MLB Ownership Given Pass By Feds

By Diane M. Grassi
Updated: February 12, 2008

NEVADA — Major League Baseball (MLB) and drugs. The two have been linked for decades and their relationship has never waned. The drug ingredients are different, the players acquiring them have changed and the performance benefits have been enhanced.

But MLB has not learned much in the past couple of decades when it comes to the integrity of the game, in obeying the law and in protecting the best interests of its athletes, its most precious commodity.

In 1985, Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney, J. Alan Johnson, implicated 19 MLB players for possession of and use of cocaine. Then-MLB Commissioner, Peter Ueberroth, imposed penalties on 11 of the 19, while none were criminally prosecuted.

Similar to the BALCO case and to the recent Mitchell Report, the depth of the problem among athletes using cocaine or illegal drugs made for sensational headlines.

But the way, in which the drug culture was arguably enabled by MLB and its subsequent punishments were laughable and was perhaps the precursor to the abuse of steroids and HGH in the 1990′s and into the 21st century.

Although it was documented at the time that at least 40% of MLB players were recreationally using cocaine in the ’80′s, only a handful were punished. But such star players such as Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, and Lonnie Smith were punished not by the federal government but by MLB.

They were required to perform 100 hours of community service and to avail themselves to drug testing. Four other players were suspended for 60 days. Since the drug dealers were nabbed by the feds, MLB was off the hook and essentially did what it felt was appropriate for the “good of the game.”

Fast-forward to 2003 when grand jury testimony was taken in the federal BALCO investigation involving MLB’s Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, Olympic medalist Marion Jones and NFL star Bill Romanowski, to name but a few of the few implicated.

Again, only a handful of athletes from the entire professional athletic world were threatened and eventually given immunity, in order to take down BALCO President, Vic Conte, personal trainer, Greg Anderson and the illicit sale, distribution and administration of illegal performance enhancing substances.

Marion Jones will serve six months in prison neither for buying and illegally using controlled substances nor for her check fraud to the tune of $200,000.00, but for lying under oath to a federal grand jury about the use of drugs.

Ditto for Barry Bonds. His scheduled perjury trial is to be held in April 2008.

The latest fiasco with “personal trainer,” Brian McNamee, former NY Mets clubhouse employee, Kirk Radomski and MLB stars Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte following former Senator George Mitchell’s report on behalf of MLB, is but another failed attempt at exposing the so-called truth. But truth has been absent from baseball for a very long time.

Moreover, implicating only 30 active players for a grand total of 89 for using performance enhancing drugs over the past decade is not only laughable but terribly sad. Given the resources and legal expenses tallied around $20‒30 million and paid to George Mitchell’s law firm by MLB, the Mitchell Report’s omissions should raise as many eyebrows as its contents.

But more importantly is the absence of a cry for accountability from MLB by the federal government in essentially allowing it to be in the drug business. For its owners and its teams’ staff members not to admit any wrong doing is beyond arrogance.

A lack of efforts to look into those areas in which there was first-hand knowledge of possible illicit drug use or non-credentialed employees working in the area of strength training was but blind neglect.

To wit, according to the Mitchell Report, San Francisco Giants General Manager, Brian Sabean, was alerted by the Giants’ staff athletic trainer, Stan Conte, that a player had asked him about whether he should buy steroids from Bonds’ personal trainer, Greg Anderson, as far back as 2002.

Additionally, the Giants’ longtime equipment manager, Mike Murphy, found syringes in the locker of catcher Benito Santiago.

Conte said he reported both incidents to Sabean immediately. Sabean told Conte that if he had a problem with Bonds’ trainer he should handle it himself. But it was obvious to Conte that it was not his place to confront Barry Bonds.

And apparently no one else in the Giants organization felt it was their place either, as per their MLB obligation to report illicit drug use.

Sabean stated in the Mitchell Report that he “was unaware of the obligation to report drug use to the Commissioner’s Office.” Former Mets General Manager, Steve Phillips, and Kirk Radomski’s employer, also plead ignorance on reporting illicit drug use to the Commissioner’s Office.

Ironically now, Phillips is paid by ESPN to analyze and to inform the public about MLB’s policies. Greg Anderson was given full accessibility to the Giants’ clubhouse. Stan Conte did not believe it was proper let alone legal.

But in order to placate Bonds, the Giants also accorded him two additional trainers, Harvey Shields and Greg Oliver. All three traveled with the team. In fact, Oliver and Shields were added to the Giants’ payroll to account for their presence in the clubhouse, whereby they could advise other players as well.

Peter Magowan, CEO and Managing Partner of the S.F. Giants asked Sabean whether the Giants “had a problem” with regard to steroids after reading the news concerning the BALCO case and Greg Anderson, according to the Mitchell Report.

But Sabean told Mitchell he did not recall that conversation.

The issue was not only that of illicit drugs permeating the Giants’ locker room but the issue of personal trainers, such as Greg Anderson giving out advice about steroids.

