Greg Anderson, the ballplayer’s former personal trainer, to testify at the trial. In 2005, Anderson pleaded guilty to distributing steroids.
But the case will almost certainly have an impact in the court of public opinion. “I think it will be seen by most people as affirming that Bonds was cheating and using steroids,” former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent told Bloomberg News. “I think it diminishes his standing among baseball fans and historians, and it reduces his short-term prospects of getting into the Hall of Fame.”
The Bonds case began with the investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) near San Francisco. Federal agents found evidence of steroids and growth hormones at company headquarters, as well as lists of clients. Among the names were baseball players Bonds, Gary Sheffield, and brothers Jason and Jeremy Giambi, several Oakland Raiders football players, track and field athletes (including Olympic sprinter Marion Jones), and cyclist Tammy Thomas.
In 2005, BALCO founder Victor Conte and trainer Greg Anderson pleaded guilty to distributing steroids and to money laundering.
Bonds is not the only baseball player facing a federal trial on perjury charges. Star pitcher Roger Clemens has been charged with lying to Congress in his 2008 testimony. His perjury trial is expected to begin in July.
Meanwhile, the toll from illegal drug use in baseball continues.
Last week, Manny Ramirez retired after being notified by Major League Baseball that he faced an “issue” related to MLB’s drug policy. According to several published reports, Ramirez had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in spring training.
Ramirez had been suspended for 50 games in 2009 for violating the drug policy. A second infraction would have kept him out of 100 games.