The time was 8:02 a.m., and I was the first person to walk into what in the next year or more would be the chamber where Barry Bonds would be either vindicated or convicted of lying to a federal grand jury. My eye was drawn to the grand dais behind which Judge Susan Illston would preside during the trial, a huge seal of the U.S. district court anchoring the wall, a U.S. flag to the side. The courtroom had wood paneling and a high ceiling. Courtroom 10 had no windows, just like the place Bonds would go if a jury found him guilty.
Outside the San Francisco federal building that December 2007 morning, dozens of photographers mingled around satellite-TV trucks. A couple of women in bikinis shivered as they tried to take advantage of the scene to advertise the virtues of a vegan lifestyle. Gradually the reporters and lawyers filed into the courtroom for the main event. A dour courtroom artist in a black suit entered with her sketch pad, her pens and pencils hanging around her neck like bad jewelry.
About 8:30 a bald guy strode in from a side door, taking a seat in front. Jeff Novitzky, IRS agent and Barry Bonds’s nemesis, wore a dark suit and looked straight ahead. A few minutes before nine Bonds made his entry. His dark suit was of a better cut than Novitzky’s and hung easily off his broad shoulders. The baseball star chatted and joked with his lead attorney, Michael Rains. Bonds’s legal team was big enough to fill an infield.
This was opening day for Bonds in his arraignment on federal perjury charges. He would not make every hearing during the next year, but when he did you could count on Novitzky being in the courtroom, watching his every move.
I had first heard of Novitzky five years before, in the summer of 2003, weeks before the government raid on Victor Conte, mastermind of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO), the company suspected of distributing steroids to high-profile athletes, and Bonds’s trainer, Greg Anderson. Only four lawmen were working the BALCO investigation at the time. That summer and fall I met and talked to three of them a few miles from where Bonds pumped iron and became a home-run legend. From the beginning, the story they told me, which I wrote for Playboy (Gunning for the Big Guy, May 2004), was markedly different from both the official government account and nearly all the books and countless articles that would be published on the steroid scandal.
In the years since, Novitzky has risen to lead a nationwide investigation focused primarily on prosecuting athletes who allegedly lied to him or a grand jury about their use of substances believed to give an athlete an edge. The media have anointed him a hero. The New York Times called Novitzky “an unlikely contender for the role of the Eliot Ness of the steroids age.”
Novitzky has been portrayed as a lonely, honest lawman dedicated to a worthy cause. He grabbed the spotlight by taking on Marion Jones, arguably the premier black female athlete of her generation, then Roger Clemens, the legendary pitcher, all the while relentlessly pursuing Bonds, baseball’s greatest home-run hitter.
More than any other of Novitzky’s targets, Bonds has been painted by the government and the media as a larger-than-life villain, a portrayal that has inspired hatred, condemnation and even death threats. Few have noted that the white federal investigator and prosecutors singled out a black man when they had equal if not greater cause to pursue then-Yankee Jason Giambi or any number of fairer-skinned stars.
This spring’s perjury trial of Bonds—scheduled to begin in early March—promises to draw a carnival of television, print and Internet attention not seen since the first O.J. Simpson spectacle. Forgotten in this media orgy is that Barry Bonds is no O.J. No one was murdered. Nothing was stolen. No victim has been found. And Bonds may not have done anything particularly different from hundreds of other ballplayers.
How did allegations of cheating in sports rise to the level of a federal crime and become a subject considered so critical that everyone from George W. Bush to Senator John McCain wanted to cast a stone at Bonds? Why did whatever Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Marion Jones said (or didn’t say) become worthy of a $55 million federal investigation? Why for more than half a decade did so many miss the hypocrisy and brutal irony of what may one day be looked upon as the biggest put-up job in all of sports?
I began reporting on this story before it made a single headline. By early 2004 I’d already done more than 60 interviews with dozens of sources and have since stayed in the game. In the past year and a half I’ve written nearly 50 online pieces for Yahoo Sports and Playboy.com on the latest twists and turns in the case. I have had the opportunity to review secret grand-jury testimony and files, so I can report in this story critical facts about this case that have never been publicly uttered. I flew to the Clemens congressional hearing. I attended all the Bonds hearings and virtually all the BALCO trials. I also got to Victor Conte, the man who started the scandal rolling. Along the way, I learned an old lesson.
The passing of time can sometimes provide perspective, enabling us to see what has been in plain sight all along.
