Monday, May 07, 2007

It’s time to show Barry Bonds some love

He’s leading the National League in home runs with 10, second to Alex Rodriguez. In the not too distant future Barry Bonds will hit the 756th home run of his career, establishing a new career home run record. Try as they may, baseball fans, baseball writers and the baseball establishment collectively seem to want Barry Bonds to go away. Wake up America – in the very near future Barry Bonds will be the home run champ and there is nothing anyone associated with Major League Baseball can do about Barry’s date with destiny. That said, that doesn’t mean baseball isn’t going to try and blow Barry Bonds away.

Sunday, ESPN and ABC released the results of a poll that suggested more than half of baseball fans don’t want to see Barry Bonds set a new career home run mark. According to the survey (and the results indicate there is ‘some’ support for Bonds) 52 percent of fans hope Bonds doesn't break the record, while 37 percent of fans want him to surpass Aaron's mark, set in 1974.

In addition, 73 percent of fans think Bonds used steroids, despite Bonds' repeated denials. Bonds has never tested positive for steroids. And that remains the fundamental flaw in how baseball fans and the baseball media feel about Barry Bonds. Barry Bonds may indeed have a great many bad characteristics, his behavior may have been questionable at best, but until there is conclusive proof that Barry Bonds used performance enhancing drugs there is nothing whatsoever that those who don’t like Barry Bonds can do (short of booing Bonds if they’re fortunate enough to be at a game Bonds is playing in).

In yet another sign of the coming Bonds Apocalypse, Friday Senator George Mitchell asked by Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig more than a year ago to head up a commission that would be empowered to investigate the use of performance enhancing drugs in MLB announced he was going to be start calling on current MLB players regarding the use of banned substances in baseball.

Contacted by The New York Times, Mitchell Saturday told the Times he’s winding down his year long investigation.

“We expect to meet soon with the players whose interviews we have requested,” Mr. Mitchell said in his e-mail reply to The Times. Mr. Mitchell has no subpoena power, and said that if players refused to talk to his panel, which reports to Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, “we will deal with the issue at that time.” Mitchell also told The Times that Selig had agreed that Mitchell’s final report would be made public. Baseball’s Blue Ribbon Economic Report can still be accessed in MLB.com’s archives for all the good it did baseball.

That Mitchell’s “commission” is finally coming to an end might be considered good news, however if anyone is still believes the truth will be told in Mitchell’s final report is fooling themselves.

On Thursday March 30, 2006 Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced former Sen. George Mitchell to head a full-scale investigation into the past use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. More than eight months later, as the baseball winter meetings begin in Orlando, Senator Mitchell’s investigation has proven to be an utter waste of time, an embarrassment to Senator Mitchell, and with Selig confirming he’s going to retire in three years; the failure of Senator Mitchell’s investigation sullies the Selig’s image.

"When I began, I was, of course, aware that I do not have the power to compel testimony or the production of documents," Mitchell said in a statement on Friday. "From the outset I believed that the absence of such power would significantly increase the amount of time necessary to complete the investigation, and it has."

While club officials have testified, Mitchell can't order any of the unionized players to cooperate. No player is known to have testified and despite Mitchell suggesting he was going to be sending a few letters to a few current MLB players he can expect a chilly reception.

"My investigative staff has conducted hundreds of interviews and received thousands of documents; however, much more work will be necessary," Mitchell said. "Cooperation has been good from many of those from whom we have sought testimony and documents, but has been less than good from some others. This will not affect the result of the investigation, but it has increased the length of time it will take me to complete the investigation."

Evidently when all is said and done, sentiments expressed by Selig, Mitchell and others when the investigation was announced on the eve of the 2006 season hasn’t amounted to anything.

"He has permission to expand the investigation and to follow the evidence wherever it may lead," said Selig, emphasizing the last four words of the statement after making the announcement during a press conference at the Commissioner's office on what is now an uneventful Thursday, March 30.

