Kimberly Bell

Bonds Trial Update: Things get personal

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Yesterday was oversharing time at the Barry Bonds trial with the witness who, if Greg Anderson had testified, may never have been called: Bonds’ ex-girlfriend Kimberly Bell.  She testified that Bonds admitted to steroid use prior to his grand jury testimony and, as promised, provided all manner of intimate detail about the life and sexual times of Barry Bonds.

Bell, who met Bonds in 1994, said that Bonds started taking steroids because he noted that they worked for guys like Mark McGwire. As far as motives go, this matches up pretty well with what we learned in “Game of Shadows”: a late 1990s realization that, despite all Bonds had accomplished at that point in his baseball career — and they were likely Hall of Fame accomplishments already — he wanted more.

But Bell wasn’t called to talk about Bonds’ lust for glory. She was called to to talk turkey about Bonds’ physical and mental state. And that she did, testifying that Bonds suffered from shrunken testicles, acne, bloating, hair loss and impotence, all of which can be symptoms of steroid use. She said he was “aggressive, irritable, agitated and very impatient,” and said that he had once threatened to cut her head off, cut out her breast implants and to burn her friggin’ house down.

For as salacious as this all was, it wasn’t new: Bell had talked about most of this stuff in an article that accompanied her Playboy photo spread in 2007, and as the defense’s cross examination of Bell revealed, she had on several occasions tried to sell her story to book publishers and filmmakers.  Which doesn’t make her testimony false, of course, but could certainly undermine her credibility. Juries care about the motivation of witnesses. Indeed, they may do so too much at times, overlooking undisputed facts to which they testified and fixating on the question of witness bias, real or imagined.

More importantly, I question whether Bell’s most critical testimony — that Bonds told her prior to 2003 that he took steroids — is enough to convince the jury that Bonds perjured himself on the point.*  As I’ve noted time and again, the questions put to Bonds before the grand jury of the general “did you ever take steroids” variety were vague and open or, conversely, were often premised on multiple sub-questions relating to specific drugs, specific times and places, etc. It’s possible, therefore, that a jury could conclude that, say, Bonds did take steroids in 1999, but did not lie about taking Whateveriztol 323 via injection from Greg Anderson in October 2001.

Of the several reports I’ve read from yesterday’s testimony, I see nothing which suggests that Bell got into the kind of detail necessary to completely nail down the entirety of the perjury allegations.  But she certainly nailed the “Barry Bonds is a gigantic ass” theme which the prosecution has been itching to inject in this trial. A theme that — like a witness’ motivation — is something to which juries often respond, even if it’s totally beside the point in light of the particular charges against the defendant. Bonds is not on trial for being an awful person. He’s on trial for lying to a grand jury, and the bulk of Bell’s testimony had little to do with that.

All of that said: if Bell is believed beyond a reasonable doubt, it may be enough to prompt the jury to convict him.  That’s a big if, though, and there is still a lot of trial left.

*As is always the case with my opinions about the overarching effectiveness of any testimony in this trial, I offer the disclaimer that I wasn’t in court and am basing this on multiple news accounts of the testimony. How things actually played before the jury in real time may lead to a dramatically different conclusion.

Today is the anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s Iron Man streak ending

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, MARCH 31 AND THEREAFTER - FILE - In this Oct. 5, 1938 file photo, New York Yankees' Lou Gehrig scores the first run of the 1938 World Series against the Chicago Cubs as he crosses home plate in the second inning of Game 1 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. A dozen years before Babe Ruth’s famed ‘Called Shot,’ teammate Lou Gehrig hit an equally dramatic homer. Gehrig was 17 when his high school team traveled to Chicago to take on a Chicago team. In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and his team down 8-6, Gehrig hit a ball over wall and onto Sheffield Avenue to win the game. The historic ballpark will celebrate it's 100th anniversary on April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/File)
Associated Press
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Today is a significant baseball anniversary. On this day in 1939 Lou Gehrig asked out of the lineup as the Yankees played the Tigers in Detroit. It both ended his Iron Man Streak at 2,130, but also marked the beginning of Gehrig’s very public acknowledgement of ALS, the disease which would come to bear his name. Gehrig would never play again.

