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• Baseball and steroids
Baseball and steroids
By the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – December 5, 2004
Pump me up for the ballgame; Shoot me up for the crowd; Give me some Depo-testosterone; I don’t care if I ever get home.
By the time the San Francisco Giants make their only appearance at Busch Stadium next summer on Aug. 19, Giants outfielder Barry Bonds will almost certainly have passed Babe Ruth’s 714 on the all-time home run list and be within hailing distance of Henry Aaron’s record of 755.
Funny. It doesn’t seem so exciting any more.
Mr. Bonds, 40, whose records and achievements over the past 19 years argue that he is the best player in baseball history, now finds himself at the center of the game’s latest scandal. He has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs during the 2003 season – although he claims he didn’t know what they were.
The admission came during an appearance before a federal grand jury in San Francisco one year ago, on Dec. 4, 2003. The grand jury was investigating allegations that four men associated with a Burlingame, Calif., company called BALCO – Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative – conspired to manufacture and distribute nonprescription steroids. The grand jury indicted the four on charges of distributing steroids; their trial begins in March.
Mr. Bonds and other athletes called to testify were not targets of the investigation, but could be prosecuted if they are found to have lied in their testimony.
The San Francisco Chronicle, which obtained transcripts of some of the grand jury proceedings, disclosed last week that first baseman Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees admitted that he began using performance-enhancing drugs in 2001, including injecting human growth hormone (hGH) in 2003. Mr. Giambi told the grand jury that he obtained the drugs from Greg Anderson, Mr. Bonds’ personal trainer, who was indicted by the BALCO grand jury.
The Chronicle followed the Giambi bombshell with an account of Mr. Bond’s testimony, in which he admits using two banned substances given to him by Mr. Anderson. One of the substances, placed under the tongue with an eye-dropper, was apparently a form of the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG, also called “Clear.” Mr. Bonds said he thought it was flaxseed oil.
The other substance was a steroid skin cream that Mr. Bonds said he thought was an arthritis cream. He said he used the drugs in August 2003, because he was tired and emotionally drained by his father’s battle with cancer.
But prosecutors presented documents that they said suggested Mr. Bonds was a longtime BALCO customer. The Chronicle said the documents suggested Mr. Bonds had used hGH, Depo-testosterone, THG, a testosterone gel, insulin and a women’s fertility drug called Clomid, which supposedly boosts the effectiveness of testosterone.
The nature of the evidence – tenuous memos and vague notes – suggests that proving a perjury charge against Mr. Bonds would be difficult. Nor is he likely to face discipline from Major League Baseball, either in the form of fines, suspensions or having his records erased or modified. Largely because of opposition from its players union, big league baseball had no rules against steroids until 2003, and not until 2004 did players face any sanctions.
For more than two decades, baseball turned a blind eye to the “miracles” of skinny young athletes bulking up almost overnight into homer-slamming hulks. But now, with its greatest star – to say nothing of a star on the sainted Yankees – embroiled in the controversy, the game will have to make up credibility in a hurry.
The steroid time bomb is ticking. Victor Conte, BALCO’s founder, “guesstimated” on ABC’s “20/20” Friday night that “more than 50 percent” of big-league players take anabolic steroids.
“It’s not cheating if everybody is doing it,” Mr. Conte said in a transcript of the interview released by ABC. “And if you’ve got the knowledge that that’s what everyone is doing, and those are the real rules of the game, then you’re not cheating.”
That’s an ethic baseball can’t afford.
“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball,” the historian Jacques Barzun observed 50 years ago. In the case of Flaxseed Barry Bonds, we have to hope he was wrong.
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