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.
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
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.
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
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."