Indictment probably won't keep Bonds off field

We don't know if Barry Bonds will be convicted. We don't know if Barry Bonds will go to prison. We don't know if Barry Bonds will get to the Hall of Fame.

Here's something we do know: His indictment Thursday may not keep baseball's greatest home run hitter off the field next season.

The charges against Bonds in a steroids investigation certainly darken the shadow over the game's most storied record. They definitely give fans a further reason to shout about drugs.

As for hurting his job prospects? Not likely.

Be it a top-name slugger &

say, Jason Giambi &

or a middle reliever &

as in, Guillermo Mota &

the taint of scandal has hardly ever stopped anyone from playing. Especially if they keep producing.

Sammy Sosa got another chance. So did Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Dave Parker and Keith Hernandez. Even Steve Howe got another try after being suspended seven times, including once for life.

About the only one who never made it back was Rafael Palmeiro. He tested positive, but did something far worse in many players' eyes &

he implicated a teammate.

At 43, Bonds can still play. He hit 28 home runs last season and reached base 48 percent of the time, the best mark in the majors.

With those numbers, the indictment won't make him a pariah. Instead, it's more likely to merely lower his price.

"It stinks for him, you know," former Giants teammate Steve Kline said. "I don't feel happy for it. It's bad for baseball. The witch hunt was out there for a long time. They were trying to get him on anything. I feel bad for Barry and his family."

Sure, the San Francisco Giants told Bonds late in the season that they didn't want him back next year. Go add to your 762 home runs somewhere else, they said.

But in a way, being a free agent now could help Bonds. A lot. Consider this: If no team bids on him, the players' union could well file a costly collusion grievance against all 30 clubs.

"I'm not a legal expert or a legal analyst, but there's a big bull's-eye on Barry Bonds just for the fact that he is as good as he is," Mets star David Wright said Thursday night.

"He's one of the premier players to ever play the game. Obviously, everywhere Barry Bonds goes there's going to be criticism. I'm a big fan of Barry. I have Barry's autograph," he said.

Bonds made $19.3 million this year with a contract that included a provision that would've allowed the Giants to terminate it had he been indicted. Clearly, any team that signs him for next season would put in protection against Bonds missing time for court appearances or prison.

Because of baseball's complex rules and arbitration decisions, commissioner Bud Selig's options are far more limited than the NFL's Roger Goodell, who's had to deal with Michael Vick's federal indictment on dogfighting charges.

The NFL told Vick to stay away from the Atlanta Falcons training camp before he even suspended him. That doesn't work in baseball &

either a player is suspended or he's not.

If Selig does penalize Bonds, the union would have a decent chance to overturn it. Going back to a 1980 case involving future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, it generally takes a conviction, not just an indictment, for discipline to hold up.

Bonds is set to appear in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Dec. 7. A trial would likely be months away.

So that leaves any team free to sign him, particularly any AL club that needs a designated hitter.

Like many fans, 91-year-old Julia Ruth Stevens hopes it gets sorted out soon so the focus gets back to the field. She's Babe Ruth's daughter, by the way.

"I don't think anything like this is good for baseball," she said. "It casts a shadow. I hope it will all be ironed out and taken care of before spring training starts so people will just forget about it and we can just play ball."

AP Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick and Associated Press Writer Jason Dearen contributed to this report.

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