BALCO became known to the general public on September 3, 2003, shortly before noon, when a covey of unmarked sedans surrounded Conte’s small suite of offices just south of San Francisco International Airport. Agents armed with handguns and rifles rushed inside. The crowd of TV cameramen and reporters invited to the show had no problem identifying the lead agency. There were 18 IRS agents, three FDA agents, the managing director of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, two San Mateo drug task-force agents and two agents with the Department of Homeland Security.
BALCO consisted of Conte, his business partner, Jim Valente, and Valente’s wife, Joyce.
Novitzky would later testify in court that he first heard about Conte in the late 1980s when Conte’s nutritional-supplements business started to take off, adding that when Jones’s husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter, tested positive for doping before the 2000 Olympics, “It sparked my interest.” But this was years before any national criminal investigation of steroids in sports. Novitzky was an unheralded midlevel IRS agent. Why would a shot-putter testing positive for steroids spark his professional interest?
A talented high jumper who played college basketball, Novitzky had grown up not far from Bonds on the San Francisco peninsula. Bonds had long been both popular and controversial in the Bay Area. The ballplayer filled stadiums and awed fans, but many locals found him less a Hank Aaron than a modern-day Ty Cobb—his talent matched by his surly demeanor.
Novitzky seemed to take the superstar’s cavalier treatment of the media and fans as a personal affront, and his raw comments about the legendary black baseball player made some colleagues uneasy. Novitzky never expressed irritation at Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco or the numerous other lighter-skinned pro athletes widely suspected of steroid use.
The IRS had no tradition of investigating steroids. Criminal IRS investigators have a well-defined function: to bring tax fraud perpetrators to justice. Novitzky testified in court that his interest in BALCO came about because of suspected money laundering. As the saying goes, “Show me the money.” Conte’s total income from sales of banned performance-enhancing drugs and consulting added up to less than $13,000 a year—a four-year total of no more than $50,000—a fraction of the IRS standard for a criminal tax case.
Top officials at the IRS or the Justice Department had to give the okay for Novitzky to morph into a star federal drug agent leading a national investigation. Given the IRS’s shortcomings, that was a remarkable transformation. At an April 2001 congressional hearing, IRS commissioner Charles Rossotti was taken to task for not cracking down on hundreds of billions of dollars a year of criminal tax fraud. “I am worried the IRS is a dog that doesn’t have a bark,” said Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who then headed the Senate Finance Committee. The phenomenon of Novitzky’s IRS drug investigation struck federal prosecutors as unprecedented and exceptional. Novitzky’s search-warrant request was focused on a crime his agency had no authority to investigate: “Victor Conte Jr. and others are involved in a nationwide scheme to knowingly illegally distribute athletic performance-enhancing drugs. ”
Behind the scenes, Novitzky was given the green light to recruit state and local drug investigators. In August 2002 he began reading Conte’s e-mail and rummaging through his garbage, hunting for clues. By February 2003, through Novitzky’s pressure, Iran White, an agent in San Jose’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, was brought in to go undercover. An African American skilled in the use of weapons and hand-to-hand combat, White was the go-to guy for the FBI and other agencies investigating major narcotics dealings in California. On April 17, 2003 White was given $300 to buy a six-month membership at Bonds’s Burlingame gym. White knew Novitzky. They had worked together on numerous cases in which the IRS was called in to take possession of financial records after a drug arrest. The undercover agent thought Novitzky’s quest to nail Bonds bordered on an obsession, saying, “Jeff has never held back what he felt about Bonds.” Another of the original four agents working on the case told me, “Novitzky hated Bonds.”
Just weeks after White went undercover, he, Novitzky and other agents met at the San Jose federal building with the assistant U.S. attorney overseeing the case, Jeff Nedrow. Novitzky named the targets of the investigation: Bonds, Jason Giambi and other major leaguers. Working undercover, White was soon lifting weights with Bonds’s trainer, Greg Anderson. By late May 2003 Novitzky was so thrilled that he boasted to the two drug task-force agents about his hope to participate in a book and become famous. White also overheard the conversation. “He envisioned congressional hearings, book deals and TV,” said the lead task-force agent. “I was uncomfortable with that.”
“It was turned into a publicity stunt,” said another task-force agent, who found the idea that the IRS agent hoped to become a celebrity or profit from the case to be a clear violation of the investigator’s professional code. “We don’t chase headlines.”
Then in early June everything began to go wrong. White woke up paralyzed. He had suffered a stroke, possibly brought on by the brutal Bondsian workouts. His recovery took months. Novitzky, the man who put him in that gym, never called.
