Ratto: Bonds' legal drama the trial of century .. kinda, sorta


Ratto: Bonds' legal drama the trial of century .. kinda, sorta

March 21, 2011RATTO ARCHIVERay Ratto

Two significant trials open in the Bay Area Monday, and one involves a broad-daylight murder, allegations shootings, the kidnapping of two women and the torture of one of them, the vandalism of liquor stores to stop the sale of alcohol in the inner city, some miscellaneous sexual assault charges and the defense attorney comparing his client to Hermann Goering, Hitlers chief accomplice.

The other involves Barry Bonds.

Game, set and match, ballplayer.

Not that we ever expected the Chauncey Bailey trial, the newspaper editor shot allegedly to silence him over stories of corruption he planned to publish regarding a local empowerment group, to trump the Bonds trial for gravity. For one, the Bailey trial will not include the word flaxseed.

But this is the trial of the century, kinda sorta, in that it has taken so long to get to this point and involves one of the three to five greatest players in the history of baseball, performance-enhancing drugs aside. It covers perjury, tax evasion, money laundering, clubhouses, other players, unsterilized needles, a conspiracy of silence that reaches all the way to the top of the baseball foodchain. It is our national pastime in the dock.

Oh, who are we kidding? Its about Barry Bonds. It may cover all those other things, just as the Roger Clemens trial when it begins, but this is the first big one involving a player (a) of such grand stature who (b) denies knowing anything about anything no matter who says they have the goods on him.

Its also an education of jury selection, in which two armies of lawyers try to find 12 people in the Bay Area who believe that Bonds was the artist who recorded Dear Lady Twist and New Orleans. Its an education for those who want to know the intricacies of evidence gathering. Its an education about the competing philosophies of sporting purity and cheating for the greater good. Its an education about the differences between not allowing perjury to go unpunished and prosecutorial zeal. Its an education about the concept of the greater good, about fan loyalties, race, the rights of the unpleasant defendant in a society that purports to live by laws. You can put those in any order you want, because until the verdict, you are your own official scorers.

Oh, and one other thing. Its definitely an education for anyone who wants to know how to thrive in this economy by going to jail.

Its high principle and low comedy brought together before the bench of Judge Susan Illston. Shell be the one in the black robe and the ball cap hitting herself in the head with her own gavel about 60 times during this trial wondering why she hadnt forgone law school for tavern management.

The Bonds case is not particularly sexy if you strip away everything that doesnt have to do with Barry Bonds. Youd barely notice it at all, and the Bailey trial would be a much bigger deal.

But pre-law chicks, and cats for that matter, love the long ball, and for all the sideshows about whether he was a lousy companion to his mistresses (which he was) and whether he played with Lex Luthors skull (which he allegedly did), the real case, perjury, is lost amidst the rest of the maelstrom that surrounded Bonds in his heyday.

And weirdly, that maelstrom has been muted considerably by the Giants, his team, winning the most recent World Series. Giant fans, who were prepared to defend his rights as a citizen who won games for their favorite team, have bigger concerns these days -- like whos going to replace Brian Wilson. For many of them, this wasnt even about Bonds but about the team he played for, and the team he played for just did the one thing fans wanted more than Bonds -- a trophy with 30 pointed sticks on it.

Oh, this trial will get off to a quick start, notoriety-wise, because who doesnt like the first sounds of a circus calliope? But for a lot of folks, it will quickly join the background noise of the lead-in to the baseball season, because not as many locals were as committed to Bonds the man as to Bonds the Giant.

And this wont even give us much of a precedent about anything except whether 12 people who say they dont know Barry Bonds can decide how much they dont know Barry Bonds. In fact, what we think we know about Barry Bonds may not be determined until we find out what we know about Roger Clemens. Wont that be a lot of fun?

In the meantime, the Chauncey Bailey trial will go on with far greater principles in play, to the attention of almost nobody. Maybe if hed hit a few more homers, or his hat size had grown, or he had a personal trainer that would go to the jug on his behalf.

Nahhh. Who in their right mind could come up with stuff like that?

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention


Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.