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The dirt on Bonds

Well, this is interesting. Barry Bonds apparently failed not one but multiple tests for performance-enhancing drugs. It’s right there in the grand jury testimony ordered unsealed on Friday.

 Lest you want to stay in denial, grand jury testimony is a legal document, so please, no more “He’s never failed a drug test,” arguments, OK. The guy was dirty. Which obviously doesn’t make him unique, but it does forever taint his career.

The question is whether the news will remove the denial from many of his supporters. What do you think?

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A Giant nothing

A few baseball thoughts while lamenting how the Chargers upset try against the Patriots in the AFC title game was Norv’d (terrible play-calling inside the 10-yard line) , and wondering what happened to the Packers’ Brett Favre in the second half vs. the Giants.

— Slightly less than a month until the Giants report for spring training, and Aaron Rowand remains their only major move. How disappointing is that? Obviously, the Giants will be laying a lot on the line with their dynamite starting staff, but Rowand (while a great clubhouse addition) is not a panacea for the offense. The Giants may be trying to position themselves to win a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games, but if no more moves are made, they’ll find themselves losing more games by those scores than they win.

— The A’s signings of Huston Street and Joe Blanton to one-year deals last week mean nothing in terms of their long-term future in Oakland. But the hunch here is that both will start the season and that both could stick around for a rebuilding effort if the A’s perform better than expected in 2008. We’ll know where they are by the trading deadline, when Blanton, in particular, could really net a lot.

— Had an hour-long conversation with an A’s executive last week, and what I can reveal is that one very interesting question was raised. Of all the A’s who have departed as free agents or been traded since Jason Giambi walked away in 2001, which one or two would you still like to have in 2008? My somewhat-lame answer was Miguel Tejada, but you know what, right now, today, I wouldn’t want him. He’s going to make $18 million this season, he’s lost a ton of range at shortstop, and his best days as a hitter are behind him. Still, I would’ve loved to have seen what the A’s could’ve done in 2004, ’05 and ’06 had they signed Tejada to an extension.

— On that subject, the A’s are promoting their annual FanFest hard, with the key attraction being a tour of the team’s clubhouse. Can just hear it now: “This is where Nick Swisher used to locker. This is where Dan Haren used to locker. This is where Miguel Tejada injected steroids ….”

— On the steroids topic, the back-and-forth between the camps of Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee keeps getting more and more interesting. Can’t wait to find out which one purges himself in front of Congress on Feb. 16. Then again, anybody think Clemens is actually going to show up?

— Meantime, it seems as if Andy Pettitte is doing some spin control of his own, regarding his friendship with Roger Clemens.

Finally, a Super Bowl prediction, because it’s never too early:

Patriots 52, Giants 10. 

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Baseball goes on

Received quite a bit of e-mail over the weekend regarding my column that suggests it’s time at least to discuss whether performance-enhancing drugs should be legalized. I was somewhat surprised that several of those e-mails either agreed with what I said or stated that I had opened their mind to the issue.

I don’t say that to brag. I do say it, because I think it speaks a lot to what fans think about this ongoing issue (they’re sick of it) and to the general hopelessness many of us have that a leader in any profession (be it President Bush, a CEO of a major company, a pro sports commissioner) will stand up and do the right thing.

The right thing, in this case, would be to ban for life all athletes who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Never gonna happen, of course, because of the lawsuits that would follow, and because _ assuming the testers ever moved ahead of the cheaters, and we got a full, accurate sample of the number of users _ no players would be left.

At any rate, it’s interesting to hear both sides of the debate. Honestly, I’d love to see a pro sports world that’s clean as a baby’s bottom after a bath. But in my opinion, it’s simply not a realistic goal.

What do you, the reader, think?

Anyway, promised some early winners and losers for you last week, so here they are:

THREE WINNERS

1) Stan Conte: The former Giants trainer was trying to the do the right thing by reporting his concerns about Greg Anderson being in the clubhouse and by reporting that some player on the Giants approached Conte about using steroids. Nice to see that some folks in baseball still have the courage to speak out, even if nobody is listening.

2) Jose Canseco: Unbelievably, he continues to be one of the most credible voices in the steroids scandal. Just about everything he wrote in “Juiced” has been borne out to be true.

3) The Boston Red Sox: Not one current player was linked. But there was no conflict of interest regarding George Mitchell.

