While most of our attention has been focused on such important topics as whether Belt and Trumbo are going to make their teams or who is going to end up the Yankees' fifth starter, a dark cloud in our silver lining rises into the sky with the beginning of the Barry Bonds trial. The timing by the federal government is either ironic or mean-spirited. The last thing we need before we start another baseball season is that ugliness occurring concurrently. But there it is. So far, it's simply been another story among all the others. Thankfully, it's remained less than center stage. But as much as we hate to admit it, this trial is huge. A player's legacy is at stake and perhaps a sport's dirty laundry will once again be manifest. The real question for you this morning is this: What happens if Barry Bonds is acquitted?
The gut feeling here is that he will be acquitted. The feds have been screwing up this case for years now. Why else has it taken this long to finally bring it to trial? Perhaps Bonds will be found guilty in the selling of bogus memorabilia (where the heck did that come from?), but it is doubtful with the burden of proof needed that the feds can win the perjury case. If the feds do win the perjury case, Bonds is doomed to asterisks and historical asides for the rest of time. He will be an ex-player not wanted in the sport that he dominated for more than twenty years. Bud Selig would likely ban him from baseball. And he would be correct in doing so. Perjury is a serious offense. But what if Bonds is acquitted?
The bulk of baseball fans and the multi-faceted media that feeds those fans have already convicted Barry Bonds. We don't know if he was on that 2003 list of players who failed a drug test. Would it be safe to assume he wasn't or the feds would be using that? But in any case, there was the Griffey story and the sudden home run production at an advanced baseball age and there was the change in his body and so on. Would an acquittal make much different for all of those who already assume he is guilty? Probably not. There are racial undertones that we'd rather not admit. There is Bonds and his abrasiveness in his personality that made him so hated among those outside of San Francisco. There is the fallout from his broken marriage and the troubles of his children. An acquittal will not make much difference in the court of public opinion.
But if he is acquitted, Major League Baseball has a problem. One of the problems is that baseball colluded to purge Bonds from the game. It seems easy to see that everyone was ordered not to sign him to freeze him out of the game. If Bonds wins his case, would he be then free to sue the game for such actions? That's just one problem an acquittal forces. But there are many others.
If Barry Bonds is acquitted, his baseball records will have to stand, at least until someone like Pujols breaks them. Bonds will have to be allowed to be a part of the major leagues and there will be no grounds to ban him from jobs in baseball or appearances for teams and ultimately, there can be no good reason for keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. Those are all problems for Bud Selig and the gang. It will be messy if Bonds is acquitted. A guilty verdict allows baseball to turn away from a convicted slugger. An acquittal means years of trying to handle the fallout of the era which he represents.
The Bonds trial is much more important to baseball than the Clemens trial. Clemens comes off as stupid and stubborn and his obtuseness will probably bring him down. Bonds has been cagier. Clemens did not break any records other than the 20 strikeouts in a game, a feat he performed the first time as a young man when it can be at least assumed he was clean. Clemens didn't break Cy Young's win total. But Bonds holds multiple records, including the most glamorous ones. If Bonds wins his case, those records will be a subject of debate for decades. If Bonds loses, then baseball at least has an out.
The Bonds trial has not been a back page story because we don't want to face it. We really don't want to talk about it and we want it to go away. But the stakes are very high here and this is a gigantic story. If Bonds loses his case, we will all feel some justification in our hatred of the man. But if he wins, we have a problem. And that problem won't go away for a long, long time.