Just A Tip Of The Iceburg??

By John Shea
Updated: November 16, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Bonds might never get booed again. That is, if his playing career is over in the wake of Thursday’s indictment.

Major League Baseball, however, must carry on – under a cloud that’s darker than ever now that its home run king faces charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

“There has been massive cheating by perhaps hundreds of players over the last 10 or 15 years. It’s the biggest scandal in the history of baseball, and Barry Bonds is just one piece of it,” former Commissioner Fay Vincent said in a Thursday phone interview.

“The problem has been enormous, and I think the Mitchell report will be devastating and a substantial blow.”

Former Sen. George Mitchell will soon release the findings of his 20-month investigation into baseball players’ use of steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Commissioner Bud Selig hired Mitchell in March 2006 to lead the investigation following the release of “Game of Shadows,” the book by two Chronicle reporters detailing Bonds’ and other athletes’ steroid past.

Vincent, who participated in the Pete Rose investigation — which led to Rose’s lifetime ban for betting on baseball games — suggested he doesn’t believe the Mitchell report will be affected much by Bonds’ indictment, saying, “I think the Mitchell report is pretty much wrapped up.”

Mitchell’s probe involved more than BALCO, the Burlingame lab that was a source of illegal performance-enhancing drugs for Bonds, Jason Giambi and other players.

It also involved former Mets batboy Kirk Radomski’s admission that he provided performance-enhancing drugs to dozens of big leaguers between 1995 and 2005 and a drug distribution ring under investigation by the Albany County, N.Y., district attorney’s office.

The Chronicle recently reported Indians pitcher Paul Byrd purchased nearly $25,000 worth of human growth hormone from a Florida clinic, ex-Giant Matt Williams bought HGH, steroids and other drugs in 2002, when he played for the Diamondbacks, and outfielder Jose Guillen, as a member of the A’s, had performance-enhancing drugs sent to him at the Coliseum.

Though Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco along with less well-known players admitted or were accused of or busted for steroid use, the poster child of the steroid era remains Bonds, and Thursday’s indictment cemented his image as a player who used drugs to bulk up and break the single-season and all-time home run records.

“It’s not good to be Barry Bonds right now,” Padres general manager Kevin Towers said. “It’s probably not the best thing to happen to you when you’re a free agent.”

Bonds declared free agency after 15 years with the Giants, who announced in September they had no interest in bringing him back. It was questionable whether Bonds would find an interested team before the indictment — no club had publicly said it would pursue the 43-year-old — and now it seems he’ll be spending more time in court than on the field.

Vincent predicted Bonds eventually will admit guilt.

“He will tell the truth but probably 10 or 15 years down the road, like Rose,” Vincent said. “There will be a time.”

Selig issued a statement, saying, “I take this indictment very seriously and will follow its progress closely. It is important that the facts regarding steroid use in baseball be known, which is why I asked Senator Mitchell to investigate the issue. I look forward to receiving his report and findings so that we can openly address any issue associated with past steroid use.”

Selig is a longtime friend of Hank Aaron, whose career record Bonds broke, and showed his discomfort with Bonds’ pursuit of the record while in San Diego for Bonds’ 755th homer, which tied Aaron. As Bonds rounded the bases, Selig stood with his hands in his pockets.

Donald Fehr, head of the players’ union, said he was “saddened” by the indictment but added, “Every defendant, including Barry Bonds, is entitled to the presumption of innocence unless and until such time as he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Hall of Fame didn’t comment on how the indictment will affect Bonds’ chances for enshrinement.

“We don’t elect. We induct,” said Jeff Idelson, vice president of communications at the Cooperstown museum. “It’s really a question for the voters.”

The vote is conducted by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and 75 percent is required for induction. If Bonds’ career is over, he’d be eligible for election in 2013.

“If you ask me about the exhibit we have for Bonds breaking the record, we have no intention of dismantling or removing it,” Idelson said.

The exhibit, displayed behind glass, includes helmets worn by Bonds when hitting his 755th and 756th homers. Bonds donated both.

The exhibit also includes a game ball from Aug. 7, the day Bonds broke the record, signed by the Giants’ starting lineup and another signed by the opposing Washington Nationals’ lineup. Also, the hat worn by Mike Bacsik, the pitcher who gave up No. 756.

“Our modus operandi is to present the game as it’s presented on the field, and our visitors interpret it as they like,” Idelson said.

The Hall still would accept the record-breaking ball with an asterisk on it, Idelson said. Fashion designer Marc Ecko purchased the ball and asked fans to vote for its fate, and they voted to mark it with an asterisk – suggesting the record is tainted – and send it to Cooperstown.

Idelson said the Hall hasn’t received it.

As for why the Hall would display it, Idelson said, “Our preference was to have the ball donated unscathed. In this instance, we were looking past that because of its historical significance. It’s an important piece of baseball in American culture.”