Not since the notorious fixing of the 1919 World Series in the so-called “Black Sox” scandal has Major League Baseball had its reputation sullied as much as it has by the revelations of players’ use of performance-enhancing steroids — a different sort of cheating.
Last week, at the end of one of the most sensational trials in an almost seven-year probe, one of the game’s former superstars, Barry Bonds, listened to a federal jury return a verdict of guilty of obstruction of justice by impeding a grand jury investigation.
Yet in finding that the home run king gave an evasive answer under oath, the jury did not agree that he had knowingly lied about using steroids; jurors deadlocked on three charges that explicitly dealt with lying. This seeming contradiction could cause the verdict to get overturned on appeal.
That a trial about steroid use should bring a conviction that was not related directly to the core allegation leaves a confused moral to this story. Outside the courtroom, a fan asked the slugger whether he intended to celebrate that night. “There’s nothing to celebrate,” Bonds replied.
This straightforward answer was the truth. Neither the verdict nor the evidence amounted to an exoneration for the defendant, any more than the confused outcome was a vindication of the prosecution. A grubby asterisk still attaches to Bonds’ legacy as a player.
Barry Bonds set some of the greatest records in baseball history: most home runs in a season (73) and a career (762). This trial did not purge the suspicion that clings to these marks like pine tar.