Baseball never went after Barry Bonds, despite a failed steroid test and circumstantial evidence that fans in the outfield bleachers could see every time he went to the plate.

The federal government did, and almost struck out trying.

Bonds strolled out of the federal courthouse in San Francisco on Wednesday and flashed a victory sign to a few fans, which at first glance might seem strange behavior for a man just convicted of a felony.

Yet while he didn't walk free on all four charges against him, the slugger and his multimillion-dollar dream team of attorneys had reason to smile.

Bonds survived the BALCO investigation without being convicted of anything directly related to steroids, quite a feat considering the government did everything but show pictures of his allegedly shrinking private parts to convince jurors Bonds was juiced. He was convicted of obstruction of justice, but even that charge may not stand on further judicial review.

Technically, the government could retry him on the perjury charges the jury deadlocked on. But it's doubtful prosecutors would waste the time and money to try him again, especially after the jury foreman said they should have done their homework better if they wanted to get convictions on those charges.

Oh, and the chances of him ever going to prison? Well, don't start measuring him for that extra-large jumpsuit just yet.

More than seven years in the making, the case against Bonds sputtered to an inconclusive end that likely satisfied no one. Bonds, of course, would have preferred to have been acquitted on all charges, while prosecutors would have been turning cartwheels down the courthouse hallways had they been able to get the jury to convict him on the accusations of lying under oath that were directly related to steroid use.

Instead, he was convicted on an obstruction of justice charge that stemmed from a single statement Bonds made about his childhood as the son of major leaguer Bobby Bonds and his relationship with personal trainer Greg Anderson.

The government "has determined it's unlawful for Barry Bonds to tell the grand jury he's a celebrity child and to talk about his friendship with Greg Anderson," Bonds attorney Allen Ruby said.

Bonds should count himself lucky to have that friendship with Anderson, who went to prison four different times rather than testify against the slugger. Anderson, who also served time for distributing steroids in the BALCO investigation, spent more than a year in jail because of his over-the-top allegiance to Bonds.

Had Anderson testified — and testified honestly — we might have known just how Bonds came to take the "cream" and the "clear" and just what he really knew about them. We might have been able to draw a timeline between the moment he first started using steroids and when the home runs started coming with almost every at bat.

Most of all, we might have been able to finally make some sense out baseball's Steroid Era and why players felt it was necessary to use things that could potentially cause great harm to their bodies simply to hit a baseball over a fence.

But Anderson and Bonds didn't come clean, and that's our loss. We're left with Bonds' almost laughable grand jury testimony about "flaxseed oil" and "arthritic cream" — testimony that will almost surely now never be proved untrue in a court of law.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig used the occasion to issue a statement saying the trial was a "stark illustration of how far this sport has come" in testing players for steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Left unsaid in the statement was that baseball didn't test for steroids at all until 2003 — when Bonds was among those who failed a test — and did nothing to stop owners from giving the biggest hitters untold millions even while it was clear that something was terribly amiss in the game.

As much as Selig would like to declare victory over the Steroid Era, testimony of current and former players in the Bonds trial was a reminder how pervasive the use of PEDs was. There could be another even more painful reminder this summer when Roger Clemens is scheduled to go to trial on charges of lying before a congressional panel on the use of PEDs.

Unlike Bonds, Clemens doesn't have a former trainer willing to go to jail for him. Instead, he has one who seems to relish the idea of testifying against the big star.

The BALCO investigation — started almost a decade ago by federal agent Jeff Novitzky digging through garbage outside the San Francisco-area offices of the company — snared a lot of people along the way. Marion Jones, her track coach, and elite sprint cyclist Tammy Thomas were among those convicted in a probe that ended up spreading far beyond the Bay Area.

Novitzky and his crew can now claim their biggest conviction with Bonds, but it's a hollow win. While it's admirable that they went after Bonds when baseball refused to, it's hard to justify the years of work and the money spent for the relatively insignificant conviction they finally won.

Asked outside the courthouse if he was going to celebrate, Bonds said there was nothing to celebrate. Technically, he's right, because, for now at least, he's a convicted felon.

But on this day he had good reason to be flashing the victory sign.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org