With White out of the picture, Novitzky became a world unto himself. He rebuffed attempts by the San Mateo Drug Task Force to bring in another undercover agent. Requests to bring in the FBI or DEA to do phone wiretaps or recruit new undercover agents were rejected. What had begun as a joint federal, state and local investigation was fast becoming one controlled by a single man. The undercover operation, wiretaps and Dumpster diving were about to give way to something never before seen in sports: a parade of high-profile athletes forced to speak about their drug use under penalty of perjury before the watchful eye of an IRS man—Novitzky.
Long before Barry Bonds became entangled in the steroids scandal, it was widely known that professional baseball was having an affair with the juice. A year and a half earlier Ken Caminiti told Sports Illustrated that steroids had helped create his MVP season, when he hit a career-high .326 with 40 home runs. Caminiti reckoned 50 percent of big leaguers were on performance-enhancing drugs.
Back in 1998 the hulking six-foot-five, 250-pound Mark McGwire admitted he was taking androstenedione, a steroid precursor, during the year he eclipsed Roger Maris’s single-season home-run record. Not only was there no outcry or federal indictment, officials within baseball didn’t even bother to test for steroids until 2003. The penalty for the first positive test was counseling—a farce compared with other sports (track and field banned first-time violators for up to two years). In 2003, 100 major leaguers tested positive for anabolic steroids, and experts believe the ease of beating the tests suggests that in fact several hundred others were likely using the drugs.
For years baseball had embraced and rewarded steroid abuse with outsize fame and ballooning multimillion-dollar contracts. That larger context seemed incongruous with the strategy the government appeared to be taking in grand-jury hearings.
The main criminal focus appeared to be on finding the perfect scapegoat. Bonds was an ideal fall guy for a government bent on proving the moral wrong of steroids. In the fall of 2003 he was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. Lead Bonds attorney Michael Rains met prosecutor Jeff Nedrow in his San Jose office in advance of the ballplayer’s appearance. Bonds was not the first to testify; others had done so and before testifying had been offered the chance to see documents containing the evidence against them. As Rains recalled, Nedrow proposed “the deal that Barry and I come down and look at documents a few days before Barry’s grand-jury testimony.” Rains said they shook hands on the agreement.
A week before that scheduled meeting Rains said the prosecutor left the following voice mail: “Why don’t you come about two to three hours before the scheduled grand-jury appearance. We’ll let you look at the documents then. I’ll see you at 10 o’clock.”
Rains and his driver arrived early on the morning of December 4, 2003 to pick up Bonds at his Hillsborough home. The next stop was a San Francisco police station more than a mile from the courthouse. The government wanted Novitzky to play chauffeur to Bonds on the day of his grand-jury testimony.
“Novitzky was in his federal car,” said Rains. “Barry and I jumped into the car, and Novitzky said hi.”
The IRS agent drove, Rains in front, Bonds in back. “Novitzky was fuming,” recalled Rains. “He was all hot and bothered. Barry was saying, ‘Mike, we can’t trust these guys.’”
When the sedan arrived at the federal building, “Novitzky did this 20- to 30-second wait,” said Rains. The cameras pushed in. Rains said Bonds started screaming at Novitzky, “Get this motherfucking car moving! This is fucking bullshit!”
Minutes later they rode the elevator to the 17th floor. Nedrow walked them into another room and introduced Rains to Ross Nadel, chief of the criminal division. Nedrow abruptly announced that Bonds would not be allowed to look at any documents. Rains was furious.
“You want him to testify at one p.m..,” he said he told the prosecutors. “It’s 10:30. You say we can’t look at documents. We had an agreement.”
Nadel said there had never been an agreement. Rains countered that he had Nedrow’s voice mail advising him to have Bonds appear at 10:30. “Do you think I came here at 10:30 to let Bonds swear at me for two and a half hours?” Rains said. “We got here early to look at the documents.”
Bonds was not given the same opportunity offered to virtually every other athlete who gave grand-jury testimony: the chance to view the evidence against them before they testified. When Bonds’s 149-page grand-jury transcript was finally made public, in early 2008, there was no doubt that the slugger was being asked about documents he’d never seen.
Rains said, “It was a perjury trap.”
At 1:23 P.M., after waiting nearly three hours, Bonds was ushered into the grand-jury room. Nadel explained to the ballplayer that he was being ordered to testify “in the public interest” and that his testimony would not be used against him in any criminal case except a prosecution for perjury.
