David Manning Trivial Liars of the Month for June 2005

Clint Barmes and Barry Bonds

The Scoreboard's definition of a "Trivial Liar" has necessarily expanded over time. Originally launched to recognize those who lie unconvincingly about matters not worth lying about (such as Sony's use of a fictional film critic, David Manning, to rave about rotten movies), the Trivial Liar designation has also been occasionally applied to those who lie for no good purpose at all, as well as those whose lies do nothing but add to a widespread belief that they are liars.

The "Summer Game", Major League baseball, has given us both of these new varieties in recent weeks.

In the category of uttering a lie that is both ineffective and pointless, we have Colorado Rockies shortstop Clint Barmes. Barmes (no, that isn't a typo) was well on his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award, hitting .329 with eight home runs, and 34 RBIs, when he broke his left collarbone in a freak early June accident. Apparently embarrassed about the incident (After all, the woeful Rockies, arguably the worst team in the majors, have little else going for them), he initially said that he slipped on the stairs and landed on his left shoulder while carrying a bag of groceries in one arm and a sweatshirt in the other. But that wasn't the horrible truth about Barmes. No, in fact he had been carrying a package of frozen deer meat up the stairs of his apartment complex when the accident occurred!

Say it ain't so, Clint!

Now why would Barmes fabricate a story that really changed nothing about our attitude toward the oddness of injury, the bad luck of the Rockies, or Barmes' klutziness? Barmes' explanation: the deer meet was a gift from Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, and he didn't want Helton blamed for the injury.

Oh. Nice thought, Clint. Dumb, but nice. You had to come clean eventually, and now, thanks to a truly extraneous untruth, your credibility will always be in doubt. Some people don't even believe the venison story, and assume that you are covering up facts that would show recklessness on your part, or even a contact violation.

Just because a lie is trivial doesn't mean that it can't have undesirable consequences. By the way: Welcome to the Big Leagues!

Then we have the also injured San Francisco Giant Super-slugger Barry Bonds, who splits this month's prize with Barmes for his response to a controversy sparked by a new book by former Chicago White Sox outfielder Ron Kittle. In it, Kittle relates how he once asked Bonds to sign a game jersey for a benefit for kids with cancer, and Bonds allegedly replied, "I don't sign for white people." At the time, Kittle says, he was so angry that he ripped up one of the jerseys. "I went from complete shock -- because I thought he was joking -- to anger…the kind of anger where, if someone had done something (similar) to my child, I probably would've retaliated."

Bonds' response? He attacked Kittle and anointed himself as a victim, saying, "Who is Kittle? How long did he play? He played in our league? Ha! Do you guys believe that? . . .Do you guys know my life history a little bit? One, you insult my children, who are half-white. I was married to a woman who was white, so let's get real. . . . Tell [Kittle] he's an idiot. Somebody said he wanted a piece of me. Tell him I'm at 24 Willie Mays Plaza and he can come get me anytime he wants to -- with pleasure. Don't insult my family."

The problem for Bonds, of course, is that the story has the ring of truth. His surliness and, especially earlier in his career, tendency to exploit the racial divide have been well-documented. But in addition to that, Bonds is almost universally believed to have used steroids, though he once unambiguously denied it. When Grand Jury evidence was leaked showing that Bonds had in fact used two prohibited performance enhancing substances, Bonds concocted the unlikely explanation that he had been tricked into using them by his trainer, who also happens to be life-long friend and a proven connoisseur of illegal steroids. Bonds, in short, is widely presumed to be a liar.

Kittle isn't backing down from his account, and those who know both him and Bonds agree that when it comes to credibility, there's no contest: Kittle is a straight-shooter, and Bonds…well, he's probably a steroid-shooter. Bonds had an honorable and honest way out of the matter: he could have admitted that he had been out of line, apologized to Kittle, and sent a sliver of his huge fortune to the cancer charity. Instead, he chose to make the dubious argument that Kittle shouldn't be believed because he wasn't in Bond's class as a hitter. (Ironic, that, because one of the reasons Bonds isn't believed on the steroid question is his astounding late career improvement as a hitter.)

By this point in our Barry Bonds Experience, we know that he just doesn't care what other people think. But eventually Bonds' credibility is going to matter, when he really has to explain, possibly in court, whether or not he lied under oath to a Grand Jury. Trivial lies represent lost opportunities to practice telling the truth, and Barry clearly needs practice.



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