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

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.