Even If Bonds Lied, Prison’s Too Harsh

By Tim Kawakami
Updated: April 17, 2006

LOS ANGELES — Free Barry Bonds! Wait, I know. That’s a little premature and surprising, coming from the least likely candidate to support and supply the Steroid-User/Possible-Perjurer Defense Fund.

But take a deep breath as the feds circle Bonds. Read the book, think about the totality of the Balco investigation and Bonds’ targeted role in it and stare into the murky depths of Bonds’ torched reputation.

Even if Bonds probably lied about a material fact to a federal grand jury in December 2003, and even if another grand jury is contemplating a perjury indictment, can you say that Bonds should be indicted, prosecuted and possibly imprisoned for it?

No, he should not.

There is a line between fair prosecution and overzealousness, and this crosses it, though I sincerely hope that the government agents involved don’t merge this column with my tax return. (All hail the IRS!)

I’ll say it again: Barry Lamar Bonds does not deserve to face prison time for this, doesn’t deserve to be indicted, arrested or forced through a humiliating “perp walk” for the benefit of the federal publicity machine.

If he lied to a grand jury, that’s wrong, obviously. But remember, Bonds and all of the athletes summoned to the grand jury reportedly were granted immunity by the feds for their testimony.

Bonds could’ve yammered for hours about his knowing steroid use with Balco, every last illegal bit of it, and would not have gotten into further trouble.

Jason Giambi reportedly admitted his steroid use. So did Gary Sheffield (sort of), Armando Rios and others.

But perhaps Bonds was too guarded and too stubborn to admit to it. He wasn’t Rios, who could admit it and fade into the gray text of this case. He was Bonds, the big fish.

So he reportedly said he might’ve taken the cream and the clear but he didn’t know what the substances were when he took them. His former girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, probably testified differently. Arthur Ting, Bonds’ personal physician, was summoned to the grand jury recently.

Still, if Bonds has committed steroid sins, they have been mainly baseball sins, so he should face punishment no greater than what baseball itself can pronounce.

Now, there may be tax-evasion or other issues raised in the future, and those are different. If you know about Al Capone, you know about those tricky issues. But this argument is strictly about the perjury investigation and the circumstances around it.

Excuse me for bringing politics into it, but let’s use the Bill Clinton example here: If Bonds lied, it probably wasn’t about the material essence of this case — it wasn’t about Balco’s role in spreading steroid cocktails throughout the international sports world.

If Bonds lied, it probably was only about himself and his motivations, because he thought he was being set up, like Clinton. Lied out of vanity, like Clinton. And, possibly, out of habit. Also, possibly, like Clinton.

To try to exact the most severe punishment for Bonds, as in the Clinton case, smells like the fulfillment of a pre-set agenda.

Bonds should be investigated by baseball for use of performance-enhancing drugs, and that’s happening. Bonds’ reputation should be lessened and tarnished, and it is. He should be grilled, booed and rebuked. If he disappears during this season, injured and listless, that’s his own decision and not many will cry about it.

I’ve argued that an asterisk should be placed on his 1999-2002 numbers. I’ve advocated vacating all of those statistics. I think he’s self-pitying, selfish and arrogant.

But Victor Conte Jr., the man at the center of the illegalities, pleaded out and received four months in prison. Only the agenda keeps Bonds on the feds’ front burner, alone.

In a similar case in 2003, when Chris Webber pleaded guilty for lying to a federal grand jury, Webber’s charge was reduced to a lesser charge of contempt and he paid a $100,000 fine and was placed on two years’ probation.

The feds are more tightly focused on Bonds, of course. Bonds knew it, he was touchy about it, and he possibly lied to a grand jury, though he had more to lose by lying than by telling the truth.

Anyone who has tried to interview him in the past 15 years has experienced this, including grand jurors in December 2003.

But unless they start putting people in prison for being lifelong jerks, Bonds should remain free.