Selig can say whatever he’d like to on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs, but in looking back at the history of the use of performance-enhancing drugs by baseball players Major League Baseball was a lot like a salmon swimming upstream (salmon die at this point, unable to complete the swim)

Nov. 18, 1988 - Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988
This law amended the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and created criminal penalties for persons who "distribute or possess anabolic steroids with the intent to distribute for any use in humans other than the treatment of disease based on the order of a physician." Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-690, Section 4181.

Oct. 5, 1990 - 1990 Anabolic Steroids Control Act
Believing that the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 legislation was insufficient, Congress quickly replaced it with the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990.

Jun. 7, 1991 – Commissioner Fay Vincent Issues Memo Regarding Steroid Use
After the U.S. Congress raises penalties for steroid possession, Commissioner Fay Vincent sends a memo to each team indicating that steroids would be added to Major League Baseball’s banned list. The memo stated: "The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players or personnel is strictly prohibited ... This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs ... including steroids." The seven-page document didn't include a testing plan -- that had to be bargained with the union -- but it did outline treatment and penalties.

May 7, 1992 - The FBI Steroid Sting - Operation Equine
Curtis Wenzlaff was arrested May 7, 1992 for steroid distribution charges. The FBI found steroid regiments related to Mark McGwire. Years later, Wenzlaff admitted publicly to helping Canseco go from a novice user to steroid guru but refuses to discuss McGwire.

Oct. 25, 1994 – Supplements Industry Deregulated by U.S. Government
Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act passes, deregulates supplements industry.

Jul. 1995 – Randy Smith, Tony Gwynn and Jason Giambi Discuss Steroids with LA Times. Padres GM Randy Smith tells LA Times, "We all know there's steroid use, and it is definitely becoming more prevalent." In the same article, Expos GM Kevin Malone calls steroids “the secret we’re not supposed to talk about,” and Tony Gwynn estimates 30% of players using. Giambi says he’s heavier, stronger, and able to stay that way, then praises McGwire for his influence.

Aug. 22, 1998 – Mark McGwire and Androstenedione
A jar of androstenedione is discovered in the locker of St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire, who is neck and neck with Sammy Sosa in the great chase for Roger Maris' all-time record of 61 homers hit during the 1961 season. McGwire admits he uses the steroids precursor and goes on to hit a then record 70 homers. Using steroids, precursors or performance-enhancing drugs is not illegal at that point in Major League Baseball.

April 3, 2000 - 'Gen XXL' Implies Steroid Use in Early 1990s
In one of the first major media analyses of steroid use in baseball, Jeff Bradely described an encounter his brother, Scott, had with a former player who said that if he were still playing he would be using steroids. The article for ESPN Magazine said Scott never used steroids and was out of baseball within a couple of years.

Jun. 30, 2000 - Manny Alexander and Carlos Cowart
Carlos Cowart is pulled over driving Manny Alexander’s Mercedes. Cowart is taken into custody due to a previous warrant and the car is impounded and then searched. Police found vials of steroids and syringes in the glove compartment. A decision was made not to pursue the steroid charges against Cowart, a clear indication the police believed they were not his. Instead they pursued only the items from the previous warrant, driving without a license and failing to stop.

Apr. 2001 – MLB Implements Minor League Testing
MLB unilaterally implements its first random drug-testing program in the Minor Leagues. All players outside the 40-man roster of each Major League club are subject to random testing for steroid-based, performance enhancing drugs, plus drugs of abuse (marijuana, cocaine). The penalties are 15 games for a first positive test, 30 games for a second, 60 games for a third, and one year for a fourth. A fifth offense earns a ban from professional baseball for life.

Jun. 18, 2002 – U.S. Senate Tells Selig, Fehr to Negotiate Testing
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and John McCain (R-Ariz) tell Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB Players Association executive director Don Fehr that a strict drug testing program at the Major League level must be negotiated during collective bargaining for a new Basic Agreement, which is about to expire. Up to this point, no MLB player can be tested for drug use without probable cause. Fehr tells the committee that the Congress should enact laws to ban over-the-counter sales of performance-enhancing substances.

