Get ready, kids: Barry Bonds’ trial is right around the corner

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It seems like years ago that Barry Bonds was indicted for perjury. Oh, wait, it was years ago. Three-and-a-half to be exact.  But though the wheels of justice grind slowly, boy do they grind, and they’ve almost delivered us to Barry Bonds’ trial, which gets underway on March 21st.

But first, some preliminary rulings, a few of which came today:  the prosecution will — over Bonds’ objections — be able to call other ballplayers who trained with Greg Anderson, including Jason Giambi, Jeremy Giambi, Marvin Benard and Bobby Estalella.  They will not, however, be able to introduce a boatload of documentary evidence they claim proves that Barry Bonds knowlingly used PEDs.  The reason: as has long been the case, Greg Anderson is still not testifying, therefore the documents — which he created — cannot be authenticated, and are thus inadmissible hearsay.

I’ll obviously be following the trial as closely as the Internet will allow — oh, please don’t send me on an all-expenses-paid trip to San Francisco, my NBC overlords! Don’t throw me into that brier patch — but for now I’ll refresh you on my overall take of things so as to avoid confusion going forward:

Barry Bonds took the Cream and the Clear. It’s been painstakingly researched and written about. He admitted under oath that, yeah, there was probably stuff that he took that he subsequently learned were something other than flaxseed oil. There isn’t a truly reasonable debate to be had along the lines of “did he take PEDs,” and that question really has no bearing on this trial whatsoever, so don’t take my criticism of the current prosecution as a denial of the bleedin’ obvious;

Steroids or not, I don’t think the prosecution had a good perjury case from the moment Bonds was indicted.  As I’ve written before, the relevant question is whether Barry Bonds knew he was taking steroids prior to December 4, 2003. Or, more to the point, a case about whether the government can prove that he knew he was taking steroids prior to December 4, 2003.  On that point, I think it’s a weak case because the government’s questions during the grand jury proceedings were terribly vague, Bonds’ answers were boringly circuitous, and the government didn’t do much to try to nail him down. I explained all of that here a couple of years ago.

Do I think Bonds lied under oath?  Having read the entirety of his testimony I think he was probably trying to do his best to avoid having to. And I think that, because of the sloppy questioning, he avoided the sorts of unequivocal falsehoods that are usually the subject of perjury prosecutions.  Most of the time a case with these broad, compound  questions and these circular answers doesn’t get charged. It’s too borderline.  But this is a celebrity here, and this was a Novitzky investigation, so they’re going for broke. And they’re doing it without the one witness — Greg Anderson — who can make their case.

Overall I think this is a wasteful prosecution, and it was made wasteful because of government sloppiness and the lack of a true law enforcement imperative at work, which led to prosecutors handling the grand jury proceedings as if there were unimportant. All of the BALCO people who were the targets of that grand jury have been tried, convicted and have served their time and are going on with their lives. This is a seven-year-old hangover, and such things are a recipe for a misuse of the justice system and bad justice issuing therefrom.

Under those circumstances, I don’t think Bonds should be prosecuted. Even as it is, I don’t think it’s anywhere close to certain that the prosecution can get a conviction.  But hey, that’s why they play the game!

It will take more than a cursory apology for Josh Hader to put this behind him

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If you missed it, Brewers reliever Josh Hader landed in hot water the minute he stepped off the mound in Washington last night when multiple tweets he made in 2011-12* were uncovered containing some seriously gross, racist, misogynistic and homophobic language.

Almost as soon as it broke, Hader made a quick apology for the tweets, saying that he’s not the same person now than he was when he was 17 years-old. Major League Baseball is investigating the matter and Hader acknowledged that he must and that he will talk to his teammates about this, so the story is not over.

Some commenters and correspondents of mine, however, have said they believe it should be over. Indeed, they said it almost as soon as the news came to light. While a small handful of those folks likely take no issue with the language Hader used — there’s a lot of ugliness out there, particularly noticeable in the anonymous online world — others have simply, and it would appear genuinely, said that we should cut Hader slack for some bad choices he made when he was 17.

