The Major League Baseball Players Association is going to bat for Barry Bonds.

According to information obtained by Metro, the union soon will file a collusion grievance – likely before June – against MLB owners and general managers. The union believes it has evidence to prove clubs have conspired by refusing to pursue Bonds or offer the home-run king a contract.

“Barry’s willing and able and undoubtedly capable of helping teams win games,” a union executive told me. “He’s made himself available for minimum wages. But he keeps getting turned down, and we believe we know the reason. We have information that we think proves there has been collusion in baseball to prevent Barry from returning to baseball. These people have worked together – as they have in the past – to ensure there would be no bidding for Barry.


“We can’t tolerate it and, unless something changes drastically in the next few days, we will file a formal (collusion) grievance.”

Stay tuned.

• The union, incidentally, continues to gather information regarding maple bats, which MLB is proposing to ban.

Nearly half the batters in the major leagues use maple bats, some of which are custom-made by a company in Ottawa.

Baseball executives are arguing that maple bats snap too frequently and are endangering lives. They’d like players to use ash bats.

Many players, however, feel ash bats are less productive for them and are uncomfortable with baseball’s demands.

Thus, the union is investigating.

The argument in favour of instant replay in MLB got a huge boost last Sunday night, when umpires refused in a nationally televised ESPN game to allow a three-run home run by the New York Mets’ Carlos Delgado.

The homer was ruled foul, but replays showed it was clearly fair.

General managers already were overwhelmingly in favour of using replays to determine whether hits are fair or foul, and it’s pretty well a cinch now that it’ll be rubber-stamped in time for next season.

In the meantime, commissioner Bud Selig et al seem obsessed with speeding up games and have sent out memos to every GM and manager in the majors, warning them to cooperate with umpires who will diligently attempt to keep games moving along.

Beginning Thursday, umps will be ordering managers to walk quicker to the mound for pitching visits. They’ll also remind pitchers to pitch quicker and batters to refrain from strolling out of the box during at-bats.

The goal is to reduce the average game time to two hours and 40 minutes. They’re averaging more than two hours and 50 minutes this season.

Here are what scouts are saying these days about the Toronto Blue Jays:

A) Brad Wilkerson is nowhere close to the leadoff hitter they thought he was.

B) Reliever Jeremy Accardo has completely lost his slider, which he threw effectively last season.

C) Matt Stairs, at 40, has lost his confidence as a hitter and is nearing the end of his career.

D) Alex Rios is close to an automatic out as he struggles with his batting mechanics. The suspicion is that new batting coach Gary Denbo has tampered too much with Rios’ approach.

And even though there’s been virtually no buzz about this, Ken Griffey Jr. is not far away from hitting the 600th homer of his career.

Entering last night, he had 597.

Griffey’s teammates with the Cincinnati Reds think Griffey hasn’t been getting the sort of attention he deserves.

“I don’t get it,” the Reds’ Adam Dunn said. “We’re talking about a major plateau, and we’re talking about a guy who has gotten there the clean way. This is not a guy who is (mentioned) in any of those documents, who has been accused of taking steroids, a guy who everyone knows has taken something. What he’s about to do should be celebrated.”

Dunn has a legitimate point.

“This is a huge deal and it’s almost swept under the rug,” Dunn added. “I mean, 600. Six hundred! It’s unbelievable. This is so disappointing. He’s a great guy, first and foremost. What he’s done for the game of baseball, it’s sad. It’s a shame. And it’s sad.”

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