Thursday, March 17, 2011

Deconstructing Barry

The steady trickle of jury-selection news out of San Francisco reminds us that Barry Bonds' perjury trial is scheduled to start next week. Knowing that there's no chance of compromising the jury pool, we thought we'd review the chain of events leading up to this trial.

1. At various points in the history of baseball, players have discovered new ways of improving on their abilities. Pitchers learned to throw spitballs, hitters learned to cork bats, and everyone fought fatigue with amphetamines. In addition, surgeons developed new techniques to enable players to continue performing past their natural limits. And, of course, some players got LASIK surgery. The distinction among all of these "performance enhancements", determining what's "cheating" and not-cheating, has been more or less arbitrary. At one point, players figured out that taking anti-inflammatory medicines allowed them to work out harder and more frequently. For whatever reason, this has fallen into the cheating category.

2. From 1993 to 2007, a guy named Barry Bonds played left field for the San Francisco Baseball Giants. During that time, Bonds was best known for two things. One, being an insufferable, surly jerk to fans, teammates, and journalists alike. Two, being arguably the greatest baseball player who ever lived.

3. Sometime around 1998, in the middle of a Hall of Fame career, Bonds allegedly began to use anti-inflammatory medicines. It should be noted that steroid use was not prohibited in baseball until 2002, and was not considered a punishable offense until 2005. From 1998 on, Bonds' production soared from "awesome" to "otherworldly", as he set new records for single-season and career home runs, all within the rules of the game.

4. In 2003, Greg Anderson of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) was indicted in U.S. District Court on charges of distributing steroids to numerous athletes. Anderson, of course, was Bonds' trainer. In his grand jury testimony, Bonds denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.

5. In 2005, following the BALCO investigation and Jose Canseco's crappy book, Congress began issuing subpoenas to baseball players, in order to embarrass them publicly. The lack of any legal authority to do this was, apparently, not a problem.

6. In 2006, Bonds discovered the consequences of not sucking up to sports journalists. In a book called Game of Shadows, reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wade illegally disclosed grand jury testimony in detailing Bonds' use of anti-inflammatory medicines. This was followed by Jeff Pearlman's hatchet job Love Me Hate Me. A healthy dose of character assassination leading up to . . .

7. In 2007, Bonds was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, for lying about steroid use in his 2003 testimony.

So, what we have is this: a great athlete (if a dreadful person) with his reputation destroyed and the details of his personal life laid out in public without his consent, years of his life wrapped up in litigation, all so that the U.S. government can continue to dictate what substances Americans put in their bodies.

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