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This 'ending' to Bonds saga deservedly unsatisfying

by | Columnist

This was the ending to The Sopranos, brought home to roost for Barry Bonds, for Major League Baseball, for the legal system, for the Hall of Fame, for mythology, for you and for I.

And it's exactly what we all deserve.

Instead of closure, the Barry Bonds trial leaves everyone hanging. (AP)  
Instead of closure, the Barry Bonds trial leaves everyone hanging. (AP)  
The outrage over the verdict in the Bonds trial -- a guilty for obstruction of justice by being obnoxiously vague, and three I-don't-knows for lying -- is not only misplaced, but utterly selfish. This trial wasn't about closing the book on anything, and since this doesn't close anybody's books, it did exactly what it should have done.

Left everyone hanging.

Just like Tony Soprano in the diner at the end. Hearing the bell over the door and looking up just as the screen ... goes ... black.

A semi-scholarly work that "proves" that Soprano dies in the final scene came years later, and is a bit of a hard slog for most folks to plow through, which means most folks still aren't sure that Tony doesn't live happily ever after. And this is that ending to a "T".

For Bonds, he ends up with a felony conviction, and the full knowledge that "I didn't know they were steroids" isn't really washing that well. Even if all he has done is avoid jail time, he still remains a long national perp walk of apologies away from being accepted as most celebrity penitents are. And we'll get back to him momentarily.

For baseball, the smear remains, a healthy reminder that all 30 clubs not only looked the other way, but cashed in like oil barons while their game became Needle Park. The owners knew in 1988 what they had, and simply didn't care. Their claims of deniability wash as well as Bonds' do, and they deserve no closure.

The Hall of Fame still has the question of PEDs with which to wrangle, and at some point is simply going to have to accept that it has been downgraded from shrine to history book by the decisions of its benefactors at MLB. Bonds is a Hall of Famer because the Hall isn't church; it's the story of the history of baseball, and this is history, punctuated with a knee to the village. Not as scandalizing as the color line, or the game fixes of the early part of the last century, but right up there in the team photo in the "Shameful Behaviors We Looked The Other Way About" wing.

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The feds take their own beating for pursuing the case so hard and so long for so little payoff, and a lot of people have focused on the money wasted. This is a red herring, a stupid argument that ignores the fact that justice costs money in any event. They did pursue Bonds with breathtaking zeal, but in fairness they were confronted by a defendant whom they were sure was A) guilty; B) Lying about it even after being offered immunity; and C) Used the eagerness of his accomplice to go to jail to avoid prosecution.

Frankly, to look the other way after all that sends a bad message to your big-league criminals, and in any event is unreasonable to accept. Bonds played chicken with the cops, and like most hens, he ended up part of the breakfast special.

Still, the energies spent, both in and outside the bounds of the law, outraged many legal specialists and reminded laymen everywhere that there are a lot worse crimes being committed each day that not only go unpunished but get tax breaks to continue.

And if the defense prevails on appeal to have the one conviction reversed, it will remind us that whatever we believe today is more than likely going to be shown to be a lie down the road anyway, so what's the benefit in being invested?

As for mythology, well, two words on that. Manny Ramirez. If you still believe in the sanctity of professional sporting competition in North America, I believe you have a spot of hay hanging out of each of your ears. The rewards of felonious cheating remain greater than the benefits of not, and as long as there's money and fans to provide it, the problem will thrive unabated.

And finally, there's us. We liked the spectacle too much to care about how it was being provided, because we all gave up most of our illusions about the character-building aspects of sport long ago. We're hooked on the spectacle, and there are more and more examples of it every day. We hate the BCS and we watch. We hate the hypocrisies of the NCAA, and we watch. We know the NFL is as dangerous to your health as coal mining, and we watch. We hate head shots in hockey, and we love head shots in hockey.

And we must be entertained, damn it, lest we look up and see the rest of our lives in all their bizarre squalor.

Plus, we hated Bonds and the feds at the same time, so we had a hard time figuring out a rooting interest anyway. We weren't that invested in closure either, as it turns out.

In short, the Bonds trial didn't give us what we wanted, but it gave us what we all had coming. One more tribute to the most willfully contradictory sports figure of our time, a perfect sendoff for the perfect victim and villain. And one more life lesson about the elusiveness of "winning" in the Charlie Sheen era.

And, for that matter, the Tony Soprano era.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay


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