Major Legal Issues in Major League Baseball
Barry Bonds was indicted Thursday on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. The indictment alleges that Bonds lied during his 2003 testimony before a federal grand jury which had convened to investigate the BALCO steroid distribution ring. If convicted on all counts, he faces up to 30 years in prison. Later Thursday afternoon, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered the release of Greg Anderson, Bonds' childhood friend and personal trainer who has sat in prison for contempt of court for nearly a year because of his refusal to testify about Bonds. The question yet to be answered: was Anderson's release contingent upon cooperation with a grand jury that otherwise lacked sufficient proof to indict Bonds?
Or was Anderson released because the grand jury has enough evidence without his testimony? Article 9 of the background section of the indictment states, "During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances for Bonds and other professional athletes." Maybe the presence of this "evidence" means that Anderson is not needed to prove that Bonds perjured himself.
Upon closer examination of the ten-page indictment, three of the four counts of perjury against Bonds pertain to his answers to questions concerning Greg Anderson. Before analyzing what this could mean, let's pause to summarize each count:
* Count One: Bonds denies that Anderson ever gave him anything that he knew to be a steroid, and Bonds continues to profess innocence even when the grand jury proceeded to show him documents with his name and/or initials pertaining to positive test results for two anabolic steroids.
* Count Two: Bonds denies that Anderson (or any of his associates) ever injected him with anything, or gave him anything that required Barry to use a syringe to inject himself.
* Count Three: Bonds denies that Anderson ever gave or helped Barry obtain human growth hormone (HGH) or testosterone, in January 2002 or at any time.
* Count Four: Barry admits to using "the cream" and "the clear," but claims that it didn't happen until 2003, while the grand jury maintains that it happened at least as early as December 2001, according to the date of a calendar with his "BB" initials on it.
* Count Five (Obstruction of Justice): The one count of obstruction of justice is the product of Bonds' "evasive, false, and misleading" testimony as noted in the aforementioned four counts of perjury.
At first glance, it seems difficult for the government to prove that Bonds lied about his dealings with Anderson if Anderson himself doesn't refute Bonds' testimony. Then again, Anderson has already chosen to sit in prison indefinitely, so why would he suddenly squeal now? It seems that the calendars and documents that allegedly outline Bonds' drug use are not weighty enough on their own to merit the indictment; if they were, Bonds could have been indicted years ago. If that's the case, then the government would need another witness to verify Bonds' use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Kimberly Bell, Bonds' former mistress, has claimed that Bonds both told her about his steroid use and acknowledged Anderson's role in administering the drugs, so it is possible that she could back up the first three counts of perjury. The fourth count of perjury is a matter of timing: not whether Bonds used the cream and the clear, but rather when he used them. Even Barry admitted he "could be wrong" about this time frame, and it's possible that Gary Sheffield, who trained with Bonds before the start of the 2002 season and admitted he had also used the cream, could verify the time period in question.
The Steroid Era
All things considered, it seems unlikely that Anderson came clean about Bonds. In any case, the grand jury believes it can prove Bonds was definitively and irrefutably a drug cheat. Yet it's worth remembering that Bonds isn't actually being indicted for illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs; he's being indicted for lying about it. Certainly, lying before a grand jury is no small matter, but in return for his agreement to testify in 2003, he received immunity from criminal prosecution for anything other than perjury. If Bonds can't be punished for using substances that weren't banned by major league baseball at the time (steroids were added to baseball's list of banned substances in 2003; drug testing actually began in 2005, when HGH was added to the list, though no reliable HGH test exists yet), doesn't it seem that he's being unfairly singled out? Other baseball MVPs Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti, and Jason Giambi have admitted to past steroid use, and since 2005, many minor and major leaguers, including Jason Grimsley, Alex Sanchez, Guillermo Mota, Rafael Betancourt, and Rafael Palmeiro, have all served suspensions after testing positive. Moreover, these players only represent a fraction of those who have been implicated or suspected of PED use. How can Bonds alone be targeted when the evidence indicates that so many other baseball players also benefited from PEDs? Is Bonds really any different than Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez, Troy Glaus, or Rick Ankiel? Maybe the only real difference is that Bonds possessed more natural talent than any of these stars. If other guys had to cheat to catch up, why do we focus our scorn on someone who was already the best player in the game? Is it because Bonds didn't need to cheat? Is it because the best player deserves the bulk of the blame? Or is it because Bonds in the biggest jerk in the history of sports interviews, and people are pissed that a lying megalomaniac now possesses not just the single-season home run record (73 in 2001, beating McGwire's 70 in 1998) but also the career home run record previously held by Hank Aaron, a principled man of dignity and honor?
After Bonds hit his 756th homer, fashion designer Marc Ecko, the owner by auction of the historic baseball, put the fate of the ball up for an internet vote. Fans were given three options: one, send it to Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hame of Fame; two, permanently brand it with an asterisk and then send it to Cooperstown; or three, blast it into outer space. Sadly, the asterisk option won with 47% of the 10 million votes cast. Worse, the Hall has tentatively agreed to accept the ball with an asterisk affixed. The asterisk is an insult not just to Bonds' personal legacy. More importantly, it's an insult to the integrity of the American pastime. Bonds doesn't "theoretically" hold the home run record; he has physically launched more bombs in major league games than anyone else in history. That's a fact. It's also a fact that he's never been suspended for violating baseball's PED testing program. It's also an indisputable fact that Bonds competed against other players who did test positive, and still more who undoubtedly used PEDs before they were officially banned in 2005. For better or worse, baseball's lack of drug testing spawned the now-infamous Steroid Era. While we can lament the fact that PEDs plagued baseball for about twenty years from sometime in the 1980's until 2005, we can't pick and choose who gets punished and who gets pardoned for their involvement. It's inconsistent to condemn McGwire and Bonds, and then forgive Cardinals pitcher-turned-slugger Rick Ankiel and Indians hurler Paul Byrd for their use of HGH.
