Looking at Barry Bonds’ Baseball-Reference page can turn into a black hole of amazing hitting statistics. In 2004, Bonds had an on-base percentage of .609. .609! A game that sees a successful player failing 60-70% of the time had a player that flipped that narrative on its head and succeeded 60% of the time…all at the age of 39.
Players hanging on as viable left fielders or designated hitters into their early 40’s is not unheard of. But the age is what brings us to Bonds possibly suing MLB for collusion. After his final year in 2007 where he still hit 28 home runs and had a league leading .480 OBP, he mysteriously couldn’t find a front office to sign him. AL or NL, it didn’t matter, Bonds was done in the majors.
This all comes after the Moneyball era where stats and on-base became much more widely seen and accepted. There was no mystery to whether or not Bonds was still a great hitter. How he was going about being so good at 42 may have been a mystery, but not the mere fact of his mastery with the bat.
Regardless, now that it is 2015 and Bonds never got back on to a team, one of the greatest hitters of all time has let it be known that he is seeking to sue Major League Baseball for antitrust violations, namely collusion. Bonds is alleging that the owners and executives throughout MLB’s teams and offices either implicitly or explicitly agreed to blackball Bonds and end his career.
Statute of Limitations
There is a statute of limitations on antitrust suits, usually around four years.1 The amount of time you have to sue for antitrust violations begins as soon as the violation occurs (usually) and Bonds was allegedly colluded against in 2007-08. Clearly passing the four-year statute of limitations, barring Bonds’ lawsuit.
The time period can be paused or tolled if Bonds was unaware of the collusion and more importantly, if he didn’t have reason to know. If a reasonable person in the same situation would not have realized that the violation was occurring, then the statute of limitations is pushed off until Bonds actually found out about it or should have found out about it.
That might be a tough sell in this situation. Bonds seemingly had reason to know that he was being colluded against if he was unable to get even low, one-year contract offers. The mere low-ball offer might not preclude the collusion idea either, that would imply that they were colluding to keep his salary down instead of keeping him out of the league.
The allegation is given deference, but Bonds will likely have to show more than his opinion on the matter. Some sort of evidence showing at least two executives discussing not wanting Bonds in the league anymore would be the bare minimum. He’ll realistically need much more than that, but that’s a matter for Bonds lawyers to determine.
On the other side of the case, MLB will have more than a few explanations for one of the greatest hitters not being able to find a job. Bonds was turning 43, not a kind age for players to continue leading the league in any offensive category. That also coincides with his high ability possibly causing an impasse in possible offers from clubs. Bonds would likely want to be compensated highly and for an acceptable number of years, and teams probably weren’t interested in more than a one or two year contract offer.
Bonds is alleging that baseball colluded against him because of a combination of factors including his off-field issues and steroid connections. In 2007, Bonds was still embroiled in the BALCO investigation and was indicted on perjury charges. These issues give reason to Bonds’ claims of collusion. They also give reason for teams to have left him on the free agent scrap heap despite his skills. Not signing Bonds is not an antitrust violation; not signing him as part of a concerted plan with the rest of baseball is. He may have to show that either teams wanted to sign him but listened to the other actors in the conspiracy or that those involved were very explicit about their desire to simply black ball him.
Does He Have A Chance?
It all depends on the evidence that can or can’t be presented by Bonds’ legal team. There has been no formal complaint filed and there certainly hasn’t been any discovery to see if Bonds’ lawyers can find any e-mails that could go toward the evidence they need.
They won’t be able to claim just anything if they ever file and hope that something turns up. My intuition is that Bonds doesn’t have much up his sleeve right now or he would have filed the lawsuit instead of publicly stating his desire to sue. It seems he knows that the statute of limitations issue won’t go in his favor or that he doesn’t have enough (any?) evidence.
Who knows, maybe by going public someone will come forward with a good-hearted desire to help Bonds in his quest to show that he was wronged by MLB, but I wouldn’t put money on it.