Indictment of Barry Bonds

Indictment of Barry Bonds


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The final scheme . . . on Selig’s part is one that has had the effect of driving African Americans

 out of the major leagues. . . .the trend to import large numbers of minor league players from

the Caribbean and Central and South America . . . has existed for decades, has become institutionalized.



Full disclosure: The Indictment of Barry Bonds

By J. Damu

The reason baseball calls itself a game is because it’s too screwed up to be a business.

— Jim Bouton, former MLB player and author of Ball Four

The charges of perjury and obstruction of justice contained in an indictment filed against baseball great Barry Bonds by Northern California’s federal prosecutor is the latest chapter in the most racist inspired campaign against an African American athlete since America tried but failed to run Muhammad Ali out of the boxing ring more than 40 years ago.

But it is more than that, and it is a far more complicated scenario than the one Ali confronted. In fact, measured against the history of baseball and the history of those who run Major League Baseball, the campaign against Bonds and the fraudulent “independent” investigation of steroid use launched by the owners appears to be really a campaign to absolve themselves of their complicity in the ever growing “drug scandal;” a scandal in which it is now said more than 150 baseball players are involved.

The campaign against Bonds also appears to be part of the MLB efforts to discredit the power of the baseball players union and to discourage African Americans from attempting to become MLB players.

Along with MLB owners, a key co-conspirator in the campaign against Bonds and the ballplayers is the U.S. Congress.

Baseball’s special commission to investigate the use of performance enhancing drugs drew fire from the moment MLB commissioner “Bud” Selig named former Senate majority leader George Mitchell to be its head.

John Dowd, the Washington attorney who headed the investigation of Pete Rose’s gambling activities in the late 1980’s that resulted in Rose’s lifetime suspension from baseball said, “Mitchell doesn’t have a great track record with me. It doesn’t look like he’s independent.”

Mitchell was anything but independent of MLB. At the time the commission was organized Mitchell was a part owner of the Boston Red Sox and chairman of the Walt Disney Corp. that owned ESPN, the 24 hours sports cable channel. As early as 1996 ESPN signed a $440 million contract with MLB to broadcast major league games.

Furthermore, Dowd said, “I believe Mitchell was named to head the commission in order to cage Congress.” In other words Mitchell’s role was to involve Congress in the investigation, which is ultimately what happened and what led to the federal investigation of the Balco enterprise and why Bonds now stands indicted.

Balco was the south San Francisco firm that manufactured performance enhancing drugs and sold them to numerous athletes.

In his testimony to the grand jury Bonds said he never “knowingly” took performance enhancing drugs.

In an e-mail exchange, San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Ray Ratto said, “This isn’t even about drugs–this is about allegedly lying to a grand jury after being offered immunity. The feds always play hard when they think they’ve been played.”

Well yes and no. Technically the indictment is about alleged lies to the grand jury, but in everyday life the indictment is about racism and why some are singled out to pay the price for everybody and others go unnoticed.

As Dave Stewart, the former Oakland A’s pitcher said, “People keep talking about how he (Bonds) is not supposed to be hitting homers and doing phenomenal things because he’s 40 plus. Well (7 time Cy Young award winner Roger) Clemens is 40 plus and nobody even brings his name up. Is it because one is Black and the other is white?”

Stewart was a perennial 20 game winner during the height of the Oakland A’s era of dominance and spent his entire playing career preparing himself to become a general manager for MLB. When he retired and attempted to get a front office job he was never offered a position to anything higher than basically making coffee for the Toronto Blue Jays administrators. Today he is a sports agent.

It is a near universally held belief that the modern era of major league baseball began with Jackie Robinson, the first African American to be ushered onto the previously all white playing fields of MLB.

In truth, however, the modern era of baseball began with Barry Bonds; even before he could pick up a Louisville Slugger.

First a little background.

“It’s as American as baseball and apple pie,” is an adage most of us have grown up with, and for good reason. Baseball is inextricably woven within the fabric of U.S. history.

For instance, though many are under the impression Abner Doubleday invented baseball after watching soldiers play during the Civil War; in fact a form of baseball was played during the Revolutionary War, and Alexander Cartwright laid down the basic rules and dimensions of the game in 1845.

