Bonds Trial Update: It’s now in the jury’s hands

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Closing statements were made at the Barry Bonds trial yesterday. And while closings aren’t evidence — and while in my view they aren’t nearly as important as openings — they always feel like a high point.  The final opportunity to pound the theme of the case home. But they also serve as something of a tell in which the lawyers reveal, whether they intend to or not, what the weakest parts of their case are.

I’ve been in a courtroom (as an observer) for one perjury case in my life and in that one, like Bonds’, the first words out of the prosecutor’s mouth were exactly the same: “All he had to do was tell the truth.”  Maybe there’s a trial advocacy book that talks about using that one, but it’s pretty effective even if it’s common. The jury, especially in this case, can get pretty bogged down in some of the details that formed the basis for the alleged lie, but it’s pretty helpful to remind them that at the end of the day they really are deciding something simple and understandable. Something with which every person has experience and a firm set of moral convictions: lying. In putting it this way, the prosecutors are helping them remove doubt from their heads because we all think — or at least like to think — that we know when we’ve been lied to.

At the same time, the prosecution’s closing underscored the fact that, with the exception of the single charge relating to injections, there was no one who got on the stand who could themselves say “Barry lied, and here’s why.” The prosecutor started a lot of questions with “ask yourself …” making it clear that the jury needs to make inferences based on circumstantial evidence in order to conclude that the grand jury had been lied to. Maybe that makes things easier for them. Maybe, however, it makes them wonder why, if Barry Bonds was a rampant steroids user, no one came into court and said it in plain terms.

I can’t say that I was particularly impressed with what I can gather from reports about the defense’s theme. Bonds’ lawyers argued that the prosecution was a vendetta against Bonds by a government that was angry with him for not being intimidated and subservient in front of the grand jury. Because Bonds refused to say, “Yes, sir,” which irked the government. They said that the main witnesses against him were friends or lovers scorned and that, armed with immunity themselves, were out to get Bonds.  As a proponent of Occam’s Razor, any conspiracy theory is dubious to me, and I wonder if the jury feels the same way. I mean, yes, I think Bonds was singled out, but I don’t think it was a personal thing. It was more about careerism and perpetuating a big investigation that served a lot of purposes, be they legitimate and righteous or not (mostly not). But spite? Eh, tough sell for me.

The defense was on firmer ground when they argued — for really the first time in the case — that even if there were lies told by Barry Bonds, they are not worthy of a guilty verdict because they were not, to use the legal term, material. They did not negatively impact the grand jury as it tried to do its job back in 2003, Bonds’ lawyers argued, nor could they have given how inconsequential and ultimately silly his alleged lies were. The defense noted that the prosecution put no one on the stand who said otherwise. This is not quite true — agent Novitzky said the grand jury was negatively impacted — but Novitzky’s own success in going after BALCO may work against him here. They got convictions of everyone they targeted, most without a trial. If Bonds was truly screwing the legal system with his testimony, the jury may very well wonder why there was no seeming injustice done as a result. No criminals who went free.

The defense likewise did a good job highlighting where the government’s evidence was light and where the witnesses testimony was specifically deficient or contradicted. Their toughest task was to poke holes in Kathy Hoskins’ story about seeing Bonds injected. They tried, but observers in the courtroom thought her credible when she testified and weren’t particularly impressed with the defense’s handling of her testimony in closing arguments.  Unless the jury decides that Bonds’ lie about injections was immaterial — and given how small and silly it seems compared to the other charges which themselves seem rather minor in the grand scheme, it’s entirely possible they could decide that — there’s a good chance Bonds gets nailed on that charge. If he doesn’t, it will be because of the jury’s disdain for the prosecution’s case as a whole, not because of the actual evidence at trial.

And with that, it’s in the jury’s hands. They will deliberate today. We’ll certainly have a reaction when they reach a verdict.

Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday

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This Sunday three players will be honored in Cooperstown as Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez become the 313th, 314th and 315th members inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Executives Bud Selig and John Schuerholz will be inducted as well, making it 316 and 317.

Raines was quite possibly the NL’s best player in a five-year span from 1983-87.  WAR thinks so, placing him ahead of Mike Schmidt, Tony Gwynn and Dale Murphy, all of whom got more plaudits at the time. Raines hit .318/.406/.467 during that period and averaged 114 runs scored and 71 steals per year. During those five years, only Rickey Henderson scored more runs (572-568) and only Wade Boggs had a better OBP (.443 to .406). That Raines had to wait until his last year of eligibility was in large part due to him being a very similar player to Henderson. Which is kind of an unfair comparison — Henderson is one of the best players of all time — but that’s how the voters operate sometimes.

Bagwell likewise had to wait a bit longer than he should’ve, mostly due to thus far evidence-free beliefs that he used PEDs. On the merits, Bagwell was one of the best first basemen of all time, with a career line of .297/.408/.540, 449 homers and 1,529 RBI. Between 1994 and 2001, he averaged — averaged! — a line of .306/.428/.589, 37 homers and 120 RBI while playing in perhaps the worst hitters park in history in the Astrodome.

People whispered about Rodriguez and PEDs just as much as they did Bagwell, but he got in on the first ballot, suggesting that the BBWAA is getting over its hangups. He is also clearly deserving of induction. Rodriguez, the 1999 AL MVP, was named to 14 All-Star teams and he won 13 Gold Gloves. He finished his career with a .296/.334/.464 line, 311 homers and 1,332 RBI. His 2,427 games caught is a major league record. He was, without question, the best defensive catcher of his era and many believe he was the best of all time. If he’s not, he’s in the top two or three.

As for the executives: we’re long on record as believing that Bud Selig’s induction is a disgrace. It was nonetheless a foregone conclusion, as the Hall of Fame has tended to view induction as part of retiring commissioners’ severance package. If there was any remaining doubt about him getting in, the fact that the committee which elected Selig was, more or less, hand-picked by people loyal to Selig and/or Major League Baseball put it to rest.  John Schuerholz is clearly deserving as he was one of the top executives of the past half century, starting out with the Orioles and then building winners in both Kansas City and Atlanta, sustaining those organizations’ success for far longer periods than most teams experience it.

Beyond those two, ESPN’s Claire Smith will be on the stage to accept the 2017 J. G. Taylor Spink Award, given to baseball writers. She is the first woman to be given baseball writing’s highest honor.  Athletics broadcaster will be honored as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting. Smith passed away in 2005.

The ceremony will be held on a big lawn a mile south of the Hall of Fame. If you’re in the neighborhood, admission is free and lawn chairs and blankets and things are welcome. If you’re not in the neighborhood, the festivities will be broadcast live on MLB Network and will be shown via webcast at http://www.baseballhall.org.

Aaron Judge broke a tooth celebrating the Yankees walkoff win

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Brett Gardner hit a walkoff homer last night, giving the Yankees a dramatic 11-inning win. A grand celebration ensued. And then a trip to the dentist presumably ensured for Aaron Judge.

Seems that Judge broke a tooth during the scrum, as Gardner’s helmet — which was bouncing around, not on Gardner’s head — bounced up and smacked Judge in the mouth. Judge quickly went to the clubhouse and wasn’t available for comment afterward. If he was, he likely would’ve said “Thith wath a great win. Gardner juth looked for hith pitch and put a good thwing on it.”

Judge is expected to make the start tonight for the Yankees.