The Barry Bonds trial starts with a snore

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I asked NBC if they’d send me to San Francisco to cover the Barry Bonds trial, live and in person. They were receptive until I started in with my accommodation demands, my per diem demands and stuff like that. Look, I may have overplayed my hand, but in my defense, I don’t get to go to San Francisco very often and if someone else is going to pay my way, I’m totally going to demand the best.

Wait. I probably shouldn’t have said that out loud. Now they’re not even going to listen to me when I ask to cover the Roger Clemens trial this summer. Oh well.

Anyway, if you’re into play-by-play live-tweeting of the trial, so far Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle appears to be your huckleberry. She had the highlights of the prosecutor’s opening statement on her Twitter feed this morning and will presumably keep it up.

Opening statements aren’t evidence and one can read too much into them, but so far it seems like the lead prosecutor is making the same mistake most lawyers make: going on WAY too long and thinking that the jury is as interested in how clever and eloquent a guy he thinks he is.  Knapp says it was 30 minutes — 30 minutes! — before the prosecutor said that Bonds lied to the grand jury.  Before that he gave what Knapp says is “a dull steroids tutorial” using the actual scientific names for various substances. Gripping!

I don’t claim to be an awesome trial lawyer myself, but I worked with (and was destroyed in court by) a number of them. And the first thing those men and women did was to tell the jury what the case was about. In simple terms. And to not get hung up on minutiae and jargon if it can be at all avoided. Which, in the opening arguments of a perjury trial, seems like it would be easy to do. Thirty minutes before mentioning that this is a perjury case? My word, if you can’t do an opening in this case — an entire opening — in less than 30 minutes what good are ya?

Oh well. Maybe things will pick up for them. Federal agent Jeff Novitzky testifies today, so that should be fun. He has made his whole career out of busting athletes, so those of you who are interested in this from the “wow, how wasteful this all is” angle should probably pay attention, because there will surely be outrage fodder for you.

Nationals activate Stephen Strasburg off the disabled list

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The Nationals officially activated Stephen Strasburg off the 10-day disabled list, the team announced Saturday. They’ll pencil him into the starting lineup for their second set against the Padres on Saturday night. Strasburg is expected to assume Max Scherzer‘s roster spot after Scherzer landed on the disabled list with neck inflammation prior to Friday’s series opener. No other roster moves appear to be necessary for the time being.

Strasburg, 28, is finally looking stable after serving a 26-day stint on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement. It’s the first serious injury he’s sustained since last August, when he missed 20 days with inflammation in his right elbow, and one the Nationals are taking seriously as they juggle multiple stints for their elite starters. He’ll enter Saturday’s competition with a 10-3 record in 20 starts, supplemented by a 3.25 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 through 121 2/3 innings.

Elbow issues are nothing to be played around with, but Strasburg’s performance in his lone rehab outing relieved any residual apprehension the Nats might have had about his activation this weekend. He tossed 66 pitches for High-A Potomac, hitting 95 MPH with his heater and logging three hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts over five innings. Club manager Dusty Baker is hoping for a similarly dominant start against the Padres, and told reporters that he’ll hold Strasburg to a performance count as the righty works his way back to a full-time gig.

MLB umpires will wear white wristbands to protest “escalating verbal attacks”

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The World Umpires Association is dissatisfied with the punishment meted out to Tigers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler following his lengthy criticism of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday. Kinsler’s comments were sparked by a confrontation on Monday night, when the infielder was ejected after arguing balls and strikes with Hernandez in the fifth inning.

“It has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does,” Kinsler told reporters. “Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore. No one in this game wants you behind the plate any more, none of the players.”

Kinsler was fined an undisclosed amount for the remarks, but did not receive a suspension. Hernandez, meanwhile, returned to cover second base the next day and appeared to resolve the conflict with a brief conversation and a handshake.

Whether or not the comments speak to underlying truths about Major League Baseball’s flawed umpiring system, they clearly got under the skin of the World Umpires Association. The union released a statement Saturday condemning Major League Baseball for choosing to overlook the “escalating attacks” on the men in blue:

This week, a player publicly and harshly impugned the character and integrity of Angel Hernandez – a veteran umpire who has dedicated his career to baseball and the community. The verbal attack on Angel denigrated the entire MLB umpiring staff and is unacceptable.

The Office of the Commissioner has failed to address this and other escalating attacks on umpires. The player who denigrated Hernandez publicly said he thought he would be suspended. Instead got far more lenient treatment – a fine. He shrugged that off and told reporters he has ‘no regrets’ about his offensive statements calling for an end to Hernandez’s career.

The Office of the Commissioner’s lenient treatment to abusive player behavior sends the wrong message to players and managers. It’s ‘open season’ on umpires, and that’s bad for the game.

We are held accountable for our performance at every game. Our most important duty is to protect the integrity of the game, and we will continue to do that job every day. But the Office of the Commissioner must protect our integrity when we are unfairly attacked simply for doing our jobs.

Starting Saturday, umpires will don white wristbands in protest of the Commissioner’s lack of support, and will continue to do so until their concerns are addressed.

Kinsler’s comments may have been in poor taste, but given the established in-game ramifications for challenging an umpire’s decisions, it’s difficult to tell where the union wants MLB to start drawing the line. If players already face ejections for questioning the parameters of a strike zone (often immediate ones, without any room for a productive or non-confrontational discussion), it seems unfair to hit them with suspensions for venting their frustrations after the game. Until Major League Baseball finds a way to start automating calls, however, the “human element” of the game will continue to pose problems for players and umpires alike.