Barry Bonds Going (Jail)Yard?

In a federal indictment, just handed down, Barry Bonds has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for denying that he knowingly took illegal steroids. Surprising? Not really. Revelatory? Perhaps not, but for the media mayhem that will inevitably unfold in the latest act of this beleaguered play.

You won’t hear much new, or different. Bonds will be torn apart, his records questioned, his career asterixed. He faces up to 30 years if convicted. But lest you miss this on the ESPN or CNN crawl: in all of Barry’s years in Major League Baseball, he’s never tested positive for steroids. And even this indictment fails to directly charge him with taking the drugs; the evidence that links Bonds to illegal drugs is a doping calendar seized from the home of his former trainer (who was just released from prison today).

Plenty of ballplayers have tested positive recently, some of them playing the very same season. San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman was suspended at the beginning of last season, and he made the Pro Bowl. And as the testing system has ramped up, dozens of minor and major league players have tested positive, and though they’ve all been fined and suspended, none have lost more than Bonds has.

It’s easy to see why he’s so vilified:

He’s surly in public, standoffish with the media, and is a selfish teammate. Yet the love/hate of Bonds falls disturbingly along racial lines (The SF Chronicle‘s Scott Ostler had a great piece on this a couple years ago). Would Bonds be as vilified as he is if he was white? I don’t think so.

I’ve got a different reason for supporting Bonds all these years though. Back in middle school, a teammate and buddy of mine, Lee Franklin, was diagnosed with leukemia. When he couldn’t find a donor, Bonds helped him out, first by testing to see if he was a match, and when he found out he wasn’t, by raising awareness nationally to try to find a donor. It’s much more difficult for African Americans to find bone marrow matches, and as much as Bonds tried, he couldn’t find one for Lee. Luckily the cancer went into recession, and Lee and Bonds stayed close. Lee went on to play second base at the University of Arizona, but had to leave when the cancer came back. Lee died a year ago. So when Bonds gets blasted and dragged through the coals in these next few days, keep in mind that performance enhancers didn’t help his hand-eye coordination, his swing, or the fact that he tried to give Lee a fighting chance.

—Andre Sternberg