MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

What the Bonds verdict means

Bauman: What the Bonds verdict means

What the Bonds verdict means
When you are a 37-year-old baseball player, and your statistics explode and your head gets larger, something is up, other than your slugging percentage.

Thus, the common-sense verdict on Barry Bonds' use of performance-enhancing substances can be summed up in three words: Guilty, guilty, guilty.

In real life, Bonds was convicted by a federal jury of obstruction of justice in a verdict reached Wednesday. But a mistrial was declared on three counts of perjury after the jury could not form a consensus on those counts after four days of deliberation.

The felony charges stemmed from Bonds' 2003 testimony before a federal grand jury, regarding his use of steroids. The fact is that the jury in the current case was allowed to hear only a portion of the available evidence against Bonds.

Because of the refusal of Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, to testify in this trial, the presiding judge excluded significant evidence that federal prosecutors hoped to use against Bonds. That evidence included results from three urine and/or blood tests that allegedly showed Bonds had tested positive for steroid use on three occasions.

It could easily be argued, then, that the average baseball fan had access to more evidence of Barry Bonds' steroid usage than the average juror in this case did. Thus, the jury was unable to reach agreement on the three charges of false declarations, or perjury.

Still, there was the guilty finding on the obstruction of justice charge. What will this verdict do to Bonds' place in baseball history? There is no official answer to that one at this early date. Like so much of American life this can be a matter of personal perception. When Bonds was breaking records on behalf of the Giants, he was very popular in San Francisco, but not at all popular elsewhere.

Bonds, of course, holds two of baseball's most visible and hallowed records -- home runs in a single season and career home runs. The single-season record of 73 he set in 2001 when he was 37. Prior to 2000 he had never hit more than 46 in a single season. That's not a career arc that you are going to see very often among humans who have not recreated themselves through pharmaceutical means.

Bonds set the career home run record (762) in 2007, the last year of his career. For me, given the circumstances of Bonds' record-breaking, the all-time home run leader remains Henry Aaron. Aaron was a baseball pioneer, who played through the hate mail and death threats he received on his way to overtaking Babe Ruth's career home run record. Aaron's dignity was as consistent as his performance at the plate.

The other question on Bonds is the one that is already occurring in other PED-related, high-profile cases: What about the Hall of Fame?

The argument in behalf of Bonds is that he could have been in the Hall of Fame based on what he did when he weighed 195 pounds, what he did before he changed body types. Whether this factor can carry him to Cooperstown is unknown, but he will fare better in the voting than, for instance, Mark McGwire.

And in fact in the early and mid-1990s, the debate on which player was baseball's greatest was an argument between Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. And then Griffey's career was sidetracked by injuries, while Bonds expanded -- physically and statistically -- in a way no other player before him had ever done at that stage of his career.

And this, for many fans of the game, is what has always been particularly troubling. Barry Bonds was a superb player, a wondrous talent, before he bulked up and turned into a different player. With his talent, no additional help should have been required. He could have been the same player he was with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s, and his greatness would have been indisputable and unquestioned. But that apparently was not enough for him.

The other lesson in this is that baseball players don't get into legal trouble for taking steroids. They get in trouble when they are under oath and they are asked about steroid use and they don't admit it. See the upcoming trial of Roger Clemens for more evidence of this phenomenon. When the topic is use of performance-enhancing drugs, being one of the biggest names in the business turns out to be insufficient cover. And that, in the interests of justice, is not a bad thing.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.