Nedrow, who dominated the questioning, was certainly enthusiastic. Armed with cryptic documents and evidence, he quizzed Bonds about scribbles on Greg Anderson’s calendars and reported results of lab tests. But Nedrow’s sentences rambled. He seemed unsure of himself. Even he was forced to admit he was not very good at asking questions.
“Yes. You are confusing,” Bonds said after Nedrow acknowledged his shortcomings. “I’m telling you,” said Bonds to the jury. “Is he confusing to you guys?”
PROSECUTOR: So, I’m going to ask you, in the weeks and months leading up to November 2000, were you taking steroids——
PROSECUTOR: Or anything like that?
What does “anything like” steroids mean? Say, creatine, which is legal? Or Andro (androstenedione), the milder legal (at the time) cousin of steroids, made famous when a reporter spotted a bottle of it in Mark McGwire’s locker?
Why didn’t the government ask a simple, straightforward question such as “In the year 2000 did you take something you knew to be an illegal steroid?”
Later critics would say the nearly three-hour interrogation revealed ample circumstantial evidence that the slugger took performance-enhancing substances, but that wasn’t the issue. The point was whether he had knowingly taken illegal drugs and lied about it.
After Nedrow showed Bonds exhibits of substances that Anderson allegedly gave him, he asked again whether he took any steroids.
BONDS: Not that I know of.
NEDROW: What do you mean by “not that you know of”?
The baseball player pointed to exhibits of two substances Anderson had administered to him, a lotion called the Cream and a liquid called the Clear. These two substances were to become the key evidence against Bonds and the centerpiece of the prosecution. Judging by his response to Nedrow, it seemed Bonds had no idea what they were. “Because I have suspicions over those two items, right there,” he said. He added that after the BALCO case broke, a few months before, he started thinking, What is this stuff?
Call Bonds clever, parsing his words, leaving himself an alibi. But that’s what he is entitled to do. That sequence and others like it don’t sound as though he was absolutely denying the use of banned drugs.
On October 16, 2003 Novitzky’s investigation took a bizarre turn. Behind the scenes, unknown to the public following the story, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) opened an investigation of none other than Novitzky and his fellow agents. Six hundred of the approximately $60,000 in cash seized from Anderson was missing. Neither Novitzky nor the other IRS agents implicated would cooperate with the TIGTA investigators without lawyers.
Coincidentally, that very same day, Novitzky, under oath, gave his first testimony for the grand jury about BALCO:
NEDROW: Okay, how many of the steroids and growth hormone, just approximately, like how much quantity did you find in the storage locker?
NOVITZKY: We found—I think it was three cardboard boxes, you know, standard-size cardboard boxes full of stuff.
NEDROW: And to be clear on that, we’re talking not about the Clear or the Cream but just traditional steroids that——
NOVITZKY: It was the Clear, the Cream, traditional steroids. We also found many other prescription drugs, prescription diet drugs, thyroid-hormone drugs, other oral steroids. It was like a pharmacy in there.
Before the close of his first day of testimony, Novitzky recounted his interview of Greg Anderson. The agent said Anderson acknowledged that he gave out steroids but only to men he called “my little baseball players.”
Novitzky said he and the other agents tossed out the names of a number of San Francisco Giants, and Anderson agreed that they were “little.” Then, Novitzky said, they focused on the big guys:
“Is Gary Sheffield little?”
“Is Barry Bonds little?”
“No,” Anderson said. “He’s not little. I don’t give anything to him.”
Two months later, in his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush told the nation about the importance of the landmark steroids investigation:
To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in all sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message—that there are shortcuts to accomplishment and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid of steroids now.
You would imagine the BALCO scandal belonged up there with the fight against Al Qaeda. On February 12 at a press conference in the nation’s capital, Attorney General John Ashcroft, accompanied by IRS commissioner Mark Everson, announced a massive 42-count indictment of Victor Conte, Jim Valente, Greg Anderson and track coach Remi Korchemny. Everson said, “The investigation took shape when an IRS criminal investigator detected suspicious cash transactions on the part of Mr. Conte through a combination of traditional detective work and through the use of data housed in the Currency Banking Retrieval System, an anti-money laundering tool which tracks large movements of cash.”
The media took the government account at face value. In March 2004 San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams blew the scandal wide open: “San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, New York Yankees stars Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield and three other major league baseball players received steroids from a Burlingame nutritional supplement lab, federal investigators were told.” (Bonds maintains his innocence; Sheffield admitted taking the Clear unknowingly; Giambi admitted using performance-enhancing drugs.)
