ESPN needs to get a better legal expert

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I have no personal quarrel with ESPN’s Lester Munson. I don’t know his background or his specific area of expertise. I know that when he is asked to explain to lay people the general gist of any legal issue that touches sports he tends to do an OK job.  He’s good at the “OK, what happens next” part of things, which is probably the thing sports fans want to know.  I’ve dabbled in legal expertise business before, and that’s about 95% of the gig.

I do know, however, that he is most visibly promoted by ESPN when it comes to steroids in baseball stories, and I know that whenever he has been called to go beyond the “what happens next” aspect of that business, he has often gotten things pretty wrong.

The most notable instance I can remember of him stone cold whiffing was when the Barry Bonds prosecutors lost some preliminary evidentiary rulings a couple of years ago and took an appeal.  I won’t bore you with the details, but the basis of the prosecution’s argument was an evidence concept called “the residual exception.”  The important thing to know about the residual exception is that if you have to argue that your evidence is admissible on that basis, you’re screwed, dude. Almost every single person with a legal background knew that the prosecutors were screwed there too. But not Munson, who claimed “their chances are good” and otherwise gave them a tongue-bathing while slamming Judge Illston.  He was wrong.

So color me unsurprised this morning when Munson’s column analyzing the Bonds verdict came out and it was filled with praise for the prosecution on a “major triumph,” and said that the defense “went 0 for 4” despite getting three hung juries, including one involving Bonds lying about steroids.  I suppose reasonable people can disagree about whether the prosecution can declare a victory of some kind, but Munson’s hyperbole and reasoning is so far removed from common sense and reality that I almost got an attack of vertigo trying to wrap my brain around it.

Thankfully some others took it down:  Wendy, at the Hanging Sliders blog, simply eviscerates Munson’s arguments.  The point-by-point takedown is what you should really read, but the conclusion pretty much covers it:

I don’t know Munson nor do I know anything about his law practice. But I suggest that if you are suspected of committing a crime, you should hire an attorney who understands criminal, evidentiary and constitutional law better than Lester Munson apparently does.

Elie Mystal at the inimitable Above the Law blog goes after Munson too, and suffers from the same sort of vertigo that struck me, only with more F-words.

I don’t know what Munson’s deal is. At some point several years ago he fell in love with the prosecution’s case and hasn’t been able to see it objectively for some time.  Or maybe he’s  just out of his depth with this stuff.  All I know for sure is that, given how often sports and law intersect these days, the self-proclaimed World Wide Leader in Sports should find someone who knows what the hell they’re talking about with this stuff.

Brewers hold off the Dodgers to force Game 7 of the NLCS

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Down 3-2 in the NLCS, the Brewers faced a must-win situation during Game 6 on Friday. Any residual uncertainty they might have felt about their chances of extending the series was all but resolved in the first inning, however, when Jesús Aguilar, Mike Moustakas, and Erik Kratz combined for a four-run spread to take an early lead. Powered by those early-game RBI, as well as masterful performances from Wade Miley, Corey Knebel, and Corbin Burnes, the club surged to a 7-2 win to pull even with the Dodgers and force a Game 7 tiebreaker.

Left-hander Wade Miley trounced the Dodgers in 4 1/3 innings of two-run, four-strikeout ball. He was bested by David Freese in the very first at-bat of the night, which culminated with a 402-footer to right field to put Los Angeles on the board, 1-0. After a few scoreless innings from the Dodgers, Freese returned to torment Miley in the top of the fifth, this time with an RBI double that narrowed the Brewers’ advantage from four runs to three.

Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for opposing lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. In the bottom of the first inning, Ryu allowed a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain, followed by a four-pitch walk to Ryan Braun. Jesús Aguilar came up to bat with two out and two on, then smacked a two-RBI line drive double to right field. Moustakas and Kratz went back-to-back-to-back with Aguilar, putting up another three runs on an RBI double and single, respectively.

The Brewers kept rolling in the second inning. Christian Yelich and Braun each collected a double off of Ryu, bringing Milwaukee’s lead to 5-1 over Los Angeles. Braun advanced to third on a Travis Shaw groundout, but with Aguilar up to bat, Ryu wasn’t going to chance a repeat of the Dodgers’ first-inning debacle. He intentionally walked Aguilar, then whiffed Moustakas on three straight fastballs to cap the inning.

By the time both Miley and Ryu were forced from the mound, the Brewers stood 5-2 above their opponents. Right-hander Corey Knebel worked a scoreless 1 2/3 innings, striking out Manny Machado to eliminate another potential rally from the Dodgers in the fifth inning and retiring all four batters in the sixth (save for Joc Pederson, who reached base after taking a 96.3-MPH fastball to the wrist). The righty received another significant opportunity to do some damage against the Dodgers in the bottom of the fifth, when he came up to bat for the first time in his professional career with the bases loaded and two outs… but saw just four pitches before swinging at a 1-2 pitch to end the inning.

After Ryu’s unexpected departure in the third, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts cycled through five pitchers — Julio Urías, Alex Wood, Dylan Floro, Caleb Ferguson, and Kenta Maeda — in an attempt to squelch the Brewers’ comeback. The bullpen combined for four consecutive scoreless frames, but was ultimately foiled in the seventh, when, with runners on second and third and two outs, a wild pitch from Maeda ricocheted off the front of home plate and allowed Aguilar to plate yet another insurance run. Still not content with a two-hit, two-RBI performance, Aguilar came back in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single — only moments after a failed double play that would have ended the inning — to bring the Brewers to a cushy 7-2 advantage as they entered the ninth.

No similar last-minute rallies awaited the Dodgers there. Rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes orchestrated another flawless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, retiring Pederson and Puig with consecutive strikeouts and inducing a game-inning, series-extending pop-up from Matt Kemp to wrap the win.

Game 7 is set for 8:09 PM EDT on Saturday. The starters for both clubs have yet to be announced.