By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 18, 2006; E01
Major League Baseball is exploring its options for punishing embattled slugger Barry Bonds in the event the San Francisco Giants superstar is indicted by a federal grand jury -- even though an indictment would not be a finding of guilt -- while the players' union is girding for a potential fight over such an action, according to sources on both sides.
A federal grand jury in San Francisco investigating potential tax evasion, money laundering and perjury charges against Bonds is set to expire by the end of the month, an assistant to Michael Rains, Bonds's defense lawyer, said yesterday, and there has been widespread speculation it could reach a decision as early as Thursday.
There has been no official word that an indictment is coming, but Bonds's defense team, Major League Baseball and the union are preparing in the event there is one.
The Giants conclude a 10-game homestand on Sunday, then begin a six-game trip July 25 at RFK Stadium against the Washington Nationals. At this point, there is no reason to think Bonds, who turns 42 on Monday, would not be in uniform for those games. However, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig appears to be weighing the possibility of suspending Bonds if an indictment is handed down, despite the lack of any precedent in that regard.
Selig has declined to comment publicly on the Bonds matter, saying last week: "I'm not going to guess anymore [about an outcome]. I'm saddened by the whole thing but I'm not going to make any judgments until" something happens.
However, according to a person with knowledge of MLB's discussions regarding Bonds, Selig believes he may be empowered by baseball's collective bargaining agreement to suspend him. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the indictment remains hypothetical.
The agreement also provides for a grievance process -- the outcome of which would be decided by an arbitrator -- should the player dispute the penalty. Bonds, with the union's backing, almost certainly would file a grievance in this case, according to a source familiar with the union's discussions.
"I think it would be very difficult to get an arbitrator to uphold anything the commissioner tried to do" to punish Bonds, former commissioner Fay Vincent said in a telephone interview yesterday. "That's why it is generally not done until and unless there is a conviction."
The union did not fight the 50-game suspension Selig gave to former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley last month when Grimsley admitted using steroids, amphetamines and human growth hormone to federal investigators, but that was because Grimsley already had asked for his release from the Diamondbacks, and because, unlike Bonds, Grimsley admitted using banned substances.
Bonds, a seven-time National League most valuable player, has never admitted knowingly using banned substances. In December 2003, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, he testified before another grand jury investigating the BALCO steroids ring that he used substances later determined to be steroids, but did not know what the substances were at the time. One of the men convicted in the BALCO case, longtime Bonds personal trainer Greg Anderson, currently is in jail for refusing to testify before the grand jury investigating Bonds.
The perjury charge currently being considered against Bonds reportedly would be for lying under oath about steroid use to the BALCO grand jury and to federal investigators who interviewed Bonds during the BALCO investigation. A perjury conviction carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
The tax-evasion and money-laundering probes revolve around money Bonds allegedly earned from the sale of baseball memorabilia, including cash allegedly given secretly to a girlfriend, Kimberly Bell.
No precedent is known to exist for an athlete to be suspended successfully following an indictment.
In 1980, baseball attempted to suspend Texas Rangers pitcher Ferguson Jenkins following a drug-possession arrest in Canada. But upon appeal, an arbitrator overturned the suspension, ruling, among other things, that a player could not be punished for an arrest on an offense that does not affect the workplace.
However, baseball officials believe the Jenkins precedent would not necessarily apply to Bonds's case because steroid use does fundamentally affect baseball's workplace.
Bonds hit his 721st career home run Sunday in the Giants' loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, putting him 34 behind the career record held by Hank Aaron. There are some who believe baseball's zeal in taking action against Bonds is in direct proportion to Bonds's zeal in going after Aaron's record.
"If it looks like he'll walk away peacefully [without breaking Aaron's record], they might back off," said one source involved in the discussions regarding Bonds. "If not, they're going to keep going after him until he does."