RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Baseball's greatest and most controversial homerun hitter is back in the spotlight. Barry Bonds goes on trial today in San Francisco. He's charged with lying to a grand jury in 2003 about his alleged use of banned performance-enhancing drugs.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: Let's set this up in baseball terms. Conventional wisdom says the prosecutors who are trying to prove Barry Bonds lied when he testified that he never knowingly took banned drugs are walking into U.S. district court today with two strikes against them.

Strike one: the whittling down of the indictment from 11 charges to the current five. Does that mean the government's case has weakened? Michael McCann doesn't think so.

Professor MICHAEL MCCANN (Vermont Law School): I actually think it could favor the prosecution, because they're really honing in on what they think are the core instances where Bonds allegedly lied.

GOLDMAN: McCann directs the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School. He says the reduced number of charges - four counts of perjury, one count of obstruction of justice - could make it all easier for a jury to digest.

Prof. MCCANN: Was he ever knowingly injected by steroids? Did he knowingly lie about that? Did he ever use human growth hormone? Did he ever knowingly lie about that? If the questions are really straightforward, I think that the jury will be able to understand and decide on.

GOLDMAN: Strike two: A key witness, Greg Anderson, has refused to testify. Anderson is Bonds' former personal trainer and the man who allegedly gave Bonds doping products. It's expected Anderson will be in jail during the trial for not cooperating.

Still, his voice will be in the courtroom - on a secretly made audio recording in which a man alleged to be Anderson talks about, according to prosecutors, Bonds' use of undetectable drugs. Bonds' lawyers are expected to argue the tape can't be authenticated and that it's being taken out of context.

The defense team also is expected to argue that prosecution witnesses, including ballplayers, Bonds' former business partner and former girlfriend, all have an interest in saying that Bonds used steroids.

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Unidentified Man: The one-O pitch on the way is a fastball...

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Unidentified Man: ...hit into deep right center field. It is a way out and gone. There it is, Number 71.

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GOLDMAN: Of course, beyond the legal tactics, there is this question hanging over the San Francisco courtroom: What impact will the trial's outcome have on the legacy of a player who holds baseball's greatest records for most single season and career home runs?

Mr. JEFF PEARLMAN (Sportswriter): I don't think anything needs to be resolved in most people's opinions on whether Barry Bonds used performance enhancers or not

GOLDMAN: Sportswriter Jeff Pearlman wrote a book titled "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Anti-Hero."

Mr. PEARLMAN: If you poll a hundred baseball fans, 99 would say of course he used - let's not be stupid here.

GOLDMAN: If there's a conviction though, how about the impact on baseball? Should the commissioner put an asterisk next to Bonds' records? No, says Ray Ratto. The long-time Bay Area sports columnist says that would single out Bonds.

Mr. RAY RATTO (Sportswriter): And it's pretty clear that the last 30 years or so have been the history of performance enhancers. I think baseball has got to own that, because the entire industry looked the other way for a long time.

GOLDMAN: If there's no conviction, many undoubtedly will pillory the government for wasting taxpayer's money.

And so it is that we know, a month or so down the road, the Barry Bonds trial will end. What's less clear: What, if anything, will it resolve?

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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