Thursday, December 4, 2003
Bonds testifies to BALCO grand jury
By Ray Ratto
Barry Bonds doesn't do a lot of personal appearances as a general rule, but grand juries are even more persistent than media dolts, so when he was told to show up Thursday in his best gray suit and be ready to sing, he showed up all dressed up and ready to word up.
What he said, we don't know. Grand juries tend to be as secretive as they are persistent, and the BALCO grand jury has been tougher to crack than Bill Bidwill's wallet.
But we do know this: Waiting for Barry Bonds to talk when he has come out of a grand jury room and has his lawyer by his side with a rolled-up sweatshirt to jam in Bonds' yap just in case he does want to speak is among the least fruitful of exercises known to man.
In other words, after dressing up, showing up and wording up, he shut up. In all, he was very well prepped for the picnic ahead.
We're talking here about a man who has learned well the art of not being heard. He talks when he feels compelled to do so, he does not often surrender to the impulse to chit-chat with relative strangers, and he is particularly mum on the subject of his involvement in this potential pyro-spectacular of jurisprudence.
So the nine hours and change some reporters devoted to the art of relentless loitering are nine hours and change they will never get back, and that alone ought to bring a smile to the left fielder's face.
And the long-term damage? Who knows? There didn't seem to be a lot of the old newspaper-boy-with-sideways-golf-cap-grabbing-John-Cusack's-leg-in-Eight-Men-Out-crying-Say-It-Ain't-So-Buck-Say-It-Ain't-So. There were almost no civilians at all outside the grand jury room or outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco, either to shout out their support or cast their profane aspersions at the man who chases Henry Aaron.
No, the big baseball news Thursday was Javier Vazquez going to the Yankees, as the latest shot in baseball's attempt to turn the Boston-to-New York shuttle into the NBA's Western Conference and the other 28 teams into the East. The baseball news wasn't Bonds talking for two hours and change to a bunch of folks who couldn't get out of jury duty.
Since the BALCO case hit the fan months ago, armchair pundits and knee-jerk moralists, two groups of people to be studiously avoided at any party, have argued the philosophy of using chemical step stools, but Thursday's show-and-don't-tell doesn't help Bonds in any useful way as he chases first his godfather, Willie Mays, then Babe Ruth and finally Aaron.
It surely doesn't help his present employers, the San Francisco Giants, who were found to have given Greg Anderson, his personal trainer and the alleged link between Bonds and BALCO founder Victor Conte, free range access to their various training facilities. Anderson even received a 2002 National League championship ring, which is about as chummy as anyone who isn't allowed to be chummy by baseball rules can be.
You see, Bonds has been the face of the Giants for more than a decade. His signing in 1992 is the one thing managing general partner Peter Magowan has done that nobody can sensibly question, because it is the one gift that has kept on giving.
There is no way to know much money Bonds has made for the franchise in the time he has been taking salary out, but he has enriched Magowan, the other stockholders, former manager Dusty Baker and his fellow players to a remarkable degree. One can even make a crypto-legitimate case for his presence helping to make Pacific Bell Park a reality, although we suspect that the boys in the loan department at Chase Manhattan Bank were more responsible.
So to learn that the franchise's franchise is apparently up to his eyelids in the BALCO story, if not the BALCO case itself, is surely not sitting well with the boys and girls at Giants Intergalactic Headquarters.
And yet, it isn't the Bonds story, or Benito Santiago's testimony that immediately followed Bonds', or A.J. Pierzynski's appearance before the U.S. attorneys two weeks earlier that has the customers in arms. It is the fact that Gary Sheffield is all but gone from the shelves, Richie Sexson has already been scooped up by someone else, and Vladimir Guerrero is edging slowly but surely toward either Anaheim or Baltimore.
You see, Giant fans want to know who the next Barry Bonds is going to be and whether the Giants can get him in town before the old Barry Bonds retires. This BALCO thing sounds way too much like warehouse shopping to them. They don't know chemistry, and they don't care. They know home runs, and they know intentional walks, and they want more of the former and less of the latter.
So Barry Bonds' grand jury testimony, as yet unleaked, remains something like the ovulation cycle of the walrus to them. They know someone out there knows, and someone else cares, so they don't have to do either. That's what The Discovery Channel is for.
But they will care when it gets to CourtTV, and Jeff Corwin turns to Rikki Klieman, and saying nothing to reporters turns to talking to a real jury where everyone can see. And that's when an appearance turns way too personal for him.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.