A trip this past weekend for a book-signing party in San Francisco, city of my post-youth growing up,
brought a flood of associations and memories and in this case a brush with the famous and the infamous.
The party included a predictably amusing encounter with one Lance Williams, the gifted investigative journalist (and co-author with Mark Fainaru-Wada of Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO and the Steroid Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports) with whom I worked as an editor when the San Francisco Examiner was still a viable afternoon paper owned by the Hearst Corporation.
Lance broke the early stories about Bonds and steroid use. Bonds was just convicted last week of obstruction of justice while being acquitted of perjury. So the jury concluded Barry did not lie to the Grand Jury about whether he knew he was taking steroids.
This I found fascinating and a bit disillusioning. You mean after all this, the court process cannot establish that Bonds was taking steroids and he knew it and he lied about it?
Lance could only look at me and grin as I suggested a line of questioning that I thought Bonds should have faced.
Prosecutor: Mr. Bonds, when did you notice that your testicles were shrinking?
Prosecutor: Had you ever experienced shrunken testicles, or had reason to think that shrinking testicles were normal for an athlete of your age and ability?
Bonds: Uh, could you repeat that question?
Prosecutor: Let me put it this way. As you became more readily angered by small things, as your head and other parts of you grew larger while other, arguably important parts of you grew smaller, did you wonder why? Did you wonder about those injections that Gary Anderson gave you?
Bonds: Uh, I never really thought about it.
Prosecutor: Let the record show that Mr. Bonds is now apparently telling the truth.
Prosecutor: Am I right in thinking you did not want to take the stand in your own defense because you felt you might incriminate yourself?
Bonds: Yes, I think so.
Prosecutor: So be it.
Of course, that is how it was. Bonds declined to take the stand in his own defense. We are left with a great(?) athlete thoroughly besmirched. His records and reputation are in tatters, and a jury was unable to conclude without a shadow of doubt that he knew he was being injected with steroids - despite the visible changes in his body and personality, to which Kimberly Bell, a former intimate testified. (For derision Youtube-style, see also this.)
The jury had to decide whether Bell was telling the truth or doctoring the facts to hurt a former lover from whom she'd unhappily split. Jurors also had to conclude whether Greg Anderson, who has gone to jail rather than testify, really injected Bonds with steroids as Anderson apparently was overheard to say on a locker-room tape made in 2003.
One might ask: who cares, in the end? Barry Bonds has been punished, betrayed by his deal with the Devil. Whoever once thought him a miracle hitter now knows otherwise, and he can take his place with Jose Canseco and Jason Giambi and others who juiced to improve their performance, got caught at it and either confessed or lied or kept quiet.
As someone with a 12-year-old son who plays a good game of baseball and dreams about being in the Big Leagues some day, I would have liked all the Bondsian facts to come out in open testimony, so that young players know what is really at stake here. A larger head (Bonds needed an increased hat size from 2002 to 2003, the clubhouse manager testified) is one thing, but smaller testicles and waning sexual ability are something else (this is perhaps a male view) and as warnings go, I prefer this one to be clear and well known.
I am not suggesting that injecting Human Growth Hormone (HGH) would somehow be okay if procreative equipment were not compromised. It's a question of which bodily effect is more likely to scare young players away from their own potential performance-drug experiments in a highly pressurized and competitive society.
So Lance and I had a bit of a laugh - ironic and bittersweet though it felt - about questions that were never asked and never answered because, some might feel, they did not need to be. That is, unless you believe Bonds committed perjury before the Grand Jury, as accused, and should have been convicted of it, given the evidence against him.
Was justice achieved here? Maybe so. Whatever is left of Bonds - the man and the reputation, greater or smaller - is the man he will live with, with full knowledge all his own.
Does he still have a shot at Baseball's Hall of Fame? Does anyone care?