In 2007, Barry Bonds played in 126 games (missing half of September but otherwise just getting routine days off throughout the season), put up a slash line of .276/.480/.565, with 28 homers in 477 PAs, good for a a 169 OPS+. A 169 OPS+ would have led the majors in 2014, for context of how strong an offensive season he had. He led the league in walks, intentional walks and OBP. He was an All-Star. His bWAR on the year was a healthy 3.4 … but was hampered a point and a half by his sub-par defense since, of course, he was in the NL and had to struggle around left field day in and day out as a 42-yr old.
He entered Free Agency … and never signed a new contract. His last game was a 0-3 random September performance for a 90-loss Giants team against the Padres and Jake Peavy.
This week, now that Bonds’ remaining legal issues are past, he’s apparently contemplating a collusion lawsuit against MLB, alleging that the 30 owners basically got together and collectively agreed not to sign him. He alleges that this collusion ended his career pre-maturely.
At the time, there was a massive circus atmosphere surrounding Bonds. In November of 2007, just after the World Series ended and the FA period officially began, Bonds was officially indicted on federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Even notwithstanding an outstanding federal charge, Bonds had just broken Hank Aaron‘s record and had a massive contingent of reporters following him around game to game, with heavy, serious questions about the extent of his steroid usage still unanswered but being questioned daily. Bonds was also well known for being a surly teammate and a horrible clubhouse presence. I specifically recall thinking about a possible signing of Bonds and completely understanding why teams may not have wanted to do so, because of the PR hit.
So, which makes more sense, that 30 MLB owners, each of whom is competing against the others to try to win, would each individually arrive at the conclusion that they’d rather not have a PR nightmare versus having a 43-yr old guy still capable of batting clean-up in the majors willing to play for the MLB minimum? Or that the commissioner would lead yet another collusion effort against a player?
Who wouldn’t have wanted to add a potential 5-win clean-up hitter playing for less than $500,000??
We should note, by the way, that we are talking about a commissioner at the time in Bud Selig who was directly involved as an owner in *multiple* proven collusion incidents, which resulted in millions of dollars of penalties being paid to damaged players through the 1980s and 1990s. We’re talking about a commissioner who was also (basically) still an owner, who clearly worked on behalf of the owners, and who had taken a massive publicity hit to his reputation for his role in enabling the whole PED crisis in the first place and (in my opinion) was certainly ready to move onwards from the daily embarrassment that Bonds represented to the league.
Here’s some additional good reading material on the topic: Si.com’s legal expert Michael McCann studied the case back in 2012 and goes far deeper into all these topics. Yahoo sports’ Israel Fehr has a nice summary with links to other reporters with more analysis. And Grant Brisbee has a great retrospective on the idiocy of teams who passed on Bonds but who paid other players that off-season.
My 2 cents: i’m almost certain there was some collusion going on … but that it’ll be very difficult to prove at this point, 8 years onward. And, there’s enough of an argument that can be made that teams made the same decision that the San Francisco owner made before the season was even over; enough was enough with the daily PR nightmare and he decided to go separate ways. What do you think?
ps: useless fact: did you know that Bonds was just the 6th pick in the 1st round of his draft year? Going ahead of him was B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Bobby Witt, Barry Larkin and a HS catcher who washed out in the minors named Kurt Brown. Do you think the Chicago White Sox are kicking themselves for getting absolutely nothing out of their first round pick instead of picking Bonds? Bonds btw nearly has as much combined bWAR as those four MLBers picked ahead of him … and those are not exactly slouches for players, and includes a Hall of Famer in Larkin.