11.16.07

Marchman On The Folly Of Prosecuting Bonds

Posted in Baseball, Sports Journalism at 10:02 am by

Should the Sultan Of Surly really serve prison time? How do his crimes against society compare to those of an alleged tax cheat? The New York Sun’s Tim Marchman tackles the first of those two questions.

For all his fame as baseball’s all-time home run champion, Bonds is a marginal figure, and was testifying in a marginal case. He is alleged to have lied about doing something that harmed no one and should be legal. Yes, the powerful should be held to account when they seek to corrupt justice. But Bonds is not especially powerful, and he wasn’t seeking to subvert justice in any broad meaningful sense.

This, by itself, wouldn’t necessarily argue against prosecution, but the nature of the case would. The specific lies Bonds is charged with telling are, according to a standard of common sense, exceptionally arrogant ” but they’re also going to be hard to disprove legally. All of them relate in one way or another to what Bonds actually knew about the drugs he was taking, and what sorts of conversations he had with Anderson, who was released from jail yesterday after spending nearly a year there for refusing to testify against Bonds.

In the absence of a tape-recorded, cartoon villain speech from Bonds proving that he knew he was taking steroids and growth hormone, it is going to be very difficult to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Bonds knowingly took drugs. And as Anderson’s lawyer says he is still not cooperating, it will be impossible to prove that Bonds and Anderson had conversations that both men say they did not have. This will not be an open and shut case.

If this is a potentially difficult and essentially meaningless case, it’s hard to see why it should be prosecuted. After all, if Bonds were a crack user who denied smoking crack, while testifying before a grand jury weighing an indictment against a crack dealer, no one would care. What separates Bonds is that he’s famous. Any claims that this prosecution is justified as a means of showing that the powerful are held to the same laws as the powerless are laughable: Bonds is no captain of industry or war profiteer or cigar-smoking machine boss. He’s not even especially wealthy, by Bay Area standards.

Not only do I understand the impulse to laugh at Bonds’s disgrace, but I share it. Still, there’s no reason to pretend this looks like anything other than a badly conceived public relations ploy on the part of a Department of Justice that, in my opinion, has absolutely no credibility with anyone not directly employed by it.

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