Defendant at the plate

November 18, 2007

There's lying, and then there's lying.

Last week, the country was treated to the spectacle of the Barry Bonds indictment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, criminal charges that are genuine but hardly earth-shattering.

If the Giants outfielder lied to a federal grand jury, it was to save his own skin; evidence that his testimony was key to a wide-ranging or nefarious cover-up is sparse, at best.

Prosecutors are looking into the scandal of steroid use by athletes who did business with a California outfit called BALCO, and Mr. Bonds' alleged offense was to lie about something, while testifying in that investigation, when the available records contradicted him.

But if the crimes with which he is charged are not that fundamental an affront to the system of justice, this in no way mitigates his affront to the system of professional baseball. We say that without qualification or hedging.

The home run king, vastly talented though he is, has brought great injury to the game. The indictment - and the evidence that appears to show that he did in fact flunk a steroids blood test as far back as 2000 - serve principally to underscore what any half-awake spectator started to understand years ago.

Mr. Bonds was aided and abetted by the players union and by the men who run the major leagues, but the hostility of baseball fans everywhere has fallen largely on him because it's the players who take the field and play the game that is so central to the American identity. And even though Mr. Bonds could hit a ball better than about 300 million of his fellow Americans, he is a deeply corrosive figure - and, by all appearances, a fraud.

If he lied to the grand jury, that was wrong - criminally wrong - but the greater damage may be in the lie that's expressed by his 762 career home runs.

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