Government May Play Harball With Bonds

San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds watches the Giants play the Houston Astros in the fourth inning of their second baseball game of a double-header in San Francisco, Thursday, April 13, 2006.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
By CBS Senior Writer Stephen Smith

Now it's hardball. No more soft-toss, coach-pitch or any other game rigged in the slugger's favor.

Barry Bonds can deny and obfuscate all he wants. But if the government wants him, and it appears that it does, then a life that he recently described as being "in shambles" might be on the verge of smashing into a million little pieces.

The stakes have soared even higher if reports are accurate that a federal grand jury is investigating whether Bonds committed perjury when he testified in 2003 that he never used steroids.

It's one thing to be an alleged cheater.

It's quite another to become a criminal.

Experienced lawyers will tell you that one of the first things they learn is, if they presume someone is guilty for something major and yet they don't have the goods to nail him, then you change the strategy and pursue other charges. Charges such as cheating on taxes... and perjury.

When the government finally put mobster Al Capone behind bars all those year ago, it wasn't for gangland killings, masterminding the St. Valentine's Day Massacre or any other bloody charge. It was for tax evasion.

People also forget and think that Pete Rose was jailed for gambling. Wrong. The government nailed him for ... tax evasion.

Right now, it is perjury with Bonds, but don't assume that tax evasion isn't warming up out in the bullpen.

The IRS already has spent time digging into Bonds' background after a jilted mistress, Kimberly Bell, told of him funding some of her expenses throughout their secret relationship. The money, Bonds allegedly told Bell, came from the sale of autographed memorabilia. If true, tax evasion charges still could be in play for Bonds as well.

That this story will continue to mar the twilight years of the man's once storybook and now tumultuous career has never been clearer. Maybe he could skate under baseball's steroid testing. Perhaps he was too smart and too careful to be cornered by the barking pack that has been nipping at his heels over the past several years.

But if the lead investigator has changed from baseball's guy, George Mitchell, to the government's guys, then that, as they say, is a whole new ballgame. Forget baseball's investigation. Mitchell will be put on hold so as to not interfere with the government's work -- which temporarily could be good news for past steroid users in the game who might find that the investigation into their past will be delayed.