Is Selig considering a suspension of Bonds?

By Phil Rogers Chicago Tribune (KRT)

CHICAGO – Commissioner Bud Selig was worried enough about Barry Bonds’ possible steroid use to arrange a meeting with him near the San Francisco Giants’ training camp in the spring of 2004.

He was seeking to contain any possible damage to the sport as Bonds continued to move up the rankings of career home run hitters.

According to highly placed Major League Baseball sources, Selig extended a vague offer of leniency to Bonds if he had anything he wished to admit, including possible acts of perjury in his testimony to the BALCO grand jury. He told Bonds the consequences would be “much worse” if he professed innocence and later was revealed as a steroid user.

It appears they will be talking again.

This time it could be to discuss a possible suspension, which given Bonds’ age and fragile knees could derail his run at Henry Aaron’s record 755 home runs.

Bonds, who had told the grand jury he had never “knowingly” taken steroids, stuck to that story in his meeting with Selig in 2004, as he has consistently in his dealings with reporters. Yet suspicion since has stalked Bonds for two injury-plagued seasons and another 50 home runs, bringing him within six homers of Babe Ruth’s 714 and 47 of Aaron’s record.

During this time, MLB security officials have been “monitoring” the Bonds case, although top executives strongly denied they had begun a formal investigation when the New York Daily News reported that one was under way.

Bonds apparently has been clean in the three years MLB has tested players for steroids, but excerpts from an upcoming book, “Game of Shadows,” painstakingly reported and researched by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, document a pattern that began in 1999 and was in full swing in 2001 when Bonds hit a single-season record 73 home runs.

According to a close associate, Selig’s initial response after reading the book excerpts in Sports Illustrated was: “Why am I not surprised now?”

The Chronicle’s Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams have spent three years covering the story and gained access to a vast array of sources and records. Their reporting for the newspaper raised serious questions about Bonds’ denials, but the picture of Bonds’ steroid regimen painted in the book left many, including Selig, taken aback.

“It’s even worse than I thought,” he said, according to a source who had discussed the issue with him. “I’m very concerned.”

Selig danced around a flurry of Bonds-related questions during a news conference before a World Baseball Classic game on Wednesday in Phoenix.

“I will review all the material that’s relative in every way,” Selig said. “And obviously, we’ve only seen parts of things. The book itself doesn’t come out until the end of the month, but we’ll review everything that there is to look at. And at some appropriate time, I’ll have further comment.”

Because Bonds has not tested positive or in any other way been in specific violation of baseball’s tougher policy banning performance-enhancing substances, it is unclear whether MLB can discipline him as a result of the latest reporting.

But, according to a highly placed MLB source, Selig is considering a range of possible responses, including a suspension. While Selig is known for moving deliberately, the source said it is possible a ruling of some kind could be made before the Giants’ opener April 3.

The Major League Baseball Players Association almost certainly would challenge a suspension, but an angry Selig seems to have little to lose, even if an arbitrator overturned his ruling.

He spoke often about “integrity” issues in baseball as a reason for a stronger steroids program before the penalty for a first-time offense was increased to 50 games last winter, and the lack of discipline for Bonds might raise the same integrity issues.

Little angers Selig more than the accusation that he and other MLB executives gave tacit approval to widespread steroid use after the strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series damaged baseball’s popularity. In “Game of Shadows” Fainaru-Wada and Williams write the Giants have turned a blind eye toward Bonds. Selig might think he needs to act to show that someone is accountable.

At the very least, it seems Selig could be forced to do what he previously had said he would not, attach some form of qualifier in the record books next to Bonds’ name.

“Well, the fact of the matter is that … we have no empirical data before 2003,” Selig said. “I’ve heard a lot of people make observations. I’ve even used the term McCarthyism in some great regard about people who without much evidence other than what they believe is anecdotal evidence say, well, this person did it or that person did it.

“I’m going to be very sensitive about all that because, after all, you’re playing with people’s lives and their reputations. The commissioner certainly is going to be careful.”

Asked if there is more evidence than there had been when he previously said there wasn’t enough to discredit Bonds, Selig said: “I’m not in a position to make that judgment.”

But in a statement in the Chronicle, Bonds’ lawyer, Michael Rains, said: “The exploitation of Barry’s good name … may make those responsible wealthy, but in the end, they need to live with themselves.”