Bonds’ trial won’t change many minds

Barry Bonds is in a suit and tie again, in a Northern California courtroom again, the outfit people wear and the place people go when they’ve run out of people to lie to.

He is surrounded by lawyers again, the company people keep when they’ve run out of people to lie to.

It’s sad, really.

Sad that a man must dress up for and salary people in order for them to believe in him, when at age 46 he must consider the dilemma of accountability for the first time, and then in the harshest of lights.

Barry Bonds steps through a metal detector as he enters federal court.
(Associated Press)

I think of Bonds no differently than I do Bobby Estalella, former journeyman catcher and key witness in USA vs. Bonds, or any of their morally, ethically and legally challenged brethren.

Hit 14 home runs in a season (as Estalella once did as Bonds’ teammate) or hit 73, barely climb out of the minor leagues or stand on a stage in a meadow in upstate New York, buy Winstrol in the gym locker room or have your confidante obtain The Cream in the lobby of BALCO headquarters, it’s all the same.

The government, and baseball, obviously feels otherwise. Hide behind your self-entitlement long enough, swing a sword of brazenness wildly enough, and pretty soon people start digging through your supplier’s garbage, friends stop going to jail for you and Hall of Fame votes slow to a trickle.

So they pick a jury – a couple nurses, a shipping clerk, a college student, an IT manager, a phlebotomist, half a dozen more – and they carve out a month for a trial and they lay out four counts of lying to a grand jury and another for obstruction. And they push forward with what began more than eight years ago as a vague suspicion and mushroomed into baseball’s greatest crisis of credibility since ballplayers were throwing games. And the feds waggle their .900 conviction rate in matters such as these, which is good but still .151 less than Bonds’ career OPS. And Bonds himself resumes his role as the symbolic villain for a time of thieves and cheats and other liars.

And you wonder if any of it means squat.

No, it probably doesn’t.

A segment of the public believes the stories of Bonds, Roger Clemens (his turn comes in July), Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and the rest were underhanded and over-reported. The rest, it seems, has tired of the process, the speculation, the on-high soliloquies and low-blow opinions.

The shared opinion of 12 civilians in a San Francisco jury box, charged with determining not whether Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs but whether he lied about using them, won’t change any of it.

To be critical of Bonds is to be a racist, envious, misinformed Dodgers fan.

To stand with him is to be a blind, enabling, number 25-wearing Giants honk.

Next topic.

Guilty or not, Bonds ends nothing. We simply move to Clemens. We hang over our decisions to vote Bagwell or Piazza. We wade in the sewage river that’s run for more than a decade, sure we are rank and soiled, unsure if there’s anything to do about it.

A tall building, a metal detector at the front door, a wood-paneled room and a couple of swinging doors, a reputable judge and billable hours upon billable hours won’t clean up baseball, won’t alter the perception of baseball when Bonds was playing it, and won’t bring relief to baseball’s night sweats.

We can’t, of course, have citizens lying to grand juries, just as we can’t have them lying to Congress. Bonds answers for that. But we don’t need him to answer for what he did to the game. It’s already in the record.

Bonds attorney Allen Ruby concluded his opening argument Tuesday by frothing, “There is nothing more powerful than the truth. And there is nothing divisible about the truth.”

So, basically, all we need now is the truth. Eight years, and we’re still asking. Still investigating. Still calling witnesses to testify to the size of Barry Bonds’ onions.

But it’s a game. Bonds’ guy has his truth. The people’s guy has his truth, which is supposed to be our truth, except our truth depends on whose box scores you read.

We’re no closer to the truth than we were the night Bonds hit that ball into the San Francisco night, and Bud Selig stood out of sheer habit and stuffed his hands in his pockets, and the rest of us sighed and went on with our lives, or tried.

The real truth is that Bonds did what he did not because baseball had a problem but because Bonds had a problem, and then – ahem, allegedly – tried to save his butt the last time he put on a suit and tie. Just like Bobby Estalella did what he did for Bobby Estalella, and Mark McGwire did what he did for Mark McGwire.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, just like them. This is not baseball on trial, nor is it baseball seeking some wispy ideal of closure.

This is just one guy, a guy whose name and face we happen to recognize, a guy who made some decisions a long time ago that he thought would change everything.

Instead, he won’t change anything.

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011