lawsuit gavel

Meanwhile, in an alternate universe where the Barry Bonds prosecution was “a triumph” for the prosecution


ESPN’s legal expert Lester Munson has been in love with the Barry Bonds prosecution for several years now. Specifically, the Barry Bonds prosecutors as well as the feds behind the BALCO investigation. And it has led to some pretty wacky analysis of that case on his part.

He was wildly incorrect about earlier evidentiary rulings. And he wasn’t merely mistaken about them. He was so awfully mistaken about them that it was clear to anyone who understood the issues that, the moment he wrote what he wrote, his take was simply incoherent. He likewise responded to the Bonds verdict in a manner that was so far outside of the mainstream that multiple legal experts thought he was smokin’ banana peels.  It’s one thing to simply have a different opinion about a case and its dynamics, but Munson’s takes have been the stuff of an alternate universe.

That trend continued late Friday night when Munson did a Q&A about the Barry Bonds sentence.  I don’t know what your take is on the prosecutors and the federal agents who spent nearly a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars going after a tiny drug operation with a tiny client list, but here’s Munson’s take:

… the prosecutors — who occasionally stumbled — rallied brilliantly at the conclusion of the Bonds trial and obtained the conviction for obstruction of justice and were one vote shy of a conviction for perjury. This outcome, even with the light sentence, is a triumph for investigative agent Jeff Novitzky and prosecutors Jeff Nedrow and Matt Parrella.

A triumph? Rallied brilliantly? It was originally an indictment of more than a dozen counts. They got whittled down to four. They whiffed on the three biggest of those and the fourth one stands an excellent chance of being overturned on appeal because it was clearly counter to the evidence. And what’s that stuff about “one vote shy of a conviction for perjury?”  A jury’s verdict is a pass/fail test. The prosecutors failed it. Close counts for nothing.

Of course, Munson doesn’t think this is an unmitigated triumph. He acknowledges that it didn’t all go perfectly. Why?

The problem that led to the conviction on only one count and a deadlocked jury on three counts of perjury was not the quality of the work of the agents and prosecutors. The problem was the refusal of Bonds’ personal trainer, Greg Anderson, to testify against him. For reasons that are not yet known, Anderson went to jail twice instead of offering evidence against Bonds. Anderson’s refusal to testify prevented the prosecutors from connecting Bonds to positive drug tests and other compelling evidence of Bonds’ use of steroids.

No, Anderson wasn’t there and, yes, things would have been totally different if he had been, I’m sure. But the unavailability of that evidence was a known fact for years before trial. Yet the prosecutors pushed on anyway. They pushed on knowing that they could not make an essential part of their case. This was awful tactical and legal judgment, yet Munson absolves the prosecutors totally. He makes it sound like they got blindsided.

All of that makes Munson sound like an apologist for the prosecution. But don’t worry, he’s not just an apologist. He is a cheap-shot artist, at least when it comes to the judge:

Q: The jury concluded that Bonds obstructed the investigation of the grand jury. Why wouldn’t the judge support the crime-fighting efforts of the grand jury by sentencing Bonds to the penitentiary?

A: The federal judge who presided over the Bonds trial is Susan Illston. She is a San Francisco Democrat and a bit of an enigma … It was one of many decisions made in the course of the BALCO prosecutions that indicated Judge Illston just didn’t get it … It was clear throughout the Bonds trial that Illston would rather be doing something else. The federal sentencing guidelines suggest a term of 15 months in prison. Illston ignored the guidelines and told Bonds he would be confined for a month in his mansion.

In other words, Munson is saying that Ilston was politically-motivated, dumb or simply didn’t care about her job. If one of the prosecutors in this case said these things they’d be in front of Judge Ilston on contempt charges. I don’t know if Munson still has an active legal license (UPDATE: He doesn’t, and for good reason), but lawyers are held to higher standards than others when it comes to criticizing judges and no officer of the court should ever be heard to say such things about a federal freaking District Court judge.

And decorum aside, on the merits, he’s just wrong. Lawyers who have practiced before Judge Ilston have a wildly different opinion of her.  And “sentencing guidelines?”  They are just that: guidelines. An important part of the judge’s job is to, you know, judge. Munson neglects to mention that Ilston followed the report and recommendation of the probation office to the letter. She took all information at her disposal into account before she sentenced Bonds. Munson would have her do something … less.

He then goes on to slam Ilston’s overall sentencing practices, wondering why so many of the BALCO figures got light sentences, and why the attorney who leaked the grand jury testimony to the “Game of Shadows” authors got two years. I suppose it’s possible Munson just doesn’t realize that perjury and obstruction are far less serious crimes than the leaking of grand jury testimony by an attorney in a case. But that interpretation — that he’s simply ignorant of the law — doesn’t exactly flatter Munson any more than one in which his take on this was a product of him being an anti-steroid zealot.

But that’s pretty par for the course with Munson. His take on this case has, from the beginning, been colored by his views on PEDs and the personalities involved. And that’s fine for anyone else who wants to opine on all of this. But Munson is supposed to be providing legal analysis of this stuff, and that analysis has been way, way off the mark as a result.

The only possible explanation for it is either rank incompetence (which I do not believe, because I’ve admired his handling of other sports-related cases in the past) or that his judgment is seriously clouded by his views of steroids in sports. He doesn’t like Barry Bonds. Great. No one really does. But the difference is that Munson has allowed that view to paint such a wildly misleading picture of the legal landscape in which that case resides, and in doing so, he has done a disservice to his readers.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Leave a comment

After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.