Barry Bonds is just 65 hits away from 3,000, another majestic milestone he is desperate to reach. He is 38 homers shy of 800, a mind-numbing total. This summer, when asked if he would retire after topping Hank Aaron on the all-time home run list, Bonds was clear.
"I'm not going to reevaluate it," he said. "I'm playing."
Now that the federal government has indicted Bonds for perjury and obstruction of justice, charging him with lying to a grand jury when he said he unknowingly used steroids, the next time we see Barry Bonds in a uniform, he might be wearing an orange jump suit.
Entering this off-season, Bonds, 43, faced a daunting challenge. The San Francisco Giants finally cut ties with him, and what other team would sign an aging, surly slugger who also breaks records for bad publicity? That should barely stress Bonds now. After all, he faces up to 30 years in prison if he's convicted on all four counts of perjury, plus the obstruction charge. For years, Bonds has pointed out that he has never tested positive for steroids. Yet the indictment states that investigators have found "positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances for Bonds and other professional athletes." His first court date is set for December 7. Bonds' lawyer, Michael Rains, called the charges "ridiculous." "Every American should worry about a Justice Department that doesn't know if waterboarding is torture and can't tell the difference between prosecution on the one hand and persecution on the other," he said in a statement.
Since Bonds might be the world's most stubborn superstar, however, he may well stick by his "I'm playing" pledge. Forget about the indictment. Forget about fact that he has nothing left to prove, that he might be the greatest hitter of all time, in spite of the steroid allegations. And that he's made more than enough money to pay his legal bills. No, Bonds knows that if he just stepped aside and fought his trial, too many people, like commissioner Bud Selig, would rejoice. So he'll try to stay.
But Bonds faced a tepid market for his services even before his indictment. What sane general manager would want him now? "When you look at his age and what he is facing related to the indictment, I seriously doubt that Barry Bonds will ever play again," says former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Fred Claire. "It's a sad way for a career of great accomplishments to come to an end."
"I wouldn't sign him," says Don Slaught, a former teammate of Bonds with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and batting coach for the American League-champion Detroit Tigers in 2006. "It would just cause too many distractions for my team."
Slaught, however, doesn't rule out the possibility of some team taking a chance on Bonds. He is still a powerful hitter with insane plate discipline, which will tempt GMs to offer him a deal. In 2007, he slugged 28 home runs and led the National League in on-base percentage for the 10th time. His finished sixth in OPS on-base plus slugging percentage a favorite stat among the number-crunching set. (When reached by TIME, Mr. Moneyball himself, Oakland general manager Billy Beane, declined to comment on Bonds.) Now that Alex Rodriguez has reunited with the New York Yankees, this year's free agent class is even weaker, giving Bonds a bit of leverage. A small-market team that does nothing but lose, such as the Kansas City Royals or Tampa Bay Devil Rays, could sign him to draw a few more fans to their somber stadiums.
But woe to any team that takes the Bonds bait. It's bad enough we'll have to suffer through his trial, unless he takes an unexpected plea. Do we also want to see him sitting in a San Francisco courtroom by day, and catching a charter to a game by night, a la Kobe Bryant during his 2004 rape case? (The charges against Bryant were later dismissed.) Of course not. And if that kind of spectacle drives fans crazy, imagine how it could destroy a clubhouse. Even for a dreadful team like the Devil Rays, that's a lot to lose.
So bye-bye, Barry. We've seen your last McCovey Cove moonshot. See you in court.