Real crime: Letting Bonds walk

Conviction for felony obstruction of justice confirms how he thumbed nose at all of us

April 17, 2011|By Phil Rogers

From the perspective of a citizen, not a baseball writer, it seems right for Barry Bonds to serve some jail time for his felony conviction on obstruction of justice.

Some believe U.S. District Judge Susan Illston would be within her legal rights to throw out the conviction when she brings the participants from the 31/2-week trial back into her courtroom May 20. Maybe she will do that, but it seems Bonds deserves some real punishment, not just a slap on the wrist.

Bonds thumbed his nose at the legal system, as he and hundreds of other steroid cheats had at baseball officials and fans in the years when there was no drug testing. His defense team did a good job to get him a mistrial on three counts of perjury — and the cast of characters testifying for the prosecution made easy targets — but I disagree that the legal precedent arguing against him serving jail time applies.

Sure, two others convicted of perjury in the BALCO affair did not go to jail. But so what? Bonds is a different case. He gained a lot more financially from his steroid regimen than cyclist Tammy Thomas and track coach Trevor Graham, who received only home confinement after their convictions. And Bonds' conviction came despite the government's key witness, trainer Greg Anderson, going to jail rather than testifying against him.

On matters involving sports and jurisprudence, there's no one I respect more than ESPN's Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer who combines the rule of law with common sense.

While the defense spun the mistrial on three counts as a victory, Munson saw the felony conviction as a clear victory for the prosecution.

"A failure to tell the truth is an attack on the federal justice system and should be prosecuted," Munson wrote for ESPN.com. "… If agents and prosecutors looked the other way when Bonds or any other witness offered evasive and misleading testimony, it would damage the entire justice system. The jury's verdict upholds the integrity of that system. …''

Next to Bonds, no one looks worse in the aftermath of the trial than Giants general manager Brian Sabean and former owner Peter Magowan. Testimony from Dodgers trainer Stan Conte, formerly with the Giants, revealed how the team didn't back him when he questioned Bonds giving Anderson and others run of the clubhouse.

But this trial was about Bonds, an arrogant, entitled celebrity athlete, not the sport he played. He should pay a price if the verdict stands.

Conspicuously absent: As the Twins tried to explain why Joe Mauer was going on the disabled list Thursday, Mauer remained out of sight, under the weather. The team said Friday he was suffering from a viral infection, which they hope contributed to the unusual reason he was placed on the DL — bilateral leg weakness, officially.

Or, in the words of manager Ron Gardenhire, he's sore all over.

"He is definitely very, very sore over the last few days — his shoulder, his elbow — and we think it's his legs are just not strong enough underneath him and he says he feels terrible," Gardenhire said. "His knee is actually feeling OK, but he's compensating for the weakness in his upper leg. This is what I was told is causing a lot of other problems."

Mauer didn't play much in spring training, nursing a left knee that had been repaired surgically over the winter. He hasn't been himself this year, hitting .235 with one extra-base hit in nine games.

It's clear the rigors of catching are taking a toll on the 2009 MVP, who is in the first month of an eight-year, $184 million contract. But don't look for the Twins to move him from behind the plate anytime soon. They traded away a possible replacement a year ago, sending Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for Matt Capps, and Mauer would lose value playing first (Justin Morneau is signed through 2013) or the outfield. The best solution is the hardest one, helping him develop Carlton Fisk-like toughness.

Mauer is seeing the same specialist who treated him for inflammation in his right sacroiliac joint in the spring of 2009. Fisk's career almost ended after a devastating knee injury suffered in a collision at the plate early in the 1974 season.

It took him more than a year to get back on the field, but he lasted 19 more seasons, catching 98 games for the White Sox in 1991, when he was 43.

Diminished returns: No one with the Red Sox knows Daisuke Matsuzaka as well as ESPN's Bobby Valentine, who managed against him for three years in Japan. Valentine believes the Red Sox essentially ruined the guy they committed $103 million to have for six seasons, forcing him to adjust to them rather than studying what had made him such a great pitcher in Japan.

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