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BALCO BLOWS UP

Dec. 13, 2004
Dec. 13, 2004

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Dec. 13, 2004

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BALCO BLOWS UP

Leaked grand jury testimony that Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi used steroids and damning allegations by the infamous drug lab's founder raised new questions about baseball's ability to clean up its mess

They will forever be linked as central figures in baseball's steroid era, yet Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi are strikingly different. Bonds is cocksure, dismissive of the media, seemingly unconcerned with the public's perception of him as arrogant and aloof. Booed at the 2004 World Series in St. Louis when presented with the Henry Aaron Award as the National League's best hitter, the San Francisco Giants' leftfielder just smiled. At age 40, coming off his seventh MVP season, Bonds is poised to break Aaron's career home run record as early as next year. Giambi, by contrast, is a fragile soul who cares deeply what people think of him. While playing with the Oakland A's he grew so troubled during a batting slump that, according to one person close to him, he consulted a psychic. As his health and

This is an article from the Dec. 13, 2004 issue Original Layout

performance have declined over the last year--his 2004 season was derailed by an intestinal parasite and a benign tumor on his pituitary gland--the New York Yankees' first baseman and DH has appeared lost and lonely. At age 33 Giambi, the American League MVP just four years ago, faces an uncertain future in his sport.

The two sluggers now stand together, twin lightning rods in the storm of drug allegations that is battering baseball. Bonds and Giambi were coupled last week when the San Francisco Chronicle detailed the players' December 2003 testimony before a grand jury investigating BALCO, the Burlingame, Calif., lab that federal authorities say was at the center of a steroid distribution ring. In his reported testimony, Giambi--who earlier this year publicly denied having used steroids--admitted to using "the cream," a testosterone-based balm that is rubbed into the skin, and "the clear," a liquid steroid taken in drops under the tongue, both of which he said he received from Bonds's personal trainer, Greg Anderson, one of four men with BALCO ties who are under federal indictment. Additionally, Giambi testified that he had used human growth hormone (HGH), which he had obtained at a Las Vegas gym.

Like Giambi, Bonds said that he had received substances that resembled the cream and the clear from Anderson. Unlike Giambi, the Giants' star told the grand jury he was unaware that Anderson had supplied him with illegal substances (Life of Reilly, page 118) , a claim Bonds's lawyer, Michael Rains, reiterated last week. "This is Barry's best friend in the world," Rains said of Anderson. "Barry trusted him. He trusts him today. He trusts that he never got anything illegal from Greg Anderson."

According to his leaked testimony, Bonds believed that the cream was a balm for arthritis and the clear was flaxseed oil, a nutritional supplement. When prosecutors questioned Bonds about documents that they believe show he used other performance-enhancing drugs, such as HGH; insulin, which aids in recovery from hard workouts; and Clomid, a female fertility drug used to enhance the effect of testosterone, Bonds denied knowledge of the drugs or the documents. (In his testimony Giambi said he took a pill--given to him, he said, by Anderson--that he believed was Clomid.) In an interview with ABC's 20/20 broadcast last Friday, BALCO founder and CEO Victor Conte Jr., who is under a 42-count indictment for trafficking in steroids and laundering money, said he had given Anderson the cream and the clear but didn't know if the trainer had passed those drugs on to other ballplayers. Anderson's lawyer Anna Ling says her client has never knowingly distributed illegal products to any athletes.

In the wake of the Chronicle stories, the Yankees reportedly were looking into the possibility of voiding the remaining four years and $82 million of Giambi's contract, and commissioner Bug Selig urged the players' union to help him implement a testing program "that will once and for all rid the game of the scourge of illegal drugs." Players' association executive director Donald Fehr said the union would discuss the issue at this week's meetings of its executive board in Phoenix. Senator John McCain took the hardest line, saying that if baseball didn't act decisively, Congress would, a solution Selig said on Monday he would accept if the players' association refused tougher drug testing. "I warned [baseball] a long time ago that we needed to fix this problem," McCain said, referring to his response to former third baseman Ken Caminiti's 2002 revelation to SI that he had used steroids as a member of the San Diego Padres. "It's time for [management and the union] to sit down together and act here."