I will gladly cut Hader more slack for six and seven-year-old tweets he made as 17 year-old that he apologizes for genuinely than I would if he tweeted that stuff yesterday, but let’s not rush to “aww, he was just a kid” land seven hours and a night’s sleep after it all came to light. Indeed, there are many reasons why this is not a case for instant and automatic forgiveness.

This was not some kid breaking out a neighbor’s window with a slingshot. This was not someone saying “that’s gay” instead of “that’s dumb” in the way a lot of us have in the past. This was not someone using a word or phrase that only recently came to be accepted by most people as unacceptable or said something that, while not containing any awful individual words was insensitive, to use the parlance of the day. It was some seriously ugly language (go read it if you’d like), used consistently, repeatedly and confidently. It’s not from some hazy time in the past like the 1970s. It’s from 2011 and 2012. It’s language that he and everyone else knew, at the time, to be profoundly offensive to a massive number of people and which was unacceptable to use in a public forum. Not just now, with the hindsight of age and time, but then, even at the age he was. The tweets are a window into a really gross and disturbed person’s mind.

Hader should — and he will — be given the chance to apologize and to make amends. No one is suggesting he be banished to an island and he certainly won’t be, so don’t even make a suggestion that he is or will be any sort of victim of P.C. culture or whatever the hell else people cite in order to excuse their awful behavior or the awful behavior of others. At the same time, however, let us not let him off the hook with a cursory apology and a conclusory “I’m not like that anymore” statement to a beat writer five minutes after the controversy came to light.

For one thing, no one else would be given such an easy pass like that. No politician or musician or artist or job applicant or anyone else, famous or non-famous, would simply be able to cite being 17 as a get-out-of-decency-free card. We routinely try criminal defendants that age as adults. We make 17 year-olds of color conform their behavior to the most unreasonably high standards, set by others, in order to avoid being discriminated against or worse. For his part, Hader was an elite high school athlete who knew damn well that what he said and did in public was scrutinized in a fundamentally different way than what others said and did and nonetheless tweeted that garbage anyway. He did it either because his level of empathy and respect for women, blacks and homosexuals was defective and abhorrent or because he knew better and simply didn’t care.

I am not suggesting Hader not be given a chance to apologize and make amends for all of that. I am not suggesting that he not be able to continue to pitch late innings for the Milwaukee Brewers, become rich and famous and live his life happily and freely. I am merely saying that it is not too much to expect him now, less than 12 hours after all of this has come to light, to have to do some actual work to explain and atone for it. To not just say that he’s “a different person” now but to tell us how — apart from getting caught being obnoxious — he became a different person and what that really means. To expect him to explain this and to apologize to his teammates, and not just the two who happened to be in Washington with him last night. To explain and to apologize to his fans, many of whom are women and minorities, and to ask for their forgiveness and understanding.

I am not, to use a phrase someone threw at me last night, “on my high horse” about this. I am not holding Hader to some unreasonable, liberal/P.C/social justice warrior standard in which poor, victimized Josh Hader can simply not win. I am simply saying that this is far more serious than finding out some 80-year-old man jumped a subway turnstile back in 1954 and that the acceptance of responsibility, the apology and the work Hader has to do in light of this is not to issue some quick and cursory one offered to a national beat writer as he towels off after a postgame shower.

I realize our standards and expectations of certain public figures in this country have become impossibly low, but my God, they are not that low, nor should they be.

*There were some putative Hader tweets floating around Twitter of a more recent vintage, particularly one about Trayvon Martin from 2016, but there is reason to suspect at least that one is a photoshop. Hader has locked his account, however, and it cannot be confirmed. It’s not really important, though, given that Hader has admitted to making multiple ugly tweets, to inspect every single one this moment, so we’ll leave the analysis of each and every individual tweet for another time.