May 28, 2002 -- Ken Caminiti Admitted Using: Steroids (Non-specific). What he said: In an interview with Tom Verducci for Sports Illustrated Magazine, Caminiti admitted to using steroids, beginning in 1996 while he was recovering from a shoulder injury. Caminiti was the first star player to admit to using steroids. Caminiti estimated that 50% of players were using performance-enhancing drugs. Caminiti's admission was published in a May 28, 2002 article entitled Caminiti Comes Clean. On October 10, 2004, Caminiti dies from a drug overdose in a Bronx drug house.

Aug. 30, 2002 - MLB Unveils ‘Survey’ Testing For 2003
MLB and the union unveil Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program as an addendum to the new Basic Agreement, which is bargained at the 11th hour just as the players are about to go out on strike. The new policy calls for "Survey Testing" in 2003 to gauge the use of steroids among players on the 40-man rosters of each club. The tests will be anonymous and no one will be punished.

Feb. 17, 2003 – Steve Bechler, 23, Dies from Heat Exhaustion
Steve Bechler, a Baltimore Orioles pitcher, collapses on the field in Florida during a Spring Training workout and dies from heat exhaustion. He is 23 years old. An autopsy showed that the over-the-counter, performance-enhancing drug, Ephedra, was found in his system and was considered by the medical examiner as the primary cause of Bechler's death. Subsequently, MLB places Ephedra on the list of banned drugs at the Minor League level and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans it from over-the-counter sales

Mar. 1, 2003 – MLB Survey Testing Begins
Drug testing begins in Major League Spring Training camps. Some teams, including the Chicago White Sox, consider balking at taking the tests to skew the results. A refusal to participate in the "Survey" phase is considered a positive test. That first year, all MLB players on the 40-man rosters are subject to be randomly tested once. In addition, MLB had the right to retest up to 240 players a second time by the end of the season. All players ultimately complied and took the tests.

Oct. 29, 2003 – FDA Bans THG, MLB Follows Suit
The FDA bans THG. The next day MLB places the designer drug on its testing list for the 2004 season, but is barred by its own agreement from retroactively re-testing the 2003 urine samples for THG traces.

Nov. 13, 2003 – MLB Announces 5 to 7 Percent of Players Fail Survey Testing
MLB announced that 5-to-7 percent of 1,438 tests were positive during the 2003 season, well above the threshold, setting in motion mandatory testing for performance-enhancing drugs with punishments for the first time in Major League history. The first positive test put a player on a medical track that includes treatment and further testing. Otherwise, there's no punitive for a first positive test.

Dec. 2003 – Ten MLB Players to Testify before BALCO Grand Jury
Ten Major League players, including Barry Bonds of the Giants, and Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield of the Yankees, are to testify in front of a San Francisco grand jury investigating the machinations of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), owned and operated by Victor Conte. None of the players are charged with using performance-enhancing drugs, although four men, including Conte and Greg Anderson, Bonds' personal trainer and childhood friend, are indicted for tax evasion and selling steroids without prescriptions.

Mar. 10, 2004 – Senate Commerce Committee has Hearing, Begins Legislative Process
The Senate Commerce Committee holds another hearing. Selig and Fehr again appear to testify. They are told in no uncertain terms that MLB's current drug policy is not strong enough. McCain says: "Your failure to commit to addressing this issue straight on and immediately will motivate this committee to search for legislative remedies," thus setting the legislative process in motion.

Apr. 8, 2004 – BALCO Grand Jury Subpoena’s Major League Baseball’s Anonymous Test Results. The grand jury presiding over the BALCO case issues a subpoena to obtain the results of all the drug tests collected from Major League players during the 2003 season. After negotiations by the union, which argues that the subpoena is violating privacy rights afforded to the players in the Joint Drug Agreement, the drug tests are turned over.

May 11, 2004 – MLB Moves Testing and Samples to World Anti-Doping Agency
MLB and the Players Association agree to move all of the collection of urine samples and drug testing for both the Major Leagues and Minor Leagues to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) facilities in Montreal and Los Angeles.

