Trial will embarrass Bonds if nothing else


SAN FRANCISCO -- The Barry Bonds trial was barely an hour old, and already jurors were working overtime. Notebooks in hand, they scribbled words such as testicular atrophy, heard about female fertility drugs and were told a bitter ex-mistress and an equally bitter former childhood friend of Bonds soon would be taking the stand to help explain it all.

Let's hope one other thing will be explained along the way: After spending more than seven years and millions of dollars chasing Bonds, just what is it the government hopes to gain by convicting him of some relatively minor charges of lying to a grand jury?

Judging from the opening day of testimony, it's this: If they don't convict Bonds, they sure intend to embarrass the heck out of him.

Not a bad idea, actually, if you consider how Bonds embarrassed the game of baseball with superhero-like feats every time he spread some "cream" or "clear" on himself. And Bonds should be embarrassed for not being man enough to tell Greg Anderson to take the stand already and avoid being locked up again as he was Tuesday while Bonds watched impassively from a few feet away.

For those keeping score, it's the fourth stint behind bars for Anderson, the trainer the government alleges helped supply Bonds with steroids and human growth hormone. His loyalty to Bonds might be misguided, but he steadfastly refused to testify despite the urging of the judge to take the stand "so that the whole truth can come out in this trial."

That might save Bonds from prison, judging from the cast of characters the government must now pin its hopes on in the absence of Anderson. They range from former mistress Kimberly Bell to Steve Hoskins, the childhood friend and one-time business partner of Bonds, and it didn't take long for the lead defense attorney to paint them as unworthy of belief.

Still, they will tell tales that would make anyone squirm, even Bonds. Unlike Anderson, they will talk about Bonds' allegedly shrinking body parts, his business dealings and what they think was his steroid use.

They will certainly provide baseball writers a transcript of transgressions they can use to deny Bonds entry into the Hall of Fame when he is eligible on next year's ballot. And it will further tarnish the reputation of the surly slugger.

But after Bonds' all-star team of lawyers gets through with them, they might have so little credibility left that jurors will let him walk. In a case built largely on circumstantial evidence, these are not the people you want explaining the circumstances.

Indeed, if Bonds was worried about possibly going to prison for lying about his steroid use, the opening statements should calm those fears. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Parrella did a workmanlike job in laying out the prosecution's case, but defense attorney Allen Ruby seemed to captivate the jury when he launched into a folksy defense of his client.

"They've tried to create a caricature. Barry Bonds as a terrible guy, always bad and mean," Ruby said. "Barry's not a caricature. He's a man."

He's also a wealthy man, making $192.8 million in his career, so he certainly has money to buy legal talent and lots of it. It's money well spent on a legal dream team of 13 attorneys -- one that prosecutors can't hope to match with either talent or firepower.

Put in baseball terms, Bonds' team looks like the 1927 Yankees against the 2011 Pirates. And, unlike the prosecution, they don't have to convince all 12 jurors of anything.

Just what the jurors were thinking after both sides laid out their cases is impossible to say. I know what I was thinking -- that I couldn't believe how much smaller Bonds is today than he was in 2007 when I followed him as he passed Hank Aaron to become baseball's all-time home run leader.

Circumstantial evidence, sure. Anyone looking at Bonds would think the same thing, and Bonds' own lawyer even admitted Bonds took steroids, though he said he did so unknowingly.

But the case is not about taking steroids; it's about lying about it. And, after a series of rulings that excluded evidence leading up to the trial, the prosecution's chances of nailing Bonds looked shaky going in.

That didn't change on the first day of testimony.

Years after beginning their pursuit of Bonds, prosecutors finally have him on trial in the biggest case of the steroid era. In a few weeks they'll know if it was all a colossal waste of time and money or if their tenacity pays off.

It might. But my best guess is they'll have to settle for simply embarrassing him.

Tim Dahlberg is a Las Vegas-based national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org.

 

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