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11/15/07 8:15 PM ET

Indictment marks sad day for baseball

Bonds' record in question as slugger faces federal charges

Henry Aaron and his 755 home runs are looking better all the time.

On the matter of Barry Bonds, it is true that being indicted on federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges is not the same as being convicted of federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges. But it is also not the same as not being indicted in the first place.

This still being America, Bonds, like everybody else, is due the presumption of innocence. But in the court of public opinion, it has already been duly noted that his body type changed completely and his head grew larger.

When the federal indictments arrived on Thursday, the reaction among many baseball people would not be shock, but would be along the lines of "What took the feds so long?" Perhaps the federal prosecutors in San Francisco were just being especially cautious and/or diligent in a case of this obvious notoriety. One expects that after all this time, the case against Bonds will not be particularly flimsy.

It took four years worth of a federal probe to produce these events; charges that Bonds lied when testifying under oath to a grand jury that was investigating steroid use by elite athletes.

Saying that this is a sad day for baseball is a gross understatement. Bonds, who eclipsed Aaron's home run mark this season, has been baseball's most prominent player, simply because of all those home runs. His fame has been unavoidable and not particularly pleasant.

But this is not about whether people like Bonds. That turns out to be partly a geographical issue. Many fans of the San Francisco Giants have idolized him. Fans elsewhere have booed him at every opportunity. This is the way it goes and has nothing to do with guilt or innocence.

This is also not about the fact that Bonds has gone out of his way to treat the vast majority of the media with a mixture of condescending scorn and utter disdain. That was his choice and all it means now is that, in the hour of his greatest difficulty, there will not be a flood of scribes rushing to his defense in print.

This is about whether Bonds lied to a federal grand jury on the topic of his alleged steroid use. It's a double dilemma for Bonds. He is accused of lying under oath about using steroids, or simply put, cheating. Thus, if he is guilty about lying, he also cheated.

He could, of course, be acquitted. But at this moment, we are looking at a set of circumstances that is truly unfortunate for the national pastime. The most prolific home run hitter in the game's history is under indictment by an arm of the government of the United States of America. One always hopes, perhaps naively, that the game's most prominent figures will not be associated with the processes of common criminality.

Life was better for baseball when Hammerin' Hank held the home run record. He was a baseball pioneer. He came up in the discrimination of the Jim Crow era and he rose above that. Even at the pinnacle of his career, as he marched past Babe Ruth's record, he was subjected to an avalanche of death threats and racist hate mail.

Nevertheless, Aaron conducted himself with dignity and courage throughout his career. He was -- and he still is -- precisely the sort of man who deserved to hold baseball's most visible record.

Without attempting to establish guilt or innocence, it is fair to say that someone who is under indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice, someone who is charged with lying about the use of steroids, probably does not quite meet that standard.

Bonds was headed for the Hall of Fame when he weighed 190 pounds. Now, he is headed for court. If he is found guilty on these federal charges, his home run record will receive either the asterisk treatment, or maybe even the erasure treatment.

For those who like their record-holding home run hitters and their record home runs untainted by indictment, Aaron and 755 seem now more than ever to be benign and even noble alternatives.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.