When the Major League Baseball Players Association confirmed the other day that it's investigating whether the 30 big league clubs are conspiring to keep Barry Bonds out of the game this year, I couldn't help but laugh.
Does anyone seriously believe it would take some nefarious scheme to convince everyone in the game to steer clear of Bad News Barry at a point in his career when he is (a) 43 years old; (b) barely mobile; (c) under federal indictment for perjury in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative grand jury investigation; and (d) one of the most unlikable players in the history of the sport?
It's not that major league owners aren't capable of collusion. They had to pay players $280 million in damages after being found guilty of collusion for the infamous "Free Agent Freezeout" of the late 1980s. There have been whispers of other collusive activity over the past couple of decades, but that kind of thing is difficult to prove even when the suspicion is logical and plausible.
In this case, it is neither.
Even though a healthy Bonds might be able to help some team at some point this year, the combination of his age, his gimpy knees and his legal baggage make the lack of free-agent offers not only unsurprising but entirely predictable. Throw in a difficult personality that is all but certain to create a chronic public relations problem and I'm trying to figure out what general manager in his right mind would take a chance on him.
Here's all you need to know to reach the same conclusion: The San Francisco Giants were not interested in keeping him, and he's still fairly popular in the Bay Area. Maybe you can make an economic argument for that decision, because the Giants didn't figure to be a serious contender in the National League West this year, but he is baseball's all-time home run leader and he was the offensive keystone of the team for 15 seasons.
If the Giants didn't want him, why would anybody else?
It isn't a difficult equation, even when you factor in Bonds' positives. He was still the game's most dependable on-base threat last year when he was available to play. He still averaged a home run about every 12 at-bats. Presumably, he would still be an imposing presence at the plate if he had reported to spring training with an American League team.
So, which AL team would that have been if Major League Baseball had not engaged in this hypothetical conspiracy to keep him out of the game?
The Oakland Athletics probably were the best candidate - considering they jumped on Frank Thomas when he was released by the Toronto Blue Jays - and there were rumors of strong interest early in the offseason, but they had passed on him before the federal indictment came down.
Maybe you could make a case for the Detroit Tigers, who just moved Gary Sheffield into left field and appear to need some help at designated hitter. Bonds helped built Jim Leyland's reputation as a great manager, but it probably wouldn't be a great idea reuniting Sheffield and Bonds after the BALCO mess.
The Orioles? They opened spring training without a true cleanup hitter, straying from their rebuilding program only long enough to sign veteran pitcher Steve Trachsel as innings insurance. There's no doubt a Bonds-like presence in the No. 4 hole would make them a better offensive team, but Andy MacPhail didn't need Bud Selig to tell him Barry didn't fit with the program in Baltimore.
If that isn't convincing enough, imagine how Bonds' La-Z-Boy recliner and personal big-screen TV would play with manager Dave Trembley, who has built this year's good chemistry on the notion that everybody is equal in the Orioles' clubhouse.
While you're imagining, think what it would be like for whatever team decided to put Bonds in its lineup (or, for that matter, Roger Clemens in its starting rotation). While the rest of baseball is trying to wipe away the stain of the steroid era, the team that signed him would have to weather an initial burst of steroid-related publicity at home and regular reminders of the scandal on the road.
Nobody needs a memo from the commissioner to figure that out.
Who are you kidding?
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Saturdays and Sundays.