Get ready, kids: Barry Bonds’ trial is right around the corner

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It seems like years ago that Barry Bonds was indicted for perjury. Oh, wait, it was years ago. Three-and-a-half to be exact.  But though the wheels of justice grind slowly, boy do they grind, and they’ve almost delivered us to Barry Bonds’ trial, which gets underway on March 21st.

But first, some preliminary rulings, a few of which came today:  the prosecution will — over Bonds’ objections — be able to call other ballplayers who trained with Greg Anderson, including Jason Giambi, Jeremy Giambi, Marvin Benard and Bobby Estalella.  They will not, however, be able to introduce a boatload of documentary evidence they claim proves that Barry Bonds knowlingly used PEDs.  The reason: as has long been the case, Greg Anderson is still not testifying, therefore the documents — which he created — cannot be authenticated, and are thus inadmissible hearsay.

I’ll obviously be following the trial as closely as the Internet will allow — oh, please don’t send me on an all-expenses-paid trip to San Francisco, my NBC overlords! Don’t throw me into that brier patch — but for now I’ll refresh you on my overall take of things so as to avoid confusion going forward:

Barry Bonds took the Cream and the Clear. It’s been painstakingly researched and written about. He admitted under oath that, yeah, there was probably stuff that he took that he subsequently learned were something other than flaxseed oil. There isn’t a truly reasonable debate to be had along the lines of “did he take PEDs,” and that question really has no bearing on this trial whatsoever, so don’t take my criticism of the current prosecution as a denial of the bleedin’ obvious;

Steroids or not, I don’t think the prosecution had a good perjury case from the moment Bonds was indicted.  As I’ve written before, the relevant question is whether Barry Bonds knew he was taking steroids prior to December 4, 2003. Or, more to the point, a case about whether the government can prove that he knew he was taking steroids prior to December 4, 2003.  On that point, I think it’s a weak case because the government’s questions during the grand jury proceedings were terribly vague, Bonds’ answers were boringly circuitous, and the government didn’t do much to try to nail him down. I explained all of that here a couple of years ago.

Do I think Bonds lied under oath?  Having read the entirety of his testimony I think he was probably trying to do his best to avoid having to. And I think that, because of the sloppy questioning, he avoided the sorts of unequivocal falsehoods that are usually the subject of perjury prosecutions.  Most of the time a case with these broad, compound  questions and these circular answers doesn’t get charged. It’s too borderline.  But this is a celebrity here, and this was a Novitzky investigation, so they’re going for broke. And they’re doing it without the one witness — Greg Anderson — who can make their case.

Overall I think this is a wasteful prosecution, and it was made wasteful because of government sloppiness and the lack of a true law enforcement imperative at work, which led to prosecutors handling the grand jury proceedings as if there were unimportant. All of the BALCO people who were the targets of that grand jury have been tried, convicted and have served their time and are going on with their lives. This is a seven-year-old hangover, and such things are a recipe for a misuse of the justice system and bad justice issuing therefrom.

Under those circumstances, I don’t think Bonds should be prosecuted. Even as it is, I don’t think it’s anywhere close to certain that the prosecution can get a conviction.  But hey, that’s why they play the game!

The Japanese playoffs are super unfair

Hiroshima Carp
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I know a little about Japanese baseball. Not a lot, mind you. Like, I couldn’t hold my own with people who actually watch it or report on it or whatever, but I could explain some of the broad differences and similarities between the NPB and the U.S. majors.  I can say a few things about how the two leagues compare competitively speaking. I can name some stars and (I think) all the clubs. But there’s, quite obviously, a ton I don’t know.

A thing I did not know until today: the NPB playoffs are really messed up.

The NPB is divided into two leagues, the Central and the Pacific, with the winner of each league facing off in the Japan Series. Like the U.S. majors, they have preliminary playoff rounds in each league. Each league has three playoff teams, with the second and third seed teams playing a series first, and the winner of that series playing the top seed — the team with the best record in the league — in what is called the Climax Series.

Here’s the weird part: the higher-seeded team in the Climax Series — the team which won the league in the regular season — gets every single playoff game at home. What’s more, that team begins the Climax Series with an automatic 1-0 advantage. So, yes, it’s a seven-game series on paper, but one of the teams only has to win three games to advance to the Japan Series.

Oh, in Japan, they also have no problems ending a playoff game early if it rains. That’s what happened in the Central League Climax Series last night, where the lower-seeded Yokohama BayStars took on the league champ Hiroshima Carp. Here’s the report from Jason Coskrey of The Japan Times:

The rainy conditions in Hiroshima caused the umpires to stop play for over 30 minutes and ultimately call the game after five innings, minutes after the Carp put three runs on the board. Just like that, it was over. The Carp won 3-0, with Yokohama robbed of the four innings (at least) it would’ve had to try and rally.

Even better: as Coskrey notes, there are five days in between the end of the Climax Series and the beginning of the Japan Series, so there is no reason they could not suspend a game and resume it the next day. They just choose not to. The upshot: the Carp were staked to a 2-0 series lead despite the fact that they had only played five innings of baseball. UPDATE: they played a full game today, the BayStars won, so now it’s 2-1 Hiroshima.

Imagine if that happened in the NLCS. Imagine if the Dodgers began the series with a 1-0 lead over the Cubs and played all of their games in Los Angeles. Imagine there was a freak L.A. storm and it ended one of the game in the fifth inning, right after Justin Turner hit a homer. I’m pretty sure people would riot.

Kinda makes our complaints about the replay system seem rather quaint, eh?