While it was clear that Gehrig’s body was betraying him and his baseball skills were abandoning him in the first few games of the 1939 season, some say the ultimate impetus for Gehrig asking out of the lineup happened earlier that day. The story goes that Gehrig collapsed on the grand staircase of the Book-Cadillac hotel where the Yankees were staying and that later, as he sat in the hotel bar, he told manager Joe McCarthy that he couldn’t play anymore.

The Book-Cadillac is still there. It deteriorated over the years and then was renovated. It’s a Westin now — the Westin Book-Cadillac. It’s a wonderful hotel and the bar area still has much of its old charm, but the grand staircase is gone, replaced with a couple of escalators. I stay there whenever I’m in Detroit. I’m friends with one of the Book-Cadillac’s bartenders and I try to see him whenever I’m there. When I sit in that bar I often wonder if Gehrig sat near where I was, telling McCarthy that he just couldn’t do it anymore. There are a lot of ghosts in Detroit. Gehrig’s is mostly in New York, but there’s a little bit of him in Detroit too.

Cal Ripken would later break Gehrig’s record. I doubt anyone breaks Cal’s. But in some cases the record holders are less interesting than those who were surpassed.

More talk of a juiced ball

VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Washington Nationals practice balls  during spring training workouts on February 18, 2014 in Viera, Fl.  (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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At the end of March we linked a story from Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh at FiveThirtyEight which sought to figure out why home run rates have spiked. Their theory was that it was either randomness or a juiced ball. They tested baseballs and found no evidence of a different ball, so that seems to have ended that.

Except it didn’t end it because, as so often is the case in the early part of a season, we are seeing some statistical, well, let’s just call it “interestingness” and people don’t like to let such interestingness go. To that end Yahoo’s Jeff Passan — acknowledging the Lindbergh/Arthur study — asks once again if the balls are funky.

It’s all based on exit velocity of baseballs, which Passan notes has spiked. He doesn’t come to any conclusions — just not enough data — but the very act of asking the question in a column and Passan’s acknowledgment that he sounds like a conspiracy theorist tell you that that’s his hunch. And it could be the case. I still think the ball got juiced in 1987 and again, on a more permanent basis, in 1993, but there’s no evidence to really support that. Just one of those “can’t think of anything better” sort of situations.

For now, though, it’s May 2. And I suspect that for as long as there have been May 2nds in a baseball season, people have looked at the stats and suspected something weird was afoot. Maybe something weird is afoot. We just can’t really know.

A-Rod knows how to keep his bat dry

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez watches his RBI single during the first inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
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Alex Rodriguez had a big night in a losing effort last night. He homered and drove in four. In the past week or so he’s raised his average over 50 points and may be finally shaking off the offseason rust. When you’re over 40 it takes you longer to do everything.

But even if it takes his reflexes some time to get up to speed, you can never take away the knowledge and experience of a savvy veteran with a high baseball I.Q. For example, whether he’s hitting or not, the man knows that it’s important to keep your bat dry on a rainy night:

Sean Burnett opts out of his Dodgers deal, to sign with the Braves

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Burnett walks off the mound after being pulled during the eighth inning in Game 2 of baseball's National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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In early April the Dodgers agreed to a minor league contract with pitcher Sean Burnett after he didn’t make the Washington Nationals’ roster out of spring training. He was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. As is usually the case, veterans like him have an opt-out if they don’t make the big club after a certain amount of time, and Burnett has opt-ed out, realizing that he’s likely not in the Dodgers’ plans.

But he could be in the Braves’ plans. They stink on ice. Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that he’s signing with them and will report to Triple-A Gwinnett tomorrow.

Burnett, 33, hasn’t appeared in the majors since he pitched three games for the Angels in 2014 and hasn’t pitched regularly in the bigs since 2012. Tommy John surgery will do that to a guy. He did toss eight and two-thirds scoreless innings for the Nationals during spring training and has allowed only two earned runs in seven and two-thirds innings of relief work for Oklahoma City. There may still be something there. Innings will need to be eaten in Atlanta this year. Burnett may be able to eat them.