In 1875 Chicago newspapers reported that the same day, June 25, the Chicago White Sox defeated the Cincinnati Reds 3-2, the 7th  Cavalry, under the dubious and inept leadership of one Lt. Col. George A. Custer, had been massacred at the Little Big Horn River in the Dakota Territory.

So it’s obvious baseball has indeed a long, long history in the U.S. but a long, long history of racism as well. In fact the Cincinnati Reds were the first fully professional sports franchise in the U.S., founded in 1869. But the Reds didn’t hire its first African American manager, Dusty Baker until October, 2007!

Enough of baseball’s pre-historic history.

What’s relevant to our discussion is this.

In the Friday, Nov. 16, 2007 edition of the Oakland Tribune that heralded the indictment of Bonds, sports columnist Monte Poole quoted MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

On Thursday, Nov.15, the very day Bonds’ indictment was announced, Selig, bragging of MLB’s $6.75 billion revenue, said to the Associated Press, “As I told the clubs today, we’re on a high here.”

“We started out at $1.2 billion,” he continued, “and I can remember waking up in ’93 and ’94 and ’95 and thinking, ‘How are we ever going to get to $2 billion?’ So here we are at 6 billion, 75 million. and if we just keep doing our work, stay out of controversies, keep the focus on the field, we’ll get to numbers someday that are stunning. And these are stunning (numbers).”

What is the real meaning behind Selig’s musings on MLB revenues, why would he lay awake at night worrying about baseball revenues and what does all that have to do with Bonds? 


In the history of MLB there have been eight strikes or lockouts; the last one occurring in 1994 that resulted in the cancellation of all post season play and the World Series, the first time that had happened in 90 years.

But the real tension in MLB occurred in 1968 when baseball owners were forced to sign a collective bargaining agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Assn. Since then that union has become one of the most militant and powerful unions in the US.

In the mid-1960’s Marvin Miller, a former official with the steelworkers union, who had been hired by the ballplayers to organize themselves, made a whistle stop tour of all the major league franchises to convince the skeptical players to support the union.

When Miller made his pitch to the San Francisco Giants, a poignant moment occurred that provided the owners a grim picture (from their point of view) of the future.

Just as Miller was in the middle of his speech, a little kid, still just a toddler, darted among the players laughing and making a scene.

In recounting this incident in his book A Whole Different Ballgame, Miller wrote that he hesitated for moment then regathered his thoughts. He pointed to the to the child and said in effect, that if all the players supported the efforts to build the union, by the time that little kid is in the major leagues he could earn as much as several hundred thousand dollars a year. The players gasped in disbelief.

The child was the two year old son of Giants right fielder Bobby Bonds. His name was Barry.

The minimum baseball salary then was just $6,000 per year. Consider that in the 1870’s a skilled baseball player could earn $4,500. Clearly between 1875 and 1966 the earning power of baseball players had gone backward.

The players followed Millers advice and forced the first collective bargaining agreement on the owners in 1968.

Today, according to the latest figures available, the minimum wage in MB in 2006 was $380,000 per year while the average salary is $2,698, 292.

Despite the relatively numerous and costly work stoppages in MB since 1972, the one incident that apparently has caused permanent damage on the part of the union toward the owners was the 1985 finding of collusion among the owners to defraud the players.

Former MB Commissioner Fay Vincent, who was forced out of his job by Selig once said, “The union basically doesn’t trust ownership because collusion was a $280 million theft by Selig (who then owned the Milwaukee Brewers and (Jerry) Reinsdorff (owner of the White Sox.) of that money from the players, I mean they rigged the signing of free agents. They got caught. They paid $280 million to the players. And I think that’s polluted labor relations in baseball ever since it happened. I think it is the reason (union director Donald) Fehr has no trust in Selig.

One then can only imagine the outrage on the part of the players when the very owner who had stolen $280 million from them was named by the other owners as Baseball Commissioner: “to uphold the integrity of the game.” Even the fox who’d been hired to guard the chicken house would have been embarrassed. But not Bud Selig.

Selig was named acting Commissioner in 1992 to replace Vincent, whose ouster Selig had maneuvered.

It was also Selig of course who engineered the 1994 confrontation with the players union that cost MLB so much money. So it’s no wonder he lay awake at night during ’93, ’94 and ’95 thinking how the lost revenues could be be re-couped and how to get the fans back inside the stadiums who were staying away in droves in their expression of disgust at the way baseball was being mishandled.

In retrospect it appears Selig embarked on a multi-front course of action.

