Nightengale: Barry Bonds is free, so punch his ticket to Cooperstown – USA TODAY
DETROIT — We watched Barry Bonds celebrate again Wednesday, listened to his legal team boast, with the San Francisco Giants reveling over their beloved hero’s good fortune.
Yeah, baby, just like ol’ times.
Finally, after 12 years of legal wrangling, and eight years after becoming baseball’s home-run king, Bonds was declared a clean man.
Bonds was cleared Wednesday of all charges involving steroid use, with his felony obstruction conviction overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, and finally he will get all of the luxuries afforded him.
He is permitted to vote again.
He can even run for public office.
He has the right to buy guns, shoot guns and carry guns.
And, if he chooses, he can travel abroad without restrictions.
“Today’s news is something that I have long hoped for,” Bonds said in a statement. “I am humbled and truly thankful for the outcome as well as the opportunity our judicial system affords to all individuals to seek justice.
“I would like to thank my family, friends and all of you who have supported me throughout my career and especially over the past several years. Your support has given me strength throughout this process, and for that I am beyond grateful.
“This has been a long and strenuous period in my life; I very much look forward to moving beyond it. I do so without ill will toward anyone.
“I am excited about what the future holds for me as I embark on the next chapter.”
Maybe now, the Giants will even accelerate their plans to hire him as a full-time employee, making him a special assistant and appointing him as an official ambassador.
Oh, and that other privilege you were wondering about?
Entrance to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Love it or hate it, nothing will change.
Bonds’ obstruction conviction, you see, has never kept him out of the Hall of Fame.
And this court’s decision won’t put him in the Hall of Fame.
If that were the case, Roger Clemens would have been in the Hall two years ago after going to court and being found not guilty on six perjury and obstruction charges.
Yet Clemens has never received more than 37.5% of the vote in his three years on the ballot.
Bonds has never gotten more than 36.8%, far shy of the 75% needed to walk through baseball’s golden door.
As cruel as it might sound, this changes absolutely nothing.
There are no Hall of Fame voters, at least publicly, who appear to be willing to change anything in light of this news.
They still staunchly think Bonds used steroids. They look at the record-setting 73 home runs in a single season. The size of his muscular body. His head.
The Supreme Court and every court in the land can make every legal ruling they want, but they aren’t going to change the court of public opinion.
Bonds won’t be going to Cooperstown because of a legal ruling.
Forget the judges and attorneys.
There’s one man who can provide Bonds with perhaps his greatest chance of entering Cooperstown.
His name is Mike Piazza.
Piazza, whose career was shadowed by steroid suspicions, is on the verge of being voted into the Hall of Fame. The man with a similarly muscular physique, who overcame a modest amateur pedigree to become the greatest-hitting catcher of all time, should be elected to the Hall in January.
He finished with 69.9% of the vote last year, and with Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman the only newcomers likely to be elected, Piazza should be joining them.
Piazza, who like Bonds and Clemens never flunked a drug test, would be the first player elected into Cooperstown whose career has been tainted with such a high level of steroid innuendo and whispers.
We’re only fooling ourselves, of course, if we think the Hall of Fame has never inducted a player who has used performance-enhancing drugs.
Now, in nine months, we’ll get to stare again at Bonds’ name on the ballot.
And, again, I’ll check it.
You see, now that Bonds has been cleared by the courts, his level of guilt is no different from anyone else in the Hall of Fame.
He never tested positive. He never admitted to PED use. There’s not a trainer, friend or even a teammate that’s testified that he used steroids.
If you want the cold-hearted truth, Bonds and Clemens are the only two players ever on the Hall of Fame ballot who spent millions of dollars in federal court to prove their innocence.
“I could not be more happy that Barry Bonds finally gets to move on with his life,” BALCO founder Victor Conte said in a statement sent to USA TODAY Sports. “Let’s hope the prosecutors choose not to waste any more resources on what has been nothing more than a frivolous trophy-hunt and a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.”
It’s time to stop making a mockery out of the Hall of Fame ballot by pretending that we really know who was clean and who cheated.
It’s time to simply vote for the greatest players on the ballot, Bonds and Clemens.
Bonds won more MVP awards than anyone else in history. Clemens won more Cy Young awards than any other pitcher in history.
They should have the same rights as every other American in this country.
Innocent until proven guilty.
They have been found innocent by the judicial system.
It’s time we gave them that same justice, too.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @BNightengale
GALLERY: BONDS THROUGH THE YEARS