Barry Bonds's dayin court dawns cold and windy, but the air smells good, like justice.
The arraignment starts at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse in downtown SanFrancisco, but word has it that the first 30 people in line at seven getcourtroom seats. Being a sports fan and an American, I'll line up for anything:free kabob samples, $9 ballpark Bud Lights, the chance to meet a WNBAcheerleader. Count me in!
On the sidewalk,an impromptu discussion of Barry's next destination.
Man on street:"Which team is he going to?"
The waiting lineis unimpressive--only 17 of us, and a good dozen are media. What was Iexpecting? Fans camping out as if Jerry Garcia had risen to play one last nightat The Fillmore? Candlelight vigils? Not a chance. This is the same old freakshow, and San Franciscans know it, you know it and I should have known it.Reporters interview reporters being filmed by bloggers; PETA protesters inlettuce-shaped bikinis prance like politically correct showgirls; and every TVtruck within 500 miles idles, waiting for the money shot.
And there he is!Barry arrives. Suit draped more than worn, he looks reassuringly big andscowly, like some caricatured WWE villain entering the ring. Ladies andgentlemen . . . Triple HGH! Behind him trail the bodyguards of the Bondslegacy, six of the legal world's finest, fees mounting by the footfall. If Iwere a law groupie, I'd be squealing.
Finally in thecourtroom, Bonds's heavyweight six knock gloves with the government'sfeatherweight four. It doesn't feel like a fair fight, but the way Barry standsthere, preening and smirking, you wonder if he might be too cocky to listen tohis cornermen, too angry to retreat an inch.
At least theprosecution is itching to get into it. There's Matthew Parrella, the assistantU.S. attorney, hard-eyed and full of coiled energy and italic hand gestures.And behind him Jeff Novitzky, the 6' 6", bald-headed IRS special agent whohas trailed Bonds for years, looming like some moon-pale undertaker come tocollect his due. They are real-life cartoon characters, imposing, ready.
They better be.The government's got a lot riding on this. The grand juries, the years ofDumpster-diving investigations, the untold cost--this is about credibility,about not just carrying but wielding that big stick. For Bonds, it's not hardtime at stake, it's legitimacy. "Why do I need to cheat, I'm alreadygood," he boasted in 2002, and narcissist that he is, he really wants us tobelieve it. To him, the only fate worse than incarceration is marginalization.Cutting a deal means admitting something, anything, and that's not an option.This is no O.J. we're dealing with. Barry's book is, and forever remains, If IDidn't Do It.
That's when ithits me. We thought the Bonds saga was over, but we're just getting started. Bewarned, though, this is not for the faint of heart. Hide the kids and lower theshades, because this is going to be a messy trip if it goes to trial, and it'sgoing to drag on for months if not years.
We're going to getto know Barry, the real Barry, and if that doesn't scare you, then, well, wethank you for your service in Iraq. Get ready for Kimberly Bell, Bonds'sPlayboy-posing mistress, and welcome Messrs. Giambi and Sheffield. There'll betrainers who won't talk, bitter business associates, tarnished track stars and,at the center, the home run king with the only head large enough to wear acrown so heavy. Forget who's right, who's wrong and who's making a mockery ofwhose judicial system. One side is going to get its comeuppance, and eitherway--arrogant athlete or the U.S. government--it will be great theater.
On this day, thearraignment's over in a half hour: some intros, some haggling, a not-guiltyplea to four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. In theelevator afterward, Novitzky and Parrella are anxious to leave. Only the doorwon't shut. So Parrella, after forcefully addressing the judge, now does thesame to the door close button, jabbing at it like it's a reluctant witness.Unsuccessful, he waves his hand over the sensor, muttering, "Let's getmoving!" Then, to show the government's might, or perhaps to prove the U.S.of A. doesn't back down from any challenge, he grabs the rubber on the insideof the door and starts yanking it. Hard.
"Uh, Matt, nota good idea," says Novitzky.
Both men stare atthe still-open door.
"I'm gettingoff," Novitzky says. "This is a bad omen."
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Barry Bonds arrives for his arraignment lookingreassuringly big and scowly, like some caricatured WWE villain entering thering. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Triple HGH.
ILLUSTRATION BY KEITH WITMER