Double features long since have disappeared from the movie theaters, but we’re about to get one in our court rooms over the next several months.
One will star Barry Bonds, the best baseball position-player of the last 25 years. The other will feature Roger Clemens, the best pitcher of that period. Separately, they’ll face charges that they lied when denying they knowingly took steroids during their illustrious careers—Bonds to a Federal grand jury and Clemens to a committee of Congress.
In the dock alongside them, albeit invisibly, will be the sport that enabled and abetted them in their nefarious pursuits of greatness, but the fact that a guilty verdict already has been delivered against baseball in the court of public opinion shouldn’t overly affect the trials’ ratings. We stuck with “Law and Order” all those years even though the verdicts were predictable, didn’t we?
Bonds will get first bats in a trial scheduled to begin Monday (March 21) in San Francisco, if it isn’t pleaded out first. It probably won’t be because many chances to do so have been bypassed in the years the case has been kicking around. The charges against Bonds stem from statements he made before a 2003 grand jury investigating Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO), the Burlingame, California, steroids brewer and peddler whose exposure—along with that of its clients the sprinters Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, the boxer Shane Moseley and the baseball players Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Bonds, among others—put an overdo national spotlight on drug use in American sports. BALCO founder Victor Conte went to prison as a result of the probe, along with several associates. These included Greg Anderson, who doubled as Bonds’ personal trainer.
The case against the all-time home runs king would have been adjudicated long ago if not for the silence of Anderson. He’s served about a year behind bars for refusing to testify against the ballplayer, on top the six months he put in for his BALCO convictions. That he potentially faces further charges of obstructing justice in the Bond matter easily qualifies him as Buddy of the Century. Mostly as a result of his noncooperation, the number of criminal counts against Bonds has been reduced to five from the original 14.
But Anderson’s continued absence may prove to be a mixed blessing for Bonds. That’s because the judge in the case has ruled it opens the way to testimony against him by former associates and teammates who stand ready to relate conservations about steroids they had with him or Anderson, and about the physical changes Bonds underwent while he allegedly was juicing. The juiciest of these witnesses may be Kimberley Bell, the player’s ex-mistress. It’s been reported she’ll say that while some of Bonds’ parts got larger as he forged the Michelin Man physique of his later playing years, other parts were shrinking. Ouch!
The case against the 354-game-winner Clemens, due to be heard in July in Washington, D.C., seems both stronger and weirder than the one against Bonds. The weird part is that while Bonds was subpoenaed by the BALCO grand jury, the Rocket Man showed up voluntarily to make his “I never took ‘em” statements before a 2008 House Committee. And while Bonds’ trainer Anderson isn’t talking, Brian McNamee, Clemens’ fitness guru from 1998 to 2001, has lined up as the main witness against him. Additionally, the careful McNamee is said to have retained some vials, syringes and, even, gauze that he used while he says he was injecting the pitcher, and the DNA thereon looms as hard-to-refute physical evidence.
Why the two players put themselves into their current binds is a matter of conjecture. My take is that both are prime products of a culture that lionizes top athletes almost from birth and shields them from the sort of choices that help turn most of the rest of us into reasonable human beings.
Athletes always have been a privileged group in this land but in recent years that has increased exponentially with their salaries. While team jocks used to at least have to relate to teammates who might not buy their acts, present-day demigods in the class of Bonds and Clemens can surround themselves with business advisors, trainers, nutritionists and an array of other yes-men and -women who cater to their every whim (Bonds had a personal shopper, for heaven’s sake). The idea that anyone might not accept their versions of things probably never occurs to those guys.
Both, it seems, are banking on star-struck jurors to give them a pass once again. They promise to tacitly invoke the Richard Pryor defense: “Who you gonna believe—me or your lyin’ eyes?” And indeed, who among us would forfeit a photo-op with a top-drawer celeb and an invitation to a really good acquittal party in order to uphold some nebulous idea of justice? It worked for O.J., didn’t it?
Trouble is, though, that by denying the obvious, and trying to cover it up, Bonds and Clemens already have blown it in the immortality department, which is what it’s about for the handful of jocks who can pass the highest performance tests. Guilty in court or not, they’ll be followed by mental asterisks forevermore.
And so should baseball for its head-in-the-sand stance during Bonds’ and Clemens’ period of dominance.