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