Jun. 2004 – MLB Begins Steroid Testing, Counseling, Anonymity, for 1st Offense
MLB begins drug testing Major League players under the punitive phase of the Joint Drug Agreement. The program includes anonymity and counseling as punishment for a first offence.

Oct. 22, 2004 – The Anabolic Steroid Control Act. President Bush signs into law the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 that the U.S. Congress passed earlier in the month. The bill added hundreds of steroid-based drugs and precursors such as androstenedione to the list of anabolic steroids that are classified as Schedule III controlled substances, which are banned from over-the-counter sales without a prescription. By virtue of MLB's own agreement with the union, all of the drugs banned by Congress are now on baseball's own banned list.

Nov. 2004 – The BALCO Transcripts are Leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle
The San Francisco Chronicle prints portions of leaked grand jury testimony given the previous year by Bonds and Giambi. Giambi reportedly admits injecting himself with steroids and Bonds reportedly says he unwittingly may have allowed his former trainer, Anderson, to rub cream that had a steroid base on his legs.

Kirk Radomski, a former New York Mets employee, pleaded guilty last month to distributing steroids, human growth hormone and other performance-enhancing drugs to "dozens" of players through December 2005. The important note most seemed to ignore in relationship to the Radomski story – names weren’t offered, dozens were suggested but Bonds wasn’t one of the names even suggested that might be linked to Radomski in anyway.

Before 2004 it was legal to use steroids in America. It was however illegal to distribute and sell steroids. It has been illegal to use steroids since 2004. The 1991 Drug Act permitted the use of steroids by prescription (schedule III drug), not otherwise. However, the 2004 Act reclassified steroids into a tougher classification and explicitly bans possession.

Baseball didn’t begin a comprehensive drug testing program until 2004. However it is worthwhile remembering then commissioner Fay Vincent issued a memo in 1991 stating: “The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players and personnel is strictly prohibited ... [and those players involved] are subject to discipline by the Commissioner and risk permanent expulsion from the game.... This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids…”

If there is a sense of moral outrage from Major League Baseball officials, where was that outrage in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa saved baseball from itself as the two went head-to-head in surpassing Roger Maris’ 37-year single season home run record. Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961; McGwire hit 70 in 1998, Sosa 66. Ask Major League Baseball and their cable partner ESPN how they felt on September 8, 1998 when McGwire hit home run number 62 at Busch Stadium? Even better ask Major League Baseball officials how they felt in the days following the horrific events of September 11, 2001 when Barry Bonds established a new single season record with 73 home runs?

Major League Baseball has set single season attendance records each of the last three seasons. How many Major League Baseball officials honestly can look at themselves in a mirror and not thank McGwire, Sosa and Bonds for reviving Major League Baseball? If the fans are buying tickets in record numbers and owners could care less, who then does care and why?

A lifetime baseball fan, Senator Mitchell currently is on the Board of Directors of the Boston Red Sox. He is also Chairman of the Board of the Walt Disney Company.

When Bud Selig asked Sen. Mitchell to find the answers to the questions that needed answering, Selig had to know Sen. Mitchell was doomed to fail from the start. In early December, after Sen. Mitchell waved the white flag, Selig didn’t have a great deal to add.

“If we could get definitive answers, it would help,” Selig said in a telephone interview Friday, adding, “The one thing left is the one thing you’re talking about: What happened during X period of years.”

In no way is it right for athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs. It takes away from everything sport should stand for. It’s easy to understand why athletes do whatever they have to become bigger and better; you can run faster, hit harder and make a great deal more money. There are those who suggest Sen. Mitchell will allow baseball to have closure of the steroid era if he is allowed to ‘get the truth out’. Would anyone really trust any athlete who’s earned tens of millions of dollars to admit they took performance-enhancing drugs during their career? Especially if they’re retired. And if the records of baseball players for the last 15 years are as tainted as members of the media would like everyone to believe they are, did Babe Ruth really hit 714 home runs in an era when African-Americans were barred from MLB. Baseball managed to move on from its racist past, it’s time it moved on from its performance-enhancing drugs era and stopped the witch-hunt.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom.

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