SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) — Barry Bonds has more to worry about now than covering his asterisk. The US home run king had threatened not to cooperate with the Baseball Hall of Fame because the sport's honor shrine accepted his record-setting homer ball after its owner had marked it with an asterisk over Bonds' doping links.
But if the 43-year-old slugger is convicted on the perjury and obstruction of justice charges filed against him Thursday for allegedly lying to a grand jury when he denied using steroids, he could spend up to 30 years in prison.
"The record is not tainted at all. Period," Bonds declared after breaking Hank Aaron's all-time US homer mark of 755 homers on August 7.
Bonds, who finished with 762 homers, faces a December 7 arraignment hearing in a San Francisco federal courthouse to enter a plea and possibly determine a date for what could be the first trial evolving from the BALCO steroid scandal.
Five men, including Bonds' trainer Greg Anderson, were convicted on charges that were brought by the grand jury Bonds is now charged with deceiving in December of 2003. All made plea deals before going to trial.
Former San Francisco Giants outfielder Bonds, now a free agent, was charged with four counts of perjury, each with a maximum five-year sentence, and one count of obstructing justice, which carries a 10-year maximum sentence.
US President George W. Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team who once railed against steroids in a State of the Union address, was among the baseball fans saddened by the latest turn in the Bonds' saga.
"The President is very disappointed to hear this," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "Clearly this is a sad day for baseball."
Prosecutors said they found evidence of a positive doping test for Bonds when evidence was confiscated during a raid of the BALCO headquarters, although that did not explain why it took years - during which Bonds' homer record chase was under suspicion - to have enough confidence in their case to bring charges.
Even if he is not convicted, Bonds could see the legacy he built over 22 Major League Baseball seasons wiped away. He might not have to worry about his place at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, or his homer record either.
The US government feeling it has enough evidence that Bonds was a dope cheat to press charges could be enough for the media panel that selects inductees to the Hall of Fame to leave Bonds' name off ballots when he becomes eligible.
Former one-season homer record holder Mark McGwire, who refused to deny taking steroids when testifying under oath before US lawmakers, drew little support in his first try for a place in the Hall.
Bonds would not be the first record-setting legend shunned by the shrine. Pete Rose, the all-time US baseball hits leader, was banished from the sport for betting on baseball while serving as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He has fought for decades for reinstatement and a place among the legends of the game.
Major League Baseball commissioners also have special powers to act in the "best interests of baseball" no matter what courts might rule, meaning current boss Bud Selig, a friend of Aaron, could banish Bonds' homer mark no matter the Bonds verdict.
The precedent stems from the late Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who in 1920 became the first commissioner of Major League Baseball. The former US district judge banished eight Chicago White Sox players from the sport for life in 1921.
Landis acted after the "Black Sox", the best known of them being "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, deliberately lost the 1919 World Series. A grand jury brought charges but the players were acquitted, only to have Landis ban them for life.
Landis said anyone consorting with gamblers and even contemplating match fixing needed to be banished, a tough attitude he kept in 25 years on the job that helped the sport recover from the betting scandal in the "Roaring '20s."
Bonds' career is likely concluded even if he wins in court. He had hoped to be training for a comeback in the months to come instead of preparing a court fight even though fans booed and jeered Bonds in every city but San Francisco.
In addition to 762 homers, Bonds has been walked a record 2,558 times and is only 65 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.
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