Barry Bonds on Trial

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Barry Bonds pled not guilty to charges that he lied about using steroids. Now, a childhood friend claims he saw Bonds with his trainer who was holding a syringe. (AP)
Barry Bonds leaves the federal courthouse after the first day of his trial in San Francisco. (AP)

This week spectators at the perjury trial of Barry Bonds in San Francisco were told by experts that steroids can alter the user's appearance.

They heard the defendant repeat that he'd been told that "the clear," a steroid which he has acknowledged that he used unknowingly, was just flaxseed oil.

According to Ben McGrath, whose account of the Bonds saga appears in the current issue of the New Yorker, this contention has been popular among ballplayers about whom doubts having to do with chemistry have been raised.

“Almost all these guys talk about some way or another that they were taking arthritic balm or flaxseed oil, which were, we now believe, designer steroids that were not yet known about, which wouldn't show up on drug tests,” McGrath said. “That's the wiggle room that someone like Barry Bonds is using in a trail like this, which is, ‘Hey, my man told me it was arthritic balm."

During a break in the testimony, Robert Powell, a friend of trainer Greg Anderson, who allegedly told Bonds "the clear" was flaxseed oil, attempted to put the trial in context.

“Eight years of money and there's homeless around and they're talking about a deficit. It's unreal,” Powell said. “I think the federal government should be cleaning their own backyard before they start stepping into somebody else's.”

Among the arguments FOR the government's tenacity in pursuing Barry Bonds are that lying to a grand jury is a serious offense that should not be ignored, no matter how rich or accomplished the alleged perjurer, and that the prosecution is necessary to the reclamation of baseball's integrity, which is critical to the game's popularity. But between sessions at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston earlier this month, Rob Neyer, National Baseball Editor for SB Nation, maintained that baseball fans are hard to discourage.

“Basically every winter for the last I don't know how many winters there's been a big steroids story in the off-season,” Neyer said. “I get the same questions every time. What are the fans going to think about this? How is this going to impact attendance? Is this going to kill baseball? Well, almost every year, attendance goes up and revenues go up. Fans don't care. The writers care.”

Opinion is divided about the outcome of the Bonds trial, which is expected to last at least another week. Ben McGrath's research leads him to think Bonds, the all-time bases-on-balls leader, shouldn't expect to walk.

“I think there's probably a decent chance that he might get convicted on one count or something. The question is, what will that prove? He's not really probably going to go to prison, and if he does, he'll go to prison for a month or two,” McGrath said. “Everyone thus far who's been charged with what Bonds has been charged with, which is perjury, has just got home confinement, house arrest.”

Baseball fans and others who've already had their fill of stories about players who may have used steroids and lied about same are in for a long summer. A little before the Major League Baseball All-Star break, Roger Clemens will go on trial. Rob Neyer is among those who see similarities between the two former All-Stars.

“Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are both distinctly unlikeable people. For different reasons, but basically neither of them ever grew up. They're essentially arrested adolescents,” Neyer said. “And that doesn't go over very well, especially when you're public about it. Not on purpose, that's just the way they are. So they're very unlikeable.”

The quality Neyer ascribes the defendants may or may not influence a jury. Attorneys for Bonds may be counting on the jury seeing him as a victim of overzealous prosecutors with limitless funds and all the time in the world to harass their client. According to Ben McGrath, lawyers representing Roger Clemens would have more difficulty making that case.

“Roger Clemens actually volunteered to stand before television cameras and declare to everyone who was willing to listen that he didn't do any of these things,” McGrath said. “That makes it a little bit harder for him to get the jury's sympathy as someone who's the victim of a prosecution gone awry.”

The Bonds trial will resume on Monday in San Francisco. The trial of Roger Clemens is scheduled to begin on July 6 in Washington, D.C.

This segment aired on March 26, 2011.


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