Disclaimer: the following is not based on any insider info. We’ll save the insider discussions for Will, Joe and Kevin, our folks on the ground in Orlando.
Instead, I’m sitting here in Chicago, trying to figure out how to get the temperature in my apartment above 62 degrees without lighting something on fire, and trying to figure out why the market is similarly tepid on Barry Bonds. And the conclusion I’m coming to is as follows: the collective wisdom of major league baseball is that Barry Bonds may go to jail.
For a long time now, people have been focused on the on-field implications of Bonds’ steroids use: how many home runs would Bonds have hit if he wasn’t juicing? They’ve also been focused on the moral implications: does Bonds belong in the Hall of Fame? Are his sins greater than Gaylord Perry’s? Than Pete Rose’s?
What people haven’t been very focused on are the legal implications. But, as BP alum and attorney Keith Scherer pointed out in August, the chance of Bonds going to jail at some point in the next year is non-trivial. In fact, it’s pretty strong. A grand jury is something very, very serious. Greg Anderson was just sent back to jail. And the government’s case against Bonds is fairly substantive, at least in Keith’s opinion.
How else do you explain the lack of traction that Bonds has seen — and the unusually candid chorus of “no”s from major league GMs who have been quizzed about pursuing him? Yes, perhaps there are incentives to stay mum if you really are interested in Barry Bonds, like the risk of a talk radio backlash in your local market. At the same time, we’re talking about one of the fifteen or twenty best players in baseball, who won’t be asking for more than one year, and who can probably be had for a substantial discount at a time when most free agents are earning substantially above market rate.
As Dan Rosenheck pointed out in the New York Times this Sunday, while there might be some negative externalities associated with signing Barry Bonds — creating a clubhouse circus or what have you — there are also some positive ones: your stadium will be 100% full as he nears 755. Hell, you could get a pretty good return on your Bond investment simply by charging for the media buffet, what with the swarm of coverage that will surround his season. While there’s perhaps no recent parallel to Bonds in baseball — Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro were blackballed, but only after they’d quit hitting — the cases of Terrell Owens and Latrell Sprewell suggest that economic incentives usually prevail if the concern is limited to a player’s poor public image.
So it looks to me like there’s “something else” here, and that “something else” is the prospect of Bonds going to jail. If you’re thinking about signing Barry Bonds, the first person you talk to isn’t Bonds or your owner or Jeff Borris — it’s your team’s attorney.