Analysis: Feds Fail As They Try To Seal Deal

By Gary Peterson
Updated: January 1, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — You’ve got to hand it to the federal agents working the BALCO investigation. If you don’t, they’ll go to court and take it from you anyway.

Don’t take our word for it. Ask the dozens of major league baseball players who were tested for steroids three years ago in what was supposed to be a blind survey. Roughly 1,200 players were tested in an effort to determine the extent of steroid use in the grand old game, with more than 100 turning up positive.

As a result of that survey, baseball implemented version 1.0 of its much-maligned steroid testing policy in 2004. And that was supposed to be the extent of the 2003 tests. How many foolish and/or desperate players are trying to extract talent from a syringe? More than 100? OK, now we start testing for real.

Only that isn’t the end of it. Those dirty nine dozen (or so) awoke Thursday morning to discover that their test results had been handed over to the feds by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco — or, as it’s known in the performance enhancement underground, BALCO-town.

The ruling must have some legal basis, given that it was handed down by three men in black robes. If you care to question the morality of the decision, party on.

These players were promised confidentiality before giving their samples. It’s as simple as that. Three lower courts ruled in favor of the players and their union on this point before the decision was overturned Wednesday. The union intends to appeal this week’s ruling to a higher court — hey, anything can happen, and all it costs is money.

But as we speak, something smells funny. And it’s not the garlic fries.

Then again, why are we even delving into the legal dis-n-dat of this week’s ruling? There’s a bigger issue afoot, and we all know whom it is.

From the beginning, the BALCO investigation has been driven by the desire to uncover unsavory and possibly illegal activities by big-name athletes. It didn’t take investigators long to decide that Barry Bonds was the biggest of the bigs.

It has been more than three years since Bonds was hauled in front of the grand jury. If his leaked testimony is any indication, he denied everything and was something of a pill about it. Members of the grand jury, welcome to our world.

In the 1,000-plus days and nights since Bonds gave that testimony, the federal investigation has become more narrowly focused to the point where it is now a laser dot on Bonds’ forehead. The feds have just been handed a motherlode of names and numbers, but really, their agenda is about as transparent as the emperor’s new clothes.

We are not defending Bonds here. If we were, we’d be wearing silk suits and pulling down $2,500 an hour. The view from this unauthorized court of appeals is that Bonds was dirty when he began swelling up and hitting home runs by the score in 1998. He knew he was dirty, he stayed dirty, and he was OK with being dirty. He may be dirty still. Plus, he really is a pill.

But he looks like an altruist compared to the investigators who continue to resort to barely legal, morally underhanded means in the quest to mount Bonds’ head on a stick.

Better have a sturdy stick, by the way.

They have tried to nail Bonds for perjury. They have looked into claims by his former mistress that he failed to report thousands of dollars in income related to the sale of memorabilia. They have read the book “Game of Shadows,” in which Bonds is portrayed in no uncertain terms as a juicer, a bully, a joker, a smoker and a midnight toker.

If they’ll go as far as wrestling confidential test results from their rightful owners, it makes you wonder what other means they have been employing. They investigate, they litigate, and they repeat as necessary. And yet, like Armando Benitez, they just can’t close the deal.

It would be one thing if they were attention mongers like our friends in Congress, grandstanding their way onto CNN by trying to shame baseball into accountability. And it would be one thing if they were among Bud Selig’s friends of baseball, rationalizing their vendetta as being in the best interests of the game. And it would be one thing if they were poor George Mitchell, trying to get to the bottom of things without subpoena power, preparing a special report which will probably fit in 12-point type on the back of a baseball card.

But they’re not. These are your tax dollars at work in the pursuit of something personal. After years of hard work, the feds still haven’t got the goods on Bonds. But they have achieved something even more extraordinary:

They’ve turned him into something approaching a sympathetic figure.

They ought to quit while they’re behind.