Barry Bonds showed up early. He stepped off the 19th-floor elevator of the federal courthouse in San Francisco a few minutes before 8 a.m. Monday, more than half an hour before his perjury trial was to begin.
Bonds didn't appear nervous. But after taking his seat at the defense table, he did more pregame stretching than we ever witnessed when he was playing for the Giants. Bonds then leaned back to watch the show. On Monday, this consisted of jury selection -- which was far more entertaining than normally snooze-inducing jury selection has a right to be.
Eventually, eight women and four men were seated, plus two alternates. But along the way, there were references to Google, baseball team charter flights and supermarket checkout lines. And during the process, two things became clear:
1. No matter how hard Judge Susan Illston tried to get an impartial jury, it is impossible to believe that any group of 12 Bay Area residents owns a totally blank and objective slate in terms of not knowing who Bonds is or what he is accused of doing. For example, one prospective juror told Illston: "I was at the grocery store the other day, and two people in front of me, that's all they could talk about."
2. When the real hardball starts with Tuesday morning's opening statements, the biggest battle for both the government and Bonds' lawyers will be to convince the jurors that this case is not about baseball and steroids. It is about lying. Or as one government attorney termed it: "Allegedly false testimony."
This is indeed a common misperception, held both by fans of baseball and fans of "Law and Order SVU." The government isn't trying to convict Bonds of taking steroids. The government is trying to convict him of lying to a grand jury by saying he did not knowingly take steroids. If Bonds had lied to a grand jury about eating cocoa puffs with milk, the government would be prosecuting him for that, too.
A sexy case
Well, theoretically. Who are we kidding? Without the sexiness of Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's home run record and the steroid cheating scandal that practically swallowed up baseball for a while, none of this would be happening. And nearly a hundred local residents would not have been summoned as prospective jurors.
Forty of those people were dismissed off the top Monday morning, after they filled out questionnaires last week to be perused by both government and defense attorneys. Illston eliminated several others under her own questioning. One was a 61-year-old former flight attendant who said that early in her career she had worked the charter flights for many sports teams.
"I'm still getting over my baseball charters," she said.
She didn't make the jury. Neither did prospective juror No. 37, a female administrative assistant who felt compelled to state that she could give Bonds a fair hearing despite everything.
"We all know Mr. Bonds is a jerk," the prospective juror wrote. "But he is not being prosecuted for that."
After that sentence, the prospective juror drew a cute smiley face on her questionnaire.
She wasn't picked, either.
Who was? From a quick glance at their backgrounds, most of the jurors appear to be people who aren't huge baseball fans. But they are not unaware slugs regarding sports or the issue of performance-enhancing drugs -- although one woman said that this is the first she'd ever heard of the BALCO case. (She apparently lives in UnderARock, U.S.A.) They are of varying occupations and ethnicities. They are from all over the Bay Area.
They are also Internet users. When defense attorney Cristina Arguedas asked whether they agreed that "this is the age of Google," almost all raised their hands. Then she and the judge cautioned them not to do any word searches on practically anything until the trial is done. No word on whether they were also banned from grocery checkout lines.
More significantly, the jurors were not visibly gaga-eyed over the sight of Bonds. This is definitely not going to be like the 1989 case of Jose Canseco, the A's slugging star who was arrested on a gun-possession charge in San Francisco. Canseco eventually pleaded no contest but during his courthouse appearances was treated like a rock star, signing autographs for court officials.
Bonds didn't draw such fawning attention Monday. He is noticeably skinnier than in his playing days -- yes, even skinnier than newly thin Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval -- and strolled the courthouse hallway quietly.
Things will get a lot more gritty Tuesday in The United States of America v. Barry Lamar Bonds. But after seven long years, at least we've finally got the box seats filled and the playing field prepared. Take the early elevator.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com or 408-920-5092.