Senator McCain held well-publicized hearings. “Baseball is a national pastime,” said then-fellow senator Joe Biden. “There is something simply un-American about this.”
All the attention continued to strengthen the public’s sense of Novitzky’s character and his case. But behind the scenes, in grand-jury testimony that was sealed and thus kept secret from the press, his case was beginning to crack. During Novitzky’s second grand-jury appearance, he admitted, shockingly, that the Clear, the now famous, undetectable performance-enhancing substance at the center of the vast criminal probe, did not appear to be illegal or even a steroid under federal criminal law. Dr. Don Catlin of UCLA’s Olympic Analytical Laboratory had decoded the mystery drug. It was THG, or tetrahydrogestrinone. Novitzky’s statement on the Clear was a staggering admission that could infect the entire case against Bonds and other targets. Here’s what he said:
NEDROW: What does Dr. Catlin say if asked the question “Is it, though, actually an anabolic steroid?” What does he say to that?
NOVITZKY: What he said was, you know, there’s two different standards you’re looking at. Number one, there’s the standard of sport. And he said, you know, the NFL, International Olympic Committee considers it, yes, it’s a steroid. If an athlete tests positive for it, they’re going to get sanctioned that they’ve taken a steroid.
He said it was another matter when looking at federal criminal law, and the problem that you run into there is there’s a certain amount of steroids that are listed under criminal law that say, Hey, these substances are definitely steroids. And then there’s a catchall phrase that says if it’s not one of these substances, then if you can say pharmacologically or chemically related to testosterone, which in this case THG is, and you also have to show that it enhances muscle growth in human beings.
And that’s the problem with THG, to which Dr. Catlin testified to the grand jury, “No studies show whether or not THG does, in fact, enhance muscle growth. For us to show beyond a reasonable doubt that it promotes muscle growth would be impossible at this time because there’s never been any medical studies on it.”
In other words, athletes who took the Clear were literally in the clear. They had not committed a crime. The drug could not be described as a steroid under federal law. Athletes were arguably not even lying if they’d taken it and then denied under oath that they’d taken a steroid. Taking the Clear was not illegal. Nor was taking human-growth hormone or erythropoietin, the endurance drug. Sure, they were banned by many sports and you needed a prescription for HGH or EPO, but that didn’t mean it was a crime to use them.
Now let’s turn to the Cream.
Conte had cleverly designed a diluted mixture of testosterone and a masking agent that would make the ratio of testosterone and epitestosterone in urine appear totally normal in doping tests, even if one were taking the Clear. The Cream was a mask for the Clear. It was not designed to function as an anabolic agent.
Was the Cream illegal? Conte claimed he had simply stretched his legal prescription for testosterone to create enough Cream for 17 athletes. He would famously call the Cream “baby food.” Yes, it had testosterone in it, but only a fraction of what millions of middle-aged American men take daily to regain their strength and virility.
By the fall of 2004 the criminal case against Victor Conte and the original BALCO defendants was beginning to falter. Novitzky had testified to the grand jury that he had seized three large cardboard boxes full of illegal drugs, describing it as “like a pharmacy in there.” But this was a considerable exaggeration. As a drug raid, the search of BALCO was a bust. As for Conte’s personal storage locker, the contents of the three giant boxes in Novitzky’s big-fish story would have fit in one shoebox. Conte had personal prescriptions for most of the drugs, and The San Jose Mercury News reported that the total value seized was less than $2,000, hardly enough for an international drug ring.
There was another legal challenge. Conte alleged the authorities had never showed him a warrant on September 3 until hours after the search of his offices had been completed. His claim was supported by the detailed notes of the IRS agent who documented the search. There was also the question of a missing 53 minutes in the official report. Conte claims that between 4:30 p.m. and 5:23 p.m. that day, Novitzky vainly attempted to pressure him into wearing a wire and cooperating against implicated athletes. Nothing in Novitzky’s detailed memorandum reflects that alleged interrogation. Wendy Bergland, the IRS agent responsible for taking comprehensive minute-by-minute notes (the memorandum of activity), recorded no entries for that entire 53-minute period.
These were no small errors and omissions. The logical course in massive federal drug investigations is to fashion an airtight case against the alleged kingpin—in this case, Victor Conte—then force him to go to trial or require his full cooperation before granting a plea, thereby exposing his whole network—in this case, athletes, coaches, owners and league officials. Conte’s lawyers threw a wrench in the government’s plan: They moved to dismiss the evidence gathered in the original search based on investigative misconduct. They alleged, among other things, that Novitzky forgot to serve the warrant.