None of Bonds’ trainers were certified to give out that advice nor licensed to either dispense of or speak about drug administration. Their certifications and schooling as personal trainers is also in question.

The lack of background checks on supposed strength coaches and personal trainers was rampant in MLB until 2004 when MLB limited access to clubhouses by personal trainers and ancillary clubhouse personnel not on the payroll.

Due to the BALCO case, MLB did it more for security reasons, as the vetting of a trainer’s certification and background still has many lapses, to say the least.

In 2004, Sandy Krum, former assistant athletic trainer for the Chicago Cubs, was terminated, he believes, for informing Cubs’ General Manager Jim Hendry that head athletic trainer, Dave Groeschner, was operating without an Illinois state required license.

Unlike a personal trainer, an athletic trainer works under the auspices of a medical doctor and 43 states require such a license. Additionally, athletic trainers are not authorized in Illinois or NY to give injections to players.

Coincidentally, Groeschner followed Cubs Manager Dusty Baker from San Francisco. In 2005, the Cubs fired Groeschner. Dusty is now with the Cincinnati Reds.

We have heard ad naseum about the McNamee-Clemens soap opera which will be played out before the Congressional House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 13, 2008.

But little light has been shed upon the underlying facts about how McNamee helped weave his own web, in which the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees play no small part.

McNamee earned an undergraduate degree from St. John’s University in NY where he played on the baseball team as a catcher but did not have enough talent for MLB. He then followed his father’s lead and joined the NYPD in 1990.

He was an officer for three years, serving two years undercover and then quit the force. He was suspended for 30 days at the end of his service for allowing a prisoner to escape from custody, but said he took the fall for someone else.

Former St. John’s school mate, Tim McCleary, was the assistant General Manager of the Yankees in 1993 and hired McNamee as the bullpen catcher, where he stayed until 1995. McNamee then decided to get into personal training.

In 1998, McCleary was hired by Toronto, and he then hired McNamee as a strength coach and where he met Roger Clemens. He also befriended Jose Canseco who at the time was also a Blue Jay.

After Clemens was traded to New York in 1999, McNamee joined him in 2000 when the Yankees put him on the payroll as a strength coach as well until 2001, when allegations immerged of rape and illegally giving the involved woman GHB “the date-rape drug” a nearly fatal dose.

Charges were not filed as the woman did not want to pursue them supposedly because she was having an affair with one of the Yankees’ married players. But McNamee was spotted having sex with a nearly comatose woman in the one of the team’s hotel pools on the night of a Devil Rays game in St. Petersburg in October of 2001.

His account to police was filled with inconsistencies, including denying he was the man in the pool when spotted by security and another Yankee staffer. Again, McNamee was the victim.

GHB is illegally used by athletes to recover from strenuous workouts and was also part of McNamee’s medicine cabinet. Even so, Clemens gave McNamee the benefit of the doubt about the alleged rape.

The Yankees, however, let McNamee go before the 2002 season without disclosing the reason. But Clemens hired him as his personal trainer and employed him through June 2007.

Andy Pettitte also paid McNamee for his training services during that time.

McNamee’s credentials were never checked by either the Toronto Blue Jays or the Yankees. During their employ of his services he was never a certified strength coach.

He may have been a personal trainer, but certification is not legally required to be a personal trainer, although such certification only requires an exam and no course work or field training.

McNamee’s credentials are dubious at best, not to mention his phony PhD that he acquired in 2000 from an implicated internet diploma mill known as Columbus University, supposedly located in Louisiana, and since sold off to another entity in another state due to its being nailed by authorities.

McNamee was advertising himself on the internet as Dr. McNamee, PhD in order to market his In-Vite nutritional supplements and his strength training services. He was also getting involved in other enterprises which Clemens was helping to bankroll to help out his career. Although McNamee made claims he was certified, he was not certified as a strength coach until nearly 2006.

According to Dr. Jeff Falkel, Chairman of the Executive Council Certification Commission of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, (NSCA) recently on Will Carroll’s radio show, stated that McNamee did not even take his Certified Strength Conditioning Specialist exam until October 2005.

And unbelievably, MLB does not require certifications of its personal trainers or strength coaches but does require its staff athletic trainers be licensed only as required by law.

The NFL, NBA, NHL and NCAA are also lax about certifications other than athletic trainers who work with medical physicians. They still do not require that their strength trainers be credentialed by the NSCA.

What we can conclude from this unveiling of the lack of professionalism and clubhouse culture throughout MLB is that without the cooperation of all of its participants, from the executive level on down to the groundskeepers, it cannot be trusted to police itself, based upon its putrid record thus far.

And the business decisions made on the executive level from Commissioner to owner to GM to player to staff employees has been dismal and in disrepair.

Ultimately, greed has been the prevailing culprit, influencing both owners and players alike. But to single out a few super stars will never cure baseball or professional sports of its ills.

It is shortsighted by MLB and not surprisingly so by our U.S. Congress. While there is no ready solution, using some common sense might be a good start.