SI.com: Is there anything Major League Baseball can do right now as far as punishing Bonds and Jason Giambi for admitting they used steroids in their grand jury testimony?
Verducci: Not at this point. The only way they might be disciplined is if they are convicted in court or plead guilty to something. But both of them have implicated themselves in a time frame in which there was no penalty phase of steroids testing in Major League Baseball. You can't retroactively apply rules of the game now to 2003 and 2001, so officially I don't expect their records are going to be touched. Now, you can definitely say they are extremely tainted. If a fan wants to think that these guys are total frauds, I can't say I blame them.
SI.com: Ultimately, what recourse does commissioner Bud Selig have at his disposal?
Verducci: What Selig needs to do is wait until this goes to trial and all the evidence is introduced. He's not going to make a leap in terms of disciplining Bonds or framing his records any differently based on a newspaper account of Bonds' testimony in front of a grand jury. After all the facts come out, Selig will be under tremendous pressure to do something about steroids in general and Bonds in particular.
SI.com: But won't the players' association object to a unilateral move by Selig?
Verducci: If there continues to be reluctance on the players' association to agree to take a stronger stance on steroids, then we'll find out how serious Selig is about this issue because then he has to decide if it is worth going to war with the union on this. That would mean using his powers to act in the best interest of baseball to impose a tougher drug testing system. But this is a guy who never takes a vote until he knows how the vote will come out, or leap until he knows where he's going to land, but in this case he might stir up the hornets' nest to put the union in position of defending cheaters, knowing he may actually lose that battle in court. If Selig has a moral compass or cares about the integrity of the game, which many fans do care about, then it may be something he has to do if the union leaders continue to stonewall on tougher testing. The bottom line is that there has to come a point where Bud is going to have to show more action than rhetoric.
SI.com: What about the Hall of Fame? Is Bonds' place in Cooperstown in jeopardy?
Verducci: I don't think he's close to being put on the permanently ineligible list. This is an issue that baseball is glad to pass on to the Baseball Writers Association of America and let them be the jury. However, we're far from that point. Bonds is not even retired and even then we'll have to wait five more years. I'm assuming we're going to learn more about the steroid era as the years unfold. It's impossible right now to frame Bonds' career right now, but as far as affecting the voters' mindset, this will be a factor. It's just too early to gauge how much of a factor.
SI.com: How believable is Bonds' testimony that he did not know he was taking steroids?
Verducci: You really have to stretch your imagination to fully believe that Bonds was putting things in his body of which he did not know the substance. This is a guy who, based on the first-hand portrayal of his character from Gary Sheffield, is an absolute control freak If somebody is handing Bonds a substance and saying it is flaxseed oil and his response is, "whatever," even though he would be putting his pro career at risk, not even to ask one question about what he's putting in his body, it defies all logic. Based on the Chronicle's recounting of his testimony, it was classic Bonds. He was argumentative, evasive, well short of the direct manner of Giambi's testimony. I think Bonds is still playing the game of catch me if you can.
SI.com: Even if it was true, is ignorance a valid excuse here?
Verducci: No. It's not a valid excuse. If he was in fact ingesting steroids, not knowing it does not get him off the hook. The plausibility/denial defense doesn't wash here. It's too convenient. Otherwise everybody would be doing that and the game would belong to the best chemists with the best pharmaceuticals.
SI.com: Giambi is getting tarred and feathered for his detailed account of his steroid usage. Is this a bit unfair considering he was more forthcoming with information than Bonds?
Verducci: I'm not condoning what Giambi did, and I'm not even giving him extra credit for being honest. That's what you are supposed to do in front of a grand jury. In the media, we're used to being lied to, and he was lying to us for years. Giambi is just not as slick or as savvy when it comes to handling difficult questions as Bonds. Clearly Bonds was walking a tightrope of trying not to perjure himself and trying to answer questions. Giambi doesn't smack of any of that balancing act, but the guy clearly is a fraud and this is a long pattern of usage of usage in his case.
SI.com: What do you make of the fact that Bonds and Giambi testified that the drugs did not help their game?
Verducci: It's complete baloney. That's the first tipoff of suspicion. If you hear an athlete say it doesn't do anything for a player, there go your bells, sirens and whistles right there. The reason why these people are taking these substances is because they make them better, period. I grant you that these people start out with a world class level of some sort of athletic and hand-to-eye coordination . They are taking these substances specifically to get to levels they naturally would not get to. The story of sprinter Kelly White was extremely revelatory in that sense. She said she was able to train longer and harder in order to get better results than are humanly possible.
Steroids and these performance-enhancing drugs allow them to work harder than they otherwise could, especially when they get into their late 30s. At that age, when you train that hard, you break down your body instead of building it up if you don't provide for enough recovery time. What the growth hormone and the steroids help you do is work at a higher level, work at a level that a young man could do, and that gets you results than would otherwise be possible.
SI.com: What can these drugs do specifically for baseball players?
Verducci: You take a good baseball player and you can make him great by improving his bat speed, his strength and his ability to train and recover. And that is not even getting into the proven results of HGH on eyesight. There are tangible benefits. That's why athletes are using this stuff. That's why track and field athletes are setting these records. It works.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci covers baseball for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.