Bond’s last big at-bat


It’s not exactly the O.J. trial, but the courtroom circus that started Monday in San Francisco could be labeled the Steroid Trial of the Century. And regardless of its outcome, it should send a powerful message to athletes young and old that taking performance-enhancing drugs isn’t worth the risk.

On the docket is Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants slugger who broke Major League Baseball’s home run record in 2007. He is charged with lying under oath when he told a grand jury in 2003 that he had never knowingly used steroids. Although he is just one of many athletes in a number of sports caught up in a national scandal over steroids, Bonds is the highest-profile and probably the most widely disliked one, thanks to a reputation for irascibility.

Convicting Bonds will by no means be easy, especially because the strongest evidence against him has been ruled inadmissible in court. He apparently tested positive for steroids three times between 2000 and 2002, but prosecutors can’t prove that the blood and urine samples tested actually came from Bonds because they were delivered to a private Bay Area lab by Bonds’ former trainer, Greg Anderson, who has refused to testify against the slugger and served nearly two years in prison for contempt as a result.


But that doesn’t mean Bonds is in for an enjoyable time; in fact, so humiliating is the trial expected to be that his refusal to cop a plea seems puzzling. A national audience will hear about Bonds’ sexual failings from his former girlfriend, one-time Playboy model Kimberly Bell, who is expected to testify that even as Bonds’ head, muscles and hitting statistics swelled when he started taking performance-enhancing drugs in 2000, his testicles atrophied. Meanwhile, to counter prosecution evidence that Bonds became more aggressive and temperamental after 2000, the defense is expected to dig out newspaper clips and other evidence to show that Bonds was a complete jerk long before he allegedly began taking the steroids.

Some speculate that Bonds won’t make a plea deal because he has so little to lose from a conviction. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, who is presiding over the case, earlier sentenced two other sports figures who lied under oath about steroids — cyclist Tammy Thomas and track coach Trevor Graham — to house arrest following their convictions. A conviction would probably cost Bonds no more than a few months stuck in his luxurious Beverly Hills villa.

Yet it’s hard to imagine how any pro athlete, or any high school kid aspiring to be one, could look at Bonds’ public disgrace and decide that taking steroids would be a good idea. Cheating doesn’t just shrink sexual organs; it ravages reputations.