IT WAS beginning to look like Barry Bonds (right) might quietly fade into retirement—but not so fast. Last week the players' association said it had evidence that team owners acted in concert to keep the former Giants outfielder and current free agent from signing with another club this season. It's a damning charge, but because the union agreed with the commissioner's office to delay the filing of a collusion grievance, presumably until after Bonds's BALCO perjury trial in March, it could be months before it's known what that evidence actually is. "There were numerous things that occurred that made me believe that clubs were acting in concert," Bonds's agent, Jeff Borris, said. "When I testify as a witness in the case, I will delineate each and every one of them."
The commissioner's office has denied any conspiracy against Bonds, but in the 1980s owners lost three collusion grievances and paid $280 million in penalties for artificially holding down free-agent salaries. If an arbiter finds them guilty of conspiring, the 44-year-old slugger could be in for a big payday. The collective bargaining agreement allows for triple damages from lost earnings, meaning Bonds, who made $15 million in 2007, could make more than $40 million from his lost 2008 season alone—and more if it's determined that his career was shortened by two or three seasons. (The damages would most likely be paid by Major League Baseball.)
Borris says Bonds, who offered to play this season for the minimum salary of $390,000, wants to play in 2009. Even if owners are punished for blackballing the slugger, there's no guarantee he'll get an offer. But if we've seen the last of the alltime home run king on the field, Bonds may nevertheless savor victory one more time.