One weird week: Giants open title defense while Bonds is on trial
SAN FRANCISCO -- Welcome to the weirdest week in the history of the San Francisco Giants.
No, really. Red thongs, black beards and World Series wins have nothing on the current freak.
Because this week is a head-on collision between past and present, complete with wreckage and rubber neckers. A tangled clash between a bubbly new feel-good era and a soiled, sordid past. All within two miles of each other.
On Monday, down at 3rd and King, the Giants came home from spring training to AT&T Park, to play their first baseball since Game 2 of the World Series against Texas, on Oct. 28.
The Giants will open the regular season Thursday in Los Angeles, beginning their first ever defense of a San Francisco world championship. At first base on Monday was this season's promising phenom, Brandon Belt. Behind the plate was last year's star Buster Posey. On the mound was indomitable Matt Cain. The vibe is still giddy, as though the World Series was won just moments ago. All was good on that side of town.
But two miles away, over at Larkin and Golden Gate -- just one block from the site of the jubilant post-World Series celebration -- the feeling is much different. Slightly nauseating, slimy and sordid. A harsh look at the dark underbelly of sports.
Barry Bonds, baseball's home run king, the man who was the center of the Giants universe for 15 seasons, sits sullenly in a federal courthouse, on trial for lying to a grand jury about his use of steroids.
And though there's no formal sign of the Giants franchise inside the courtroom, the team is the omnipresent backdrop to the proceedings.
On Monday, the trial entered its second week, but it was the first day of truly salacious headlines.
First to testify was Mike Murphy, the Giants longtime employee. How longtime? Since the moment the Giants arrived in San Francisco 53 years ago. "Murph" -- one of the nicest men in the game of baseball -- started as a batboy and is the equipment manager. All he's ever been is a loyal, faithful employee -- a baseball lifer. Yet the man who likes nothing better than shooting the breeze in the clubhouse or chatting in his office with Willie McCovey was forced to don a coat and tie and parade into federal court to testify about Bonds' growing hat size.
Clearly uncomfortable, Murphy said that Bonds' hat size grew from 7 1/4 to 7 3/8 around 2002. He noted that other players, like Willie Mays and McCovey also changed cap size, but only after they were retired.
With the man who cleaned Bonds' cleats finished after just 15 minutes, Bonds' former mistress Kimberly Bell took the stand to get things dirty. She told of Bonds' payments to her. Of his shrinking testicle size and sexual performance issues. Of back acne and bloating. Of his confession to her that his elbow problems were linked to his steroid use. Of her life as Bonds' kept woman.
Bell provided details on the less cuddly side of baseball, one that includes "girlfriend cities and wife cities" and assembly line autographing of baseballs that are then sold to fans. At one point, the defense -- in support of Bonds -- listed all his supposed girlfriends and noted that "was a lot of action" for a guy with penile dysfunction. And that was from the side supporting Bonds.
Bell spoke of her fear of Bonds, saying that he threatened to cut her head off and leave her in a ditch. That he told her he would "cut out my breast implants because he paid for them."
Though little of the testimony has involved baseball -- in fact on Monday Bonds' status as baseball's home run king was mentioned for the first time -- the string of dates have significance for any baseball fans, bookmarks of particular times and places in the game.
Bell and Bonds met in July 1994 (a month before the baseball work stoppage). She became upset when he married Liz Watson in 1998 (just before the season in which Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa engaged in a home run race). She spoke of how he "abandoned" her in Houston after 9/11 (a month before he broke McGwire's single season home run record). In February 2002 he bought her a house (a month before the Giants World Series season) In 2003 he broke up with her (months before the BALCO raid).
Bonds' mother sat in the front row, watching her son's dirty laundry unfolded in public, hearing her late husband Bobby's name brought up. In the hallway, former Giants trainer Stan Conte stood, waiting for his name to be called to testify.
Defense attorney Cristina Arguedas tried to break Bell but mostly came off as bullying, a questionable tactic in front of a female-heavy jury (eight jury members are women). She sighed loudly, yelled, tossed papers, until the judge told Arguedas to "ratchet down" her approach. Bell -- who hadn't been in the same room with Bonds since 2003 -- wept a few times on the stand. But she mostly kept her composure and at one point even seemed to out-fox Arguedas. Asked about what she said on the Howard Stern show, Bell said she didn't recall and asked for her memory to be refreshed. After a brief conference with the rest of the defense, Arguedas decided not to enter the radio show as evidence.
"I'll decline that opportunity to go into the gutter," she said.
Oh, but we were all already there: Bonds, Bell, the Giants, baseball. All wallowing in the gutter.
On the other side of town, everyone is on Cloud 9.
What a week.