Barry Bonds is Benched, Out of Baseball – “Why?”

Wednesday June 17, 2009

By Attorney Johnny Barnes

The star that now accompanies his name is not because he is an All Star. The star next to his name signals that some have pointed the finger of blame, accusing him of having the assistance of steroids on the road to his record-breaking career. Yet, he has tested negative for any performance enhancing drugs each and every time he has been tested. Has Barry Bonds been benched because after a 22-year career his star has faded? Or has he been benched because of issues drenched in America’s muddied history?

The Big Question Mark

This Season, as with last, no Major League Baseball team picked up Barry Bonds, the Home Run King, not one. No offer of any kind, large or small, has been made to him. Last season – a season in which he got on base almost half the times he batted and had a slugging percentage of .565 – he earned well over $15 million. This season, Bonds was willing to accept the Major League minimum of less than $400,000, and he was willing to give that minimum salary to needy kids for tickets to Major League Baseball games. This is a man who started in Left Field in last year’s All-Star Game (a reward given to him by baseball fans 14 times over his 22 year career); was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2001 – the year he hit his record setting 73 home runs – 2002, 2003 and 2004, and, he was the League’s Most Valuable Player three times before that, as well as an eight time winner of the Golden Glove Award. “Sporting News” named him “Player of the Decade” for the 1990’s. Yet, no Major League Baseball Team picked him up this year, not one. Why?

The Major League Baseball Players Association has considered filing a complaint. The Association suspects that this snub of Bonds is intentional, purposeful, collusion.

The claim of collusion means that someone can establish that there is a conspiracy, that the Major League Baseball Owners are in complicity, that they have made an agreement not to give Bonds a job. A secret understanding between two or more persons prejudicial to another constitutes collusion. It generally implies the use of fraudulent means, but not necessarily. Collusion can also be present when there is an agreement between at least two persons using lawful means for the accomplishment of an unlawful purpose.

The claim of collusion means that someone can establish that there is a conspiracy; that the Major League Baseball Owners are in complicity, that they have made an agreement not to give Bonds a job.

Consider collusion synonymous to antitrust. Generally, under the Sherman Act, a violation of federal antitrust laws can be established if it can be shown that there is an agreement, concert of action or conspiracy in restraint of trade among the several states. That agreement need not be explicit. If there is a tacit understanding, evidenced by circumstances that can be enough. But, the “business of baseball,” the United States Supreme Court has ruled, is exempt from antitrust review. Interestingly, the most recent decision with that holding involved another Black baseball player, Curt Flood, who was traded without his knowledge or consent. Notably, in his complaint, Flood raised civil rights issues and Amendment Thirteen of the Constitution, forbidding slavery and involuntary servitude. Notwithstanding these court rulings, there is a written contract between the Owners and players that does not permit collusion.

Is an agreement by the Owners not to hire Bonds to protect their economic interests collusion? Must one demonstrate that the agreement was made due to some sinister, fraudulent motive? If the Owners honestly and sincerely believe that because of the “Cloud” over his head, the presence of Bonds on Major League Baseball Fields would cause stadium seats to go unfilled, is that reason to effectively ban him from baseball? Remember, collusion can be present when lawful means are used to achieve an unlawful purpose.

Is an agreement by Owners not to hire Bonds to protect their interests’ collusion?

During the Civil Rights Movement, agreements to oppress African Americans were thought to be motivated either by racism or economics. If one believes there is an agreement in the case of Bonds, what is the motivation of those who have joined in this deed? After all, since Jackie Robinson, the color line has been shattered, and what team would not want a ball player who could end up with 800 home runs and 3,000 hits before his career sunsets? Those are phenomenal numbers, astronomical. In fact, in an historical context, it is appropriate to wonder what kept Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and the other giants of the Negro Baseball League out of Major League Baseball. Did the owners conspire to do so? If so, was it because they were African Americans? Or was it because the owners believed ticket and marketing sales would suffer, as white patrons of the game would object? If the latter, is that racism, or is it economics?

Bonds may be more valuable to Major League Baseball if he does not add to his home run and hit total. Stadiums in the future are more likely to be packed, fan excitement is better stoked, and more money is to be made, if another darling takes center stage, chasing the Bonds legacy, with its capture within realistic view. The more Bonds pads his historic batting numbers, especially in the case of the Home Run Title, the less likely it is that another will catch up or pass him. Bonds currently has 762 home runs. If over the next several years, Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols has the Bonds Home Run Title in their cross hairs, a greater number of tickets will be sold and at higher prices; television revenue will grow; baseball memorabilia can be marketed; and commentators will have something to talk about that fans want to hear. It won’t be the same if the Home Run Title is plainly out of reach, because Bonds has made it so.

The Bold Asterisk

An asterisk, a faded star, accompanies the record of Bonds’ stellar baseball career. Many would like to make him a footnote in history. But, those who drag his name through the mud and tarnish his reputation probably never hit a baseball in their lives. It takes more than bulk to hit home runs. It takes hand and eye coordination; bat speed and wrist action. No drug provides that. In fact, drugs suppress those natural qualities. And, his detractors and nay Sayers never mention all the good he does. This former San Francisco Giant star is called “A Giant in the community,” because he helps raise money for the UCSF Children’s Hospital, seeking to make certain each child’s stay at the hospital is as comfortable as possible. He has won awards for his philanthropy, and there is a Scholarship Fund that bears his name.

Yes, his hat size grew. Yes, Barry Bonds bulked up. But, so too did Magic Johnson, former Los Angeles Lakers Most Valuable Player and David Winfield, former home run king with the New York Yankees. So too have many Black men. That does not prove the use of steroids during part of his career, and no one has. We do know that he used no drugs when he broke Babe Ruth’s cherished record, and he had no steroids in his system when he broke Hank Aaron’s record. He was tested and retested during those years. The fact is that Barry Bonds has never, ever failed a steroids test.

We know that he used no drugs when he broke Ruth’s record, and he used no steroids when he broke Aaron’s record. He was tested and retested during those years.

The Bottom Line

Major League Baseball has not been beyond collusion. Under the reign of Peter Ueberroth, former Commissioner of Baseball, roughly a quarter of a century ago, team owners cooperated with each other in an attempt to keep player salaries down, on the theory that the teams could not afford the spiraling demands from the players. Inversely, it is conceivable that owners can cooperate to manage baseball data in order to maximize fan interest and excitement. A march towards 763 home runs by Rodriguez or Pujols is far more interesting, imminently more exciting and easily more valuable than Bonds hitting home run number 763 and upwards.

Brown men are now replacing Black men in large numbers in Major League Baseball. Not surprisingly, however, men of color have replaced each other at different times, over the years. Initially, white, indentured servants, from Europe, took menial jobs in America. But, those men resisted, and they could easily get lost in a crowd. So entrepreneurs turned to men of color, American Indians, Asians, Hispanics and Latinos. That is the conspiracy of economics. It is present today, perhaps in a greater way now than ever before. As Brown men replace Black men in the labor intense jobs of America, employers pay them less, provide fewer benefits and earn greater profits. Is that racism or is that economics? Is it collusion or is it just good business?

Call it what you will. The fact is that those common factors --- money and race --- are inescapably at the center of Barry Bonds’ joblessness.

Johnny Barnes is an Attorney and a former Law Professor in Washington, D.C. and Editor and Publisher of Living with the Law, a periodic legal magazine for ordinary citizens. Sia Tiambi Barnes, a writer by profession with a movie script to her credit, is the Associate Editor. This father and daughter team collaborated on the article.

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