The Barry Bonds Trial's Silver Lining


The home run king's conviction and the conversation surrounding it reveals something special about the way people talk about baseball


AP/Noah Berger

If there is any silver lining for baseball in the conviction of Barry Bonds on one count of obstruction of justice it is this—that so much of the immediate commentary on the verdict focused on the question of the effect it will have on the all-time home run champion and seven-time Most Valuable Player's chances for induction into the Hall of Fame.

Why a silver lining? Because so far as I know there is never a similar debate about whether someone whose escutcheon has been smudged should be indicted into the football, basketball, golf, or even the professional bowlers' hall of fame. That is not a question, so far as I know, that was prominent in the debate over Michael Vick's or Tiger Woods's transgressions. Clearly baseball is different—and is perceived to embody a higher plane of values in which character still counts. That is rare enough in American life in a time when the revolving door between government 'service' and private enterprise is spinning faster than ever and no concept is too meretricious, degrading, or dissolute to be the basis for reality television programming.

That may be one reason why baseball seems increasingly out of step with popular taste and is sinking in the popularity polls and Nielsen ratings. But the idea that baseball should be a force for good is all to baseball's credit and to the credit of those who still care about it, and tend to its flame.

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Henry D. Fetter is the author of Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball and has written widely about the business and politics of sports. More

Henry D. Fetter is the author of Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball (WW Norton). He has written about the business and politics of sports, the American left, Jewish and Israeli history, and legal affairs for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Times Literary Supplement, the Journal of Sport History, Israel Affairs, The Public Interest, American Communist History, The National Pastime, and the Encyclopedia of American Jewish History, and his work has appeared in several baseball history anthologies.

His article "Revising the Revisionists: Walter O' Malley, Robert Moses and the End of the Brooklyn Dodgers" was awarded the Kerr History Prize for the best article published in 2008 in the journal New York History; an earlier version of that article was presented at the Columbia University symposium "Robert Moses: New Perspectives on the Master Builder" (March 2007) and received a McFarland-SABR Baseball Research Award. He is the recipient of research grants from the Society for American Baseball Research and the Harry S. Truman Library Institute.

Fetter is a graduate of Harvard Law School and also holds degrees in history from Harvard College and the University of California, Berkeley. A native New Yorker, he attended his first major league baseball game at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field on Memorial Day 1955 and some years later followed the Dodgers to Los Angeles where he has practiced business and entertainment litigation for the past 30 years.
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