While Conte's allegations that he had designed a doping program for Olympic champion Marion Jones (page 54) also made headlines, it was baseball that absorbed the week's biggest hits. "[The steroid issue] already was serious to the point of critical," said St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "Now it's going beyond that."

Most embarrassing for Selig, the scandal reinforced the perception of his sport as powerless to stop the use of performance-enhancing drugs and reluctant to even aggressively address the issue. "The Yankees' attitude toward Giambi was strange," former commissioner Fay Vincent told SI. "If they didn't know he was on steroids, they were the only ones in the country [who didn't]. What they're doing is pretty hypocritical. If he was hitting .350 they'd say, 'Leave him alone.' But now that he's a [.250] hitter, they're trying to get rid of him."

Whether Giambi ever again plays effectively, or at all, is one of many questions that remain unanswered. The full extent of the fallout from the BALCO investigation won't be felt until at least next spring, when the trial of Conte, Anderson, track coach Remy Korchemny and BALCO vice president James Valente is expected to start. Here are some of the other questions swirling around the case.

•What punishment awaits Bonds, Giambi and Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield, who in October admitted telling the BALCO grand jury that he had unknowingly used the cream before the 2002 season?

Probably none, unless they perjured themselves before the grand jury. The three players were granted immunity from prosecution in return for truthful testimony. Selig's hands are tied by his sport's collective bargaining agreement; likewise the Yankees may have no legal means to get out of paying Giambi the remainder of his contract.

•Why did Conte give a TV interview while awaiting trial?

His lawyers said they were surprised that their client went on 20/20, but it might have been a step toward a plea bargain. Conte may have shown prosecutors even more of what he knows, and he hinted in the interview that he could help authorities further penetrate the secretive world of performance-enhancing drugs. He is facing the prospect of not only significant prison time but also government confiscation of everything he owns, including his home.

•Will baseball finally get serious about steroids?

"A lot depends on how great the public furor is," Vincent says. For all the ranting on callin radio shows last week, the public--which has been hearing about steroid use in baseball for years--may not be all that outraged. While 93% of the respondents in an SI.com poll said they didn't believe Bonds's claim that he was unaware that the substances he used were steroids, 65% of those queried said the scandal would not affect their interest in the 2005 season.

Bonds's peers were similarly equivocal. Former outfielder Andy Van Slyke, a teammate of Bonds's when both played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, doesn't buy Bonds's contention that he unknowingly took steroids. "That's like Jeff Gordon not knowing what kind of gas he puts in his car." But Van Slyke added, "I'm afraid that if I [had been] introduced to Bonds's trainer, I probably would have done them myself." Florida Marlins reliever Matt Perisho was equally torn, telling The Miami Herald, "As far as I'm concerned [Bonds and Giambi] cheated. Anything they've done in their big league career is tainted ... but Bonds is still the best player in baseball."

Were you surprised by Jason Giambi's admission that he used steroids?

Yes 16%

No 84%

Do you believe Bonds's statement that he didn't know the substances he used were steroids?

Yes 7%

No 93%

Will the news on Giambi and Bonds affect your interest in the 2005 baseball season?

Yes 35%

No 65%

*From an SI.com poll

For complete poll results go to si.com/baseball

 

COLOR PHOTOJUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES (BONDS)INSIDE DOPE Conte (second from right) flexed his mouth muscles last week, and the silent (from left) Bonds, Anderson and Giambi wound up in screaming headlines.COLOR PHOTOBEN MARGOT/AP   [See caption above] COLOR PHOTOPAUL SAKUMA/AP (CONTE)   [See caption above] COLOR PHOTOGEORGE NIKITIN/AP   [See caption above]