A hearing was scheduled. Novitzky’s credibility was on the line. In October 2004 he filed a sworn declaration in Judge Illston’s court stating that my Playboy article “falsely stated that agent White overheard me discussing getting a ‘book deal’ in connection with my involvement in this case. This is untrue. I have never had such a discussion with anyone and have never had any involvement with a ‘book deal’ in connection with this case or any other.”
Rains deployed a detective to track down Iran White and learn the identity of the two San Mateo task-force agents who had also heard Novitzky talk about his hope to participate in a book deal. According to The New York Times, the lawmen talked to Rains and told him Novitzky had engaged in a host of improper, if not illegal, acts ranging from tipping off the media to the BALCO search to falsifying investigative reports and his plans to participate in a book or movie deal.
The government dragged its heels in turning over discovery to the defense, until finally Judge Illston ordered it to disclose the secret investigation of Novitzky to defense counsel by May 25, 2005. The government sent the full 150-page report by Federal Express on May 31. With a hearing set for June 7, Conte and his lawyers knew they had struck gold. If made public, the investigation of Novitzky could destroy his credibility and scuttle the government’s chance to prosecute Bonds and the other key targets.
After spending a small fortune by calling 30 athletes to the grand jury, the prosecutors all but abandoned their case. Conte argues they never had a case to begin with. Like magic, his 42-count indictment was reduced to two counts—one charge for distributing steroids and one trumped-up charge of laundering $100, the rationale for IRS involvement.
Victor Conte was sentenced to four months in prison. Greg Anderson served just three months. Patrick Arnold, the chemist who made the Clear, received three months. The other two defendants—Valente and Korchemny—received probation.
For the next couple of years Novitzky got a pass from his true IRS duties. He traveled the country, catching athletes in alleged lies about drugs that may or may not have been illegal. The only individual to receive a serious jail term in the whole scandal was not a drug dealer or an athlete but a defense lawyer who violated a protective order to give a San Francisco Chronicle reporter grand-jury transcripts.
After a six-year, $50 million exploration of performance enhancement in sports, it’s worth considering what we’ve gained. The $600 is still missing. A Treasury report found, after a year investigating Novitzky and other IRS agents, that “solvability factors are not present and do not justify any continued investigation.”
We did see all those tantalizing stories in the Chronicle that leaked the testimony of Bonds, Giambi, Sheffield and others. What we didn’t see were those parts of the secret record the government preferred not be made public: the missing-money investigation, Novitzky’s questionable conduct and his misleading grand-jury testimony.
The biggest omission of all, however, has been the systematic cover-up by baseball officials of steroid use in Major League Baseball. For years MLB never had any real drug testing. It was a sham because officials realized how many billions could be made on pumped-up ballplayers swatting it out of the park. We were fed what the government wanted us to hear: the $20 million Mitchell Report that trashed some more players and gave the executives paying the bill—Commissioner Bud Selig and company—insulation from the scandal. Selig wasn’t completely off the hook. The Mitchell Report revealed that he and his colleagues failed to tell Congress that in 2004 testing had been suspended for six months for all the players who had tested positive the year before. The dopers had been given a free pass until September—the end of the season. The report also revealed that players were alerted to the resumption of testing.
Shortly after the publication of the Mitchell Report, MLB team owners unanimously voted to grant Selig a three-year extension on his contract, which, judging by his near $15 million 2005 salary, amounted to about a $50 million payoff, roughly the same price tag as the BALCO investigation. Not a single baseball commissioner, owner or manager was called before a grand jury.
The steroid scandal has been all about greed and power. Baseball is a multibillion-dollar business. The athletes are not innocents, but blaming the scandal on the gladiators overlooks who runs the Coliseum.
This past year Judge Illston, who presided over the steroid cases, indicated she thought the federal government’s resources were being wasted. She sentenced the two latest individuals convicted in BALCO, the cyclist Tammy Thomas and track coach Trevor Graham, to home detention over the desperate objections of prosecutors. At Graham’s sentencing, she said pointedly, “I don’t view sending Mr. Graham to prison as a useful exercise for this government at this time.”
Barry Bonds is the next defendant in Judge Illston’s courtroom. Roger Clemens is thought to be on deck, accused of lying to Congress about taking human-growth hormone nearly a decade ago, a drug baseball didn’t even bother to ban until 2005.
The show must go on.