Bonds' destiny is now linked to Charlie Hustle and Shoeless Joe

Special to The Times

In the big picture, a federal grand jury's indictment of Barry Bonds has now underscored the lie that was baseball's steroid era, and the Mitchell report is still to come.

If you can't tell the players without a scorecard, the soon-to-be-released report by former Sen. George Mitchell regarding his investigation into steroid use in baseball may fill the void by possibly naming names -- and more, perhaps, than have already been linked to substance use.

Of course, the biggest (check his cap size, among other measurements) of those names is Bonds, and now -- only three months after passing Hank Aaron and elevating baseball's hallowed home run record to 762 -- there are a couple of other numbers that will dictate where the renowned free agent goes from here.

He has been indicted on four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice by that federal grand jury in San Francisco, concluding basically that Bonds lied when testifying he did not knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs.

That, of course, has been his mantra (on those few occasions when he talked publicly about the steroid allegations and suspicions) throughout the home run onslaught that included a single-season record 73 in 2001 and which he generated at an age and point in his career when many athletes are relegated to the first tee rather than the batter's box.

Of course, beginning to a large extent with the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase of 1998 -- which is believed to have stoked Bonds' envy and prompted him to rebuild and re-stoke physically and pharmacologically -- baseball experienced a pre-testing era in which the use of steroids

and other performance-enhancing substances -- and the Mitchell report should provide additional

confirmation -- was rampant.

Bonds became the poster boy as owners turned their heads amid the whirl of turnstiles, the players' union argued privacy at the expense of those players who did not cheat, and reporters generally made no effort to confirm the validity of what they were watching.

It was shameful on many fronts -- and still is, considering there is no testing for the elusive human growth hormone -- and now the poster boy, the Sultan of Shame, faces a possible purgatory far beyond that in which baseball houses Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

The indictment is only an allegation, but the charges are serious (check Scooter Libby). Bonds could face a multiyear prison sentence, the threat alone enough to scare off any free-agent suitors, although it is too early to know if the Washington Wild Things of the independent Frontier League will withdraw their recent offer of $1,200 a month and a split of merchandise sales.

It is unclear why the grand jury required four years from the time Bonds testified in 2003 to come to a conclusion that most observers familiar with his new physique and power had long since reached, but this much is certain:

No matter how a criminal trial plays out, assuming it goes to trial, Bonds is fated to join Rose (suspended from baseball and Hall of Fame consideration for betting on baseball while manager of the Cincinnati Reds) and Jackson (suspended similarly in response to the 1919 Black Sox scandal) in a measure of baseball infamy -- no relation to integrity.

A tremendous player and Hall of Fame candidate before remaking his career in the chemical lab, Bonds and steroids will be forever linked in baseball lore, and I now tend to believe that some type of boldface footnote, notation or asterisk should be placed on his accomplishments, the entire era denoted by italics, so that future generations will become familiar with the skepticism and deception surrounding it.

In charging perjury and obstruction, the Bonds indictment -- a culmination of the government's widespread steroids investigation that began with a 2003 raid on the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, a steroids clearinghouse in Burlingame, Calif. -- also cites evidence of positive steroid tests for Bonds, among other athletes.

The final footnote has yet to be written, but that alone is not a bad place to start.

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