The most obvious course of action was to find ways to make the game more exciting. One way to do that was to follow the lead of the NFL and emphasize offense. The first and easiest thing to do to create fan excitement was to enable the hitters to hit more home runs by handicapping the pitchers. Easy enough. Shrink the strike zone. Done deal.

Another way to emphasize offense was to build smaller ballparks. A long term project but just as effective.

All of sudden the aging multi-purpose stadiums fans and citizens had shelled out tens of millions of dollars to build were unsatisfactory. Newer, smaller stadiums that offered congenial ambience and additional sources of revenue became all the rage-in order to facilitate more home runs and more excitement.

In a recent article defending Bonds, Mike Schmidt, a National League Hall of Famer, wrote that if Hank Aaron had played in ballparks as they are configured today, he would have hit 900 home runs. 

On the more covert, darker side of the MLB ledger book mentality, Selig and the owners enabled the use of performance enhancing drugs simply by creating the atmosphere where many ballplayers openly and unselfconsciously had the drugs mailed to them at the stadiums or allowed the distributors of the drugs entry into the clubhouses.

After all the owners are no strangers to the athletes’ clubhouse and locker rooms. When Gene Autry owned the California Angels he used to go into the clubhouse and pass out Colt revolvers to the players as if he were the Good Humor man passing out ice cream bars.

Not one owner can say they were unaware of what was happening. As long as no one was looking and the fans were satisfied and returning to the stadiums, Selig and the owners were happy as clams.

The final scheme to invigorate MLB revenues on Selig’s part is one that has had the effect of driving African Americans out of the major leagues. During Selig’s tenure as Commissioner the trend to import large numbers of minor league players from the Caribbean and Central and South America into the US, a trend that has existed for decades, has become institutionalized.

One of the unseen costs of professional baseball is the cost of developing major league players, the most highly skilled of all sports. In a sense MLB has become no better than the lettuce growers in California who rely on undocumented immigrants to cross the border to pick the crops. Except the baseball owners have more power.

The minor leagues in the US mainly are staffed with hundreds of athletes who merely exist to help train those few players who will ultimately be called up to the big leagues.

With the escalating salaries it finally occurred to the powers of baseball that given the cost of living in the US compared to the surrounding regions, for the cost of one American prospect they can buy 20, from say, the Dominican Republic. This philosophy has led to the situation where only baseball players in the US who can afford early training can compete for major league jobs. Thus many African Americans are eliminated even before they reach high school.

However, the drawback for MLB was that US immigration law only allowed each ball club to import a small number of players each year.Again, Selig, as he has done in his efforts to persecute Bonds, called on Congress to fix the problem. For decades major league baseball clubs imported foreign baseball players as temporary workers under the H-2B visa program.

On Dec. 22, 2006 President George Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers and apparently in the holiday spirit, gave to the MLB owners a Christmas gift in the form of the “Creating Opportunities for Minor League Professionals, Entertainers and Teams Through Legal Entry Act.” This act suddenly switched baseball players from the restrictive H-2B program to the P-1 visa program that allows teams to import an unlimited number of players from anywhere in the world.

This new act could just as easily have been labeled, “The African Americans Take a Hike Act.” In the recently concluded 2007 World Series not one African American took the field.

The two words that best describe the indictment of Barry  Bonds are Racist and Hypocritical. All the Bond bashers who use Viagra or Ciallus sit down and shut up. At this point it is immaterial (really it’s always been immaterial) whether Bonds did or did not utilize performance enhancing drugs. Largely, it is only because white America considers baseball to be such an integral part of its historical narrative does it rail with such fury against Bonds.

In the end perhaps the old adage should be re-written to read, “It’s as American as baseball, apple pie, and public lynchings.”

This story first appeared in the San Francisco Bayvie

Jean Damu is a former member of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, taught Black Studies at the University of New Mexico, has traveled and written extensively in Cuba and Africa and currently serves as a member of the Steering Committee of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Email him at

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posted 20 November 2007 / updated 24 February 2008 




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Related files:  Full disclosure: The Indictment of Barry Bonds  MLB Manipulates Immigration Laws  Haiti Makes Its Case for Reparations  Marxism and the Monks      The Obamas and Washington DC Statehood    

Haitians Demand Reparations       Home Runs, Heroes, and Hypocrisy   Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez

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