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Revenge of The Nerds
Jeff Pearlman
July 24, 2006
The most dangerous witnesses in the federal case against Barry Bonds are the 'little people' he treated poorly on the way up
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July 24, 2006

Revenge Of The Nerds

The most dangerous witnesses in the federal case against Barry Bonds are the 'little people' he treated poorly on the way up

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We should be used to it by now, the waiting and wondering when--if--it's going to happen. Of course, the latest Barry Bonds Watch has nothing to do with Ruth or Aaron or Barry's creaky knees, but with an investigation into whether the Giants slugger hid income from the IRS and lied when he told the BALCO grand jury in 2003 that he never knowingly took steroids. Last Friday one of Bonds's lawyers said she expected her client would be indicted for perjury and tax evasion this week and, though she later backtracked, it appeared that the grand jury was primed to act. (The panel's term reportedly expires within a few weeks.) The hammer of government might not be the only one to fall: An MLB source told SI that the commissioner Bud Selig is considering suspending Bonds if he's indicted on a steroid-related perjury charge. Through it all Bonds defiantly limped on, hitting his 721st home run on Sunday.

The obvious lessons of Bonds's deteriorating morality tale are a) Don't take steroids, and b) Pay taxes. But there is a third, equally important, point: Don't treat people like dirt. Beginning in the early 1990s, when Bonds fired his first agent, Rod Wright--then allegedly called Wright's clients and urged them to dump him too--Bonds has had a reputation for lashing out at his inner circle. "[Barry] doesn't have true friends, so he pays people to put up with his ego," says Wright, who represented Bonds from 1985 to '92. "Well, after enough abuse you finally say, 'That's it. I don't need to take it anymore.'" Jim Warren, Bonds's former trainer and now an ex-friend, says, "[Barry] expects 100 percent loyalty 24 hours per day. If you don't give him that, he'll crush you."

Bonds may soon find that the little people can return the favor. As Bonds's personal assistant in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Steve Hoskins had several nicknames in the Giants clubhouse: Little Stevie, Barry's Twin, Gopher and--the house favorite--Mini Me. Wherever Bonds went, the diminutive Hoskins followed. Like Bonds, he wore bright, baggy clothing. Like Bonds, he was African-American and had closely-cropped hair and an earring in his left lobe. If Bonds needed to turn down an interview, he sent Hoskins. If Bonds dropped his tissue, Hoskins was there to pick it up. "There was no one more loyal to Barry than Stevie," says Warren. "You always had the feeling it would take a helluva lot for him to kill Stevie's devotion."

Bonds may have accomplished that three years ago, when he accused his friend of forging his autograph and reported him to the FBI. "It was a textbook example of turning on a friend," says Hoskins's lawyer, Michael Cardoza, who calls Bonds's claim "ludicrous" and says the feds cleared his client of any wrongdoing. "Barry was mad at Steve for other issues, and he took him on. Well, I've got some bad news for Barry Bonds: You messed with the wrong guy."

Cardoza says that Hoskins, 44, told federal investigators that Bonds had Hoskins funnel unreported cash the slugger earned from memorabilia sales to a pair of mistresses ( Kimberly Bell, a graphic artist, and Piret Aava, a former Playboy model) so his wife, Elizabeth Watson, wouldn't learn of the affairs. Hoskins also says that Bonds was a habitual steroid user prone to fits of 'roid rage, and that investigators asked him about Bonds's drug habits. The information--coupled with testimony from Bell--could prove devastating. Last week Bonds's lead attorney, Michael Rains, acknowledged that Hoskins was a key witness in the government's case.

The player and his former assistant go back a long way. Hoskins's father, former 49ers defensive tackle Bob Hoskins, partnered with Barry's dad, Bobby Bonds, in a Bay Area sporting goods store in the late 1970s. When the elder Hoskins died of Hodgkin's disease in 1980, Steve was embraced by the Bonds family; after Bonds signed with the Giants he helped Hoskins--an artist by trade--start a company selling Barry Bonds lithographs and memorabilia. Hoskins was Bonds's right-hand man in business, as well as the best man in his 1998 wedding to Watson.

According to Cardoza, the first crack in the Bonds-Hoskins relationship was over the slugger's use of steroids. Hoskins implored him to stop. Bonds refused. "That really bothered Steve," says Cardoza. "He would tell Barry, 'You're already the best. You don't need to do this.' But Barry didn't want to hear it."

The friendship fell apart during spring training of 2003, when Bonds, who was growing increasingly paranoid, spotted a man holding one of his autographed jerseys and screamed, "That's not real! That's not real!" Hoskins told Bonds that it was a legitimate signature, says Cardoza, but "Barry was going through his 'roid rage stuff, and he went off on Steve and accused him of forging the signatures. It was the end of their friendship."

And, for Bonds, the beginning of trouble. When Bell was believed to be the government's key witness, Bonds's attorneys appeared confident they could rebut the testimony of a former mistress. But Hoskins is different. He was alongside Bonds on a daily basis, privy to his workouts, his finances and his thoughts.

"I'm not sure why Barry chose to take on Steve, but it was a bad move," says Cardoza. "Steve loved Barry, and he was willing to turn the other cheek. But Barry went too far. That was a mistake. A big mistake."

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