Correction to This Article
The Sports column incorrectly said that the pitcher who gave up Barry Bonds's record-breaking 756th home run was a steroid user in the minor leagues. The pitcher who gave up Bonds's 755th home run, Clay Hensley of the San Diego Padres, was suspended for 15 games in the minor leagues for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Giant Catch for Feds

By Michael Wilbon
Friday, November 16, 2007

The possibility that federal prosecutors could take down Barry Bonds at any moment hovered like a giant storm cloud over the summer of 2007. It's why Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig never wanted to get too close to Bonds during his pursuit of Hank Aaron's career home run record. It's why Selig and other baseball officials didn't want syrupy ceremonies and grand proclamations about Bonds becoming the official home run king.

Bonds continued to declare his innocence, and the Feds kept on investigating. It didn't matter that journeyman ballplayers tested positive for steroids or HGH. It didn't matter that the very pitcher who gave up historic No. 755 to Bonds had been a steroid user himself in the minor leagues; Bonds was the Big Fish in the Balco grand jury investigation, bigger even than Marion Jones. Occasionally, baseball people shuddered and wondered, "What if?"

They don't have to wonder anymore. Bonds was indicted yesterday on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, which means the Feds got their Big Fish and baseball could be entering its darkest days in many decades.

Jones, a vehement denier just like Bonds, confessed it all when the Feds knew they could prove her a liar. She gave back her Olympic medals, said her records should be stricken from the books. Now, the Feds have Bonds in a similar hammerlock, alleging he lied under oath to the grand jury.

Yes, these are allegations, but not from some small-time prosecutor trying to win reelection. The Feds have a 95 percent success rate when they hand out indictments, and if you think Bonds is going to stonewall and stare and bully his way through this as he has moved through most of his adult life, ask Michael Vick how well that strategy works.

One of the most common questions being asked yesterday immediately after the announcement was, "Why did it take so long?"

The answer is simple: They wanted to be certain they had the goods. They wanted to be certain they could go into a courtroom with Bonds and prove at trial he knowingly took steroids.

If the Feds are successful, Bonds's records -- all of them -- will carry some kind of notation that expresses the most extreme skepticism, the kind that Hall of Famers Aaron and Frank Robinson expressed privately for years. Bonds isn't the only one, but he's No. 1 and unquestionably will be the face of baseball's scandalous steroid era, a period of about 15 years that will stand as perhaps the sport's greatest embarrassment since Pete Rose and his sleazy gambling.

It will be difficult to look at any of the era's records, from Mark McGwire's 70 home runs to Sammy Sosa's three seasons of 60 or more home runs to Bonds's 762, and not think first about cheating, about men who took substances illegal in the United States to work out at superhuman levels that would allow them to become stronger, stay healthier, hit balls harder and farther than men ever could before. And there are those who believe other big names are coming, some through baseball's investigation conducted by former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell.

Guilty or not guilty, Bonds is done playing baseball at the major league level. It's a good thing for Bonds that he hit No. 756 this past season because he took his last big league swing in September. Even a successful courtroom fight would taint him; consider the discovery process and all it would reveal about Bonds -- about steroids and tax evasion, shady trainers and the seedy underside of acquiring illegal substances, about God knows what else.

And if he is found guilty or strikes a plea deal, why would anybody touch a cheater in his mid-40s who has been found, essentially, to have lied to law enforcement officials and to have lied repeatedly and belligerently to the general public. His records, like those of Jones, might be nullified.

Any discussion of Bonds and his place in history, if he's guilty, will have to be radically adjusted. What will the Hall of Fame voters do now? Leave him out for a while? Forever? What happens to his home run numbers? Should they be vacated? Noted with an asterisk?

If guilty, Bonds will be the most egregious and high-profile steroid user in baseball, but hardly the only one. He may forever be the face of the steroid era, but it would be wrong to deal with Bonds without the greater context. Whatever is done to him should be done to everyone.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company