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July 22, 2006

Prospectus Today

On Not Being Indicted

by Joe Sheehan

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I don't want to spend too much time on this, but I found the coverage of Thursday's non-indictment of Barry Bonds to be amusing. The disappointment in the outcome of the grand jury was palpable, as if the government had let down the media by declining to join them in accusing Bonds of perjury, steroid use, arrogance, being difficult with reporters and halitosis.

What was lacking-in no small part because it was announced that a second grand jury was coming, because god forbid the government not keep this media opp alive-was a reconsideration of the established meme that Bonds is obviously guilty. We were kicking this around on e-mail about a week ago, and someone threw out the line that a competent attorney could get a ham sandwich indicted. The consensus, up to the actual announcement, was that Bonds was going to get indicted, and the discussion occurred in that context: would Bud Selig suspend Bonds, if he did what would the next steps be, etc.

Well, Bonds apparently is less indictable than lunch. The grand jury closed without indicting Bonds, and for some reason, this doesn't appear to have fazed anyone at all. Where is the reflection on what this says about Bonds' testimony in the BALCO case, or the charges levied throughout Book of Shadows? I'm not arguing that Bonds is innocent; I'm saying that the lack of an indictment is a significant piece of information that needs to be factored into the discussion.

This is comparable to the reaction to the leaked BALCO grand jury testimony. The parts of the testimony that supported the idea that steroid use was widespread in baseball, and that Bonds was a cheater, were given the weight of Grand Jury Testimony. But other parts-for example, Bonds' statements that he used creamy and clear substances for only a brief period of time, and that he did not know their legality-were dismissed as falsehoods. That dichotomy has driven the public discussion since that day; the grand jury opened the door to all of what has followed, yet Bonds' statements were the only ones considered not credible.

We've reached a point on this where the coverage of Bonds and the various issues related to him is just a feedback loop. The media reports that Bonds is a bad guy who did bad things, the public then thinks of him as a bad guy who does bad things, a poll confirms that the media's message is reaching the public ("Is Barry Bonds a bad guy who does bad things?" "Yes: 71%, No: 16%, How did you get this number?: 13%"), which the media uses to continue reporting that Bonds is a bad guy who does bad things.

Seriously, is anyone tired? More to the point, is anyone learning anything? I forget where I read it, but someone noted that there was a large pool of reporters surrounding Bonds after a recent Giants game, while few were talking the Giants who had been important during the game or to manager Felipe Alou. The conclusion was reached that the Giants would find it very difficult to contend because of the distraction of Bonds.

But is Bonds the distraction, or is the media? Bonds is trying to do his job, and by most measures, he's doing it pretty well. Despite a broken-down body, he's among the league leaders in OBP and OPS, and he's played more-in 77 games, on pace for about 140-than anyone would have expected. His defense appears to be below average, although he's shown some speed in bursts when needed. Clay Davenport's figures have him right around average, actually. He's incredibly important to the Giants, whose offense just doesn't work without him in it.

If the media collectively accepted that Bonds isn't going to be forthcoming about off-field issues and either treated him like a baseball player or ignored him, the distraction would go away. Bonds isn't the problem here; he's just trying to do his job. The problem is that "poking the bear" has become this accepted game for the media, giving them a chance to run more clips of Bonds not answering their questions-his true crime-and reinforcing the "bad guy who does bad things" notion. I imagine that it is quite a distraction to have a crapload of reporters in your clubhouse asking questions of the one guy in the room least likely to answer them, but that's not Bonds being a distraction-it's the media creating one, to no good end. The large pool of reporters asking Bonds questions isn't actually going to generate any news, so when does a sense of decorum set in? When does someone say, "enough!" about a process that isn't designed to do anything but make one man look bad?

--

There's a lot going on right now, from the complete reworking of the AL wild-card race to the emergence of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Stephen Drew era to the Tigers making a statement about their abilities to the beginning of trade season. I've been on the road this week, but will tackle all of this and more when I get back on Monday.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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