baseball

On trial: Barry Bonds has been found guilty of obstructing justice in his trial in San Francisco Photo: AP

 

Until now, until the events at the U.S. District Courthouse in San Francisco played out the way they did Wednesday, it had been left to the Baseball Writers Association to serve as moralists and the sole purveyors of justice for all the steroid cheats who have irrevocably stained the game, by denying them entrance to the Hall of Fame.

But with Barry Bonds being convicted of the felony of obstructing justice in the federal investigation of steroid use in baseball, his fate from baseball's standpoint suddenly falls squarely into the commissioner's realm - assuming the commissioner chooses to view it that way.

For sure, there are some notable precedents of baseball people being convicted of felonies and finding themselves tossed out of the game by the commissioner.

Bud Selig could make this easy for everyone by citing those precedents and placing Bonds on baseball's permanent ineligible list.

Even if the verdict is tossed on appeal, Selig could make the case that Bonds' crime against baseball was the most egregious of all in that he obstructed justice in a case that directly involved the game and its integrity.

If that isn't grounds for permanently banning him, then what is?

Past commissioners have banned convicted felons from the game for a lot less.

In April of 1952, St. Louis Cardinals owner Fred Saigh was convicted in federal court of evading some $49,260 in income taxes from 1946-49.

He was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

But that wasn't enough for commissioner Ford Frick, who ordered Saigh to sell the Cardinals or face a permanent ban. Saigh opted for the former and sold the team to Anheuser-Busch.

Then in 1974, George Steinbrenner pleaded guilty to a single felony count of obstruction of justice for his role in funneling illegal campaign contributions to President Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal.

Although Steinbrenner's crime was committed before he bought the Yankees, commissioner Bowie Kuhn was nevertheless deeply troubled by the obstruction of justice count.

Steinbrenner was able to get off with a fine and no jail time, but Kuhn suspended him anyway.

That suspension was lifted by Kuhn after 15 months, but in 1990 Steinbrenner was tossed out of the game again, this time landing on the permanent ineligible list when he agreed to a lifetime ban from commissioner Fay Vincent after paying $40,000 to an admitted gambler in the Dave Winfield case.

Three years later, that ban was also lifted, but had it not been, Steinbrenner was looking at never being eligible for the Hall of Fame.

While Saigh, Steinbrenner and Rose were all active in baseball at the time of their banishments, there is also precedent for commissioners banning inactive baseball people.

In 1980 and '83, respectively, Kuhn handed down indefinite suspensions - at least until they changed employment - to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, two of the most revered figures in the game, after they had accepted jobs as greeters at Atlantic City casinos.

It is important to note that when commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Pete Rose for life in August of 1989 for having broken baseball's cardinal rule of betting, there was a gray area as to whether that extended to the Hall of Fame.

The Baseball Writers Association maintained it did not - that, when eligible, Rose would be placed on the ballot with voting members determining his worthiness for the Hall.

However, in February 1991, the Hall of Fame's board of directors, in what was said to be a unanimous vote, moved to usurp the baseball writers by declaring that the permanent ineligible list would include the Hall of Fame.

At the time, there were numerous cries of protest from the baseball writers at being deprived of deciding Rose's Hall of Fame fate.

We'll never know whether Rose's all-time best 4,526 hits would have eventually overridden his gambling crime in the eyes of the writers, but he remains a convicted felon for whom Selig has been unmoved when it comes to taking him off baseball's permanent ineligible list.

Meanwhile, in contrast to their outrage over being removed from the process in Rose's case, more and more writers in recent years have expressed their discomfort at having to play moralist in passing Hall of Fame judgment on admitted or suspected steroids cheats.

So far they've had no problem in denying Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, but two years down the road, when Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are all scheduled to arrive on the ballot, there figures to be a lot of anguish.

But now in Bonds' case - and likely Clemens' - there is an opportunity for Selig to give the writers an out by simply following precedent and banning these people from the game.

After all, if a jury can't find them innocent of these high crimes against baseball, why then should Selig look at them any differently than he does Pete Rose?

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