Years in the making, scandal finally unfolds
Saturday, December 4, 2004
Baseball's steroid scandal could be seen coming six years ago. The Olympics have feared the one unfolding now for two decades.
A series of federal grand jury testimony leaks, confessions and new accusations link the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds, the New York Yankees' Jason Giambi and Olympic star Marion Jones to steroids distributed by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.
The revelations are less a surprise than a confirmation of widespread suspicions that some of the world's greatest athletes have been building better bodies through chemistry.
Baseball shrugged when Mark McGwire acknowledged using androstenedione, an over-the-counter steroid precursor that has since been banned, during his 70-homer season in 1998.
When Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti, two former MVPs, admitted using steroids and alleged many others were doing the same, baseball still did little. Bullied by the players' association, the sport was slow to set up a drug-testing program that doesn't even have random, year-round testing.
That head-in-the-sand mentality has come back to haunt the game and tarnish Bonds' pursuit of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron's career home run marks.
Reports in the San Francisco Chronicle that Giambi told a federal grand jury he used human growth hormone and steroids, and that Bonds testified he unwittingly used steroids provided by his trainer, brought quick condemnation of the sport's approach to performance-enhancing drugs.
"It shows the problem is endemic in baseball," World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound told The Associated Press on Friday.
"It also shows that their so-called efforts to determine whether there was a 'problem' was limited to anabolic steroids with full warnings to everybody, ignoring all the other stuff that's clearly being used, and followed by a set of ludicrous sanctions. It indicates that baseball is not at all serious about this."
There is no shock, either, in BALCO founder Victor Conte's claims that he sat beside Jones as she injected herself with human growth hormone three years ago. Suspicions have surrounded Jones for years, and she remains under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
"She pulled the spandex of her bicycle shorts above her right thigh," Conte wrote in a first-person account for ESPN: The Magazine. "She dialed up a dose of four-and-a-half units of growth hormone and injected it into her quadriceps."
Conte said he started working with Jones, at the request of her then-husband and coach C.J. Hunter, before the 2000 Sydney Games, where she won three gold and two bronze medals.
"I started providing her with insulin, growth hormone, EPO and 'The Clear,' as well as nutritional supplements," said Conte, who identified "The Clear" as the designer steroid THG, which could not be detected by tests at the time.
The Olympics have been worried about a scandal involving this big a star since the Ben Johnson case stained the 1988 Seoul Games.
Jones should be stripped of her Olympic medals if allegations that she used banned drugs before the Sydney Games prove to be true, Pound said.
Jones, however, has repeatedly denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and her attorney, Richard M. Nichols, said Conte is not credible.
Bonds and Giambi also have denied using steroids, but their grand jury testimony last year and reported by the Chronicle this week contradicted what they said in public.
Bonds testified that in 2003 he used a clear substance and a cream given to him by his friend and trainer, Greg Anderson, but didn't know they were steroids, according to the report. Bonds, who hit a record 73 homers in 2001, said Anderson told him the substances were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a rubbing balm for arthritis.
Bonds' attorney, Michael Rains, said the leak of grand jury testimony was an attempt to smear his client. He also maintained Bonds testified truthfully before the grand jury.
"His statement would be to you if he were standing here, he did not take anything illegal," Rains said.
Even if the substances Bonds took were steroids, Rains said they were not banned by baseball at the time and the slugger believed they were natural. Bonds also maintains the substances did nothing to aid his rise as one of the game's greatest home run hitters, Rains said.
"Barry was tested several times this year and the results of those tests were negative," said Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris.
How this all plays out for Bonds, Giambi and baseball is uncertain.
Bonds could face charges if prosecutors believe he lied in his grand jury testimony. His records may be stained, but his eventual election to the Hall of Fame probably won't be jeopardized. The 40-year-old slugger has 703 homers, behind only Ruth (714) and Aaron (755).
Giambi's testimony could lead the Yankees to terminate his $120 million contract and allow baseball commissioner Bud Selig to discipline him.
For baseball, it is stuck in the mud of a scandal that won't go away.
Selig said he's committed to ridding baseball of performance-enhancing substances and is calling on the players' association to adopt a stronger drug-testing policy modeled after the minor league program.
"The use of these substances continues to raise issues regarding the game's integrity and raises serious concerns about the health and well-being of our players," the commissioner said.
Selig didn't take that attitude six years ago when a beefed-up McGwire was hammering homers. Maybe now, he can persuade the union to change its attitude, too.