The Dope on HGH
Jintropin is a popular strand of HGH synthesized by Chinese chemist Jin Lei, who learned his craft while getting a Ph.D. from UC-San Francisco in the '90s. Jin returned to China and opened a government-sponsored company, GenSci, which manufactures and sells Jintropin. Check out Shawn Assael's full story here. dp says don't be like Sylvester Stallone, who was detained for two days after trying to enter Australia without a prescription for his 48 vials of Jintropin.
Yes, both Ankiel and Byrd were initially prescribed HGH by doctors for medical reasons. Yes, Ankiel was recovering from elbow ligament replacement surgery, as was Byrd, who also claimed that he suffered from a pituitary gland disorder that accounted for why he continued to buy nearly $25,000 of HGH over a three-year period. HGH is typically given to children with dwarfism and adults who suffer from AIDs-related "wasting," a degenerative condition. HGH is also FDA-approved for adults with adult growth hormone deficiency. It's possible that Byrd could fall under this last category, but it still wouldn't explain how he twice filled prescriptions for HGH from a dentist who was subsequently suspended for "fraud and incompetence" in 2003. That same dentist prescribed HGH to other baseball players, including Matt Williams, Ismael Valdez and Jose Guillen. All four players obtained the drugs from the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center (PBRC), an anti-aging clinic. On Feb. 27, a slew of law-enforcement agencies led by the Albany County (NY) District Attorney's Office and the Drug Enforcement Agency raided the PBRC as part of "Operation Which Doctor," a major investigation into an Internet-based steroid distribution ring. Meanwhile, agents in Orlando simultaneously raided the investigation's main target, Signature Pharmacy, which manufactured and distributed millions of dollars of drugs to PBRC, other anti-aging clinics, and other pro athletes including Ankiel, Glaus, and Jay Gibbons. All told, more than two dozen doctors, pharmacists, and business owners (including those of PBRC and of Signature Pharmacy) face a multitude of felony charges, including the illegal distribution of steroids and HGH. Some-- including PBRC co-owner Joseph Raich and his brother-in-law, heart surgeon Robert G. Carlson-- have already plead guilty.
Some of these anti-aging clinics have liberally expanded the use of HGH to combat the "disease" of getting older, and trumpet anecdotal evidence that suggests HGH's performance-enhancing effects include more red blood cells, healthier heart function, improved eyesight, higher energy levels and increased sex drive. Yet the larger medical community doesn't consider these claims legitimate, and no reputable doctor would prescribe HGH to a healthy adult. While HGH very well may help athletes recover faster from serious sports injuries by regenerating stronger connective tissue like tendons and ligaments, this use is not approved by the FDA, much less considered standard practice. Accordingly, MLB has never granted Byrd or any player a "Therapeutic Use Exemption" for HGH.
Baseball's Tarnished Legacy*
What does this all mean for baseball? The BALCO investigation, "Operation Which Doctor," and “Operation Raw Deal” (a series of raids conducted by more than 100 D.E.A. agents in 27 states from Sept. 20-24 that resulted in 124 arrests and the closing of 56 labs) focused on manufacturers and distributors at the top of the PED food chain, meaning that users would not be targeted for prosecution. But this certainly does not mean that professional athletes are off the hook. Patriots safety Rodney Harrison was suspended for four games by the NFL after he admitted to the Albany County D.A.'s Office that he used HGH prescribed by Carlson and obtained online from PBRC. Barry Bonds is not the only major league baseball player that has to worry. The Mitchell Report on Steroids, an investigation of PED use in baseball conducted by former Senator George Mitchell, is expected to be released sometime in the next month. The player's union has apparently learned that Mitchell's Report will name 11 current free agents. Bonds makes one, as the Giants dropped Bonds like a dirty habit. Paul "Crazy" Byrd no longer makes two, for the Indians exercised their $7.5 million team option. (We await the publication of "The Free Byrd Project," Paul's upcoming autobiography, for his full story.) It's unclear how many additional players already under contract will be named, but Commissioner Bud Selig has said that teams "ought to be prepared for (the) eventuality" of naming names. In a conference call with representatives from all 30 teams, Thomas Carlucci, a lawyer for the firm that represents MLB, said that Mitchell's report would be "salacious" (translation: "obscene").
Clearly, the Steroid Era has tarnished baseball's legacy, but it would be truly obscene to make Bonds the scapegoat for baseball's systemic sins. Bonds may be a lot of things, including a drug user, a jerk, an adulterer, and a liar, but he didn't create the Steroid Era; he just participated in it like so many of his competitors. While the history books should rightfully note the impact of PEDs on professional sport, there need be no asterisk on his record-setting ball. After all, we've got the image of Barry's enlarged head burned in our minds. We don't need punctuation.