Barry Bonds

Bonds Trial Update: ex-friends and garbled recordings

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Taking the stand in the Bonds trial yesterday was Steven Hoskins, a childhood friend of Barry Bonds who grew up to be something of a fixer and lackey.  Hoskins would pay Bonds’ bills, make sure his baseball equipment was in order and pay off Bonds’ girlfriends with a wad of cash he kept in a safe in his office. You know, the usual stuff.

The real reason for his testimony, however, was for one of the things he did that wasn’t part of his job description: he secretly recorded Bonds’ steroids dealer so that he could either (a) play the tape to Bonds’ dying father in an effort to dissuade Bonds from continuing to use drugs; or (b) blackmail Bonds so that Bonds wouldn’t pursue charges against Hoskins after he found out that Hoskins had been forging Bonds’ name on baseball memorabilia and contracts and stuff.

Of course, whether it’s (a) or (b) depends on whether you’re a prosecutor or a defense lawyer.

The tape was played in court yesterday, and as we’ve previously noted, its contents are probably only damaging if one already believes the overall narrative that Bonds knew what he was taking. That’s because it contains no mention of Bonds’ knowledge of anything, only Greg Anderson’s admission that they were, in fact, undetectable illicit drugs. The tape will bolster the view of those who think Bonds lied via other evidence that comes in, but it will do nothing to convince someone that Bonds lied, it seems.

Hoskins was subjected to some pretty withering cross-examination on his reasons for making the tape, which occurred after he and Bonds had their falling out over the memorabilia sales.  Bonds had already gone to the government at that point and had asked that Hoskins be investigated. It was the strong implication of Bonds lawyer Allen Ruby that Hoskins made the tape to have something to use against Bonds, either to get back at him for going to the feds or to prevent him from pursuing the charges.  The investigation was eventually dropped. Ruby contends that it was done so in exchange for Hoskins helping the government in its case against Bonds.

Judging on reports from the courtoom — which, granted, aren’t always ideal — the cross examination of Hoskins seemed pretty damaging. Bonds’ lawyers had Hoskins testy and confused at times. He mixed up dates. He contradicted previous statements he had made out of court in which he said he’d seen Bonds get injected with drugs (yesterday he only said that he saw Anderson enter Bonds bedroom with syringes).  To the extent that the jury buys Hoskins as a shifty guy trying to make money off Bonds, they may very well question his reasons for making the tape, buying in to the blackmail notion Ruby was trying to plant.

There was one exchange — passed along by Gwen Knapp of the Chronicle — that struck me: Ruby asks Hoskins if he ever threatened Bonds.  Hoskins said no. Ruby said “You sure about that?”  Hoskins was defiant in his denial. Then he asked to take a break, which the judge agreed to.

We were taught to never ask a witness if they’re sure about their answer unless we had stone-cold evidence that we could burn them later. Because if not, you as the lawyer look desperate and you end up making the witness look more credible.  If you have something that later shows the witness to have been incomplete or something less than truthful in his answer, however, it can be devastating.

Ruby doesn’t strike me as a desperate or sloppy lawyer. Hoskins’ cross-examination continues today. I’m eager to see if Hoskins is truly sure about his answer.

Former MLB player Andy Marte also killed in car accident

GOODYEAR , AZ - MARCH 06:  Andy Marte #15 of the Cleveland Indians looks on from the dugout during the spring training game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Goodyear Ballpark on March 6, 2009 in Goodyear, Arizona. The Brewers defeated the Indians 17-7.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Compounding the tragic news of Yordano Ventura‘s passing is a report that fellow Dominican and former MLB infielder Andy Marte was also killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic early Sunday morning. The report was confirmed by Marte’s agency, J.M.G. Baseball, as well as Marte’s former MLB clubs. No further details have been released so far.

Marte, 33, appeared for the Braves, Indians and Diamondbacks from 2005 through 2014. He was ranked in the top 10 MLB prospects by MLB.com in 2005 and held a career .218/.276/.358 batting line, 21 home runs and a .634 OPS over seven seasons in the majors. He signed with the KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization after the 2014 season, slashing .312 with 42 home runs in 206 games.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Marte’s family and teammates during this terrible time.

Yordano Ventura and Jose Fernandez were two of the most promising arms in MLB

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 3: Starting pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 3, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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Baseball lost two incredible pitchers in the last four months, both to horrible and unforeseen tragedies. Jose Fernandez and Yordano Ventura were among the most talented and promising pitchers in MLB, two young arms that drew both accolades and criticism for their performance on the mound.

Ventura signed with the Royals in 2008, blazing through several tiers of their farm system before he was called up to replace an injured Danny Duffy in late 2013. He secured his rotation spot the following spring and finished a solid 2014 campaign with a 14-10 record, 3.20 ERA and 2.4 fWAR in 32 starts for the club. During the Royals’ World Series run later that year, Ventura dedicated his performance in Game 6 to Cardinals’ prospect Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic just two days earlier.

In four years with the Royals, Ventura pitched to a 38-31 record, 3.89 ERA and 6.5 fWAR. While his command and overall production rate waned, bottoming out in 2016 with a 4.45 ERA and 1.85 SO/BB rate, his dynamic pitch repertoire still kept him front and center in the Royals’ pitching staff. He brandished an electric fastball that, at its lowest point, hovered around 96.6 m.p.h. and, at its best, topped out around 102.6 m.p.h.

Like Ventura, Fernandez made an instant impression in the major league circuit. He earned Rookie of the Year distinctions in 2013 after delivering a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA and 4.1 fWAR with the Marlins. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery in his sophomore year, he recovered to take on a full workload in 2016 and stunned the league with a 16-8 record, 2.89 ERA, career-high 253 strikeouts and 6.1 fWAR.

Ventura developed a reputation for brushing back hitters, which escalated in some cases to volatile bench-clearing brawls. In 2015, he was ejected for three altercations in three consecutive games and served a seven-game suspension. Halfway through the 2016 season, he earned another eight-game suspension after plunking the Orioles’ Manny Machado in the back with a 99 m.p.h. heater. Some speculated that his aggressive behavior on the mound was excused — or, at least, made more palatable — by his talent and track record, while others called for a more heavy-handed approach from the league.

Fernandez, too, found himself at the center of speculation after reports emerged that painted the 24-year-old as a “clubhouse difficulty,” citing attitude problems that damaged relationships between the pitcher and Marlins players and staff. On the field, he was occasionally chastised for failing to adhere to some of baseball’s unwritten rules, most notably when he showed his elation after hitting his first career home run off of the Braves’ Mike Minor in 2013.

It’s impossible to predict where Fernandez and Ventura’s careers would have taken them. We mourn them not for their actions on the mound or their potential as star pitchers, however, but for their inherent value as people who were loved and respected by their families and teams. Major League Baseball will be worse off for their loss.