LOSERS

1) Roger Clemens: The Rocket fuel was artificially enhanced, no matter what he may scream from now until the end of time. Incidentally, from the time Brian McNamee reportedly made his first injection into Clemens’ behind, Clemens has won 136 games. Take half of them away, and Clemens would still be 14 wins shy of 300, and one behind non-Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven on the career list.

2) Brian Sabean: We all knew Barry Bonds ran the Giants’ franchise, but the Mitchell Report showed us to what extent. And the extent to which Sabean went to avoid dealing with Conte’s concerns about steroids provides a ”how-to” on why baseball’s cultural ill was allowed to go unchecked. One more thing: None of this figures to cost Sabean his job.

3) Bud Selig and Donald Fehr: Again, another embodiment of why accountability has become a foreign concept in our country. Selig took no responsibility for the rise of the Steroid Era, even though the Mitchell Report takes him (lightly) to task. And he didn’t even offer up an, “I’m sorry.” Fehr did acknowledge that testing should’ve arrived sooner, but his inference that that the owners hurt their relationship with the players, because they didn’t deliver the report in a timely manner was weak.

And incidentally, on the same subject, am I the only one who doesn’t believe Alex Rodriguez? 

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Historic Day

 Mark it down. Dec. 13, 2007, will go down as a landmark day in the history of baseball, right up there with July 4th, 1939, Oct. 3, 1951, and April 8, 1974. It’s the day a roadmap to baseball’s Steroid Era was provided, and that’s important, because without studying the past, it’s impossible to change the future. 

That said, don’t view the release of the Mitchell Report as some sort of panacea. It’s not. This is just step one in what will have to be a journey of at least 1,000 steps to make baseball clean again. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the culture of juicing is as much a professional sports thing as it is a baseball thing, and changing the way a culture thinks could take a generation.

It is doable though. Whether it will or not, who knows? Can’t say I’m real confident. My guess is that Donald Fehr and the Players’ Association will come out guns-a-blazing as soon as they study the report fully. Roger Clemens’ denial will be the first of many. Other players not named will remain suspects.

You see, it’s hard to break the cycle. It will take acts of courage in certain areas, and face it, the baseball fraternity is not a courageous lot. Case in point: The Rocket

Look, I can understand Clemens’ anger, and indeed, there are some questions regarding his inclusion that must be answered. But what we’ve learned already is that where there’s been smoke regarding steroids, there’s usually fire. So if Clemens indeed used, he’d be doing his sport a favor by admitting it.

Unfortunately, his mind-set is like so many others. Deny, deny, deny, to the grave if necessary. Perhaps its fear, or maybe it’s because athletes have become so arrogant that they don’t think there’s any chance any hard-core proof will ever stick (and to clarify, the case against Clemens in the Mitchell Report is hardly iron-clad). Oh, and if I ever have to hear ”I never tested positive,” again, I’ll vomit, and so should you. It’s insulting to the intelligence.

Anyway, time to sleep on it and let some of it sink in. Tomorrow, I’ll give you some of my winners and losers from the day. 

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts out there in cyber-land. You guys pay the salaries. You’re the ones whom these athletes think they can fool. Fill up the comment box, and let me know where you stand.  

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Next up, Donald Fehr

OK, the ball is now in the court of the Major League Baseball Players Association and its head, Donald Fehr. Commissioner Bud Selig told the media that on the points where he has unilateral authority, he will adopt the Mitchell Report’s recommendations for eliminating the steroid culture from baseball. And on a subsequent interview on ESPN, deputy commissioner, Bob DuPuy said he’s hoping to hear that Fehr and the MLBPA react the same way.

Not sure I’d bet my house that he will. As ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian said, the union likes to fight more than anything else, and its darn good at it.

Meantime, Roger Clemens’ attorney have put out an emphatic denial. Won’t matter what they say. His reputation is permanently damaged, and at this point, no player deserves the benefit of the doubt. Sorry if they don’t like that, but they can point the finger at all the other players and at the MLBPA, who for years resisted any kind of testing. They also can blame themselves for not testifying. Denials in the report wouldn’t have been a bad thing for them.

(Not to mention this: If these guys had nothing to hide, then why not speak?) 

Meantime, waiting to hear if the A’s and Giants will comment. The Giants look horrible in the report, by the way, particularly general manager Brian Sabean. The A’s don’t look a lot better. More on that in a bit.

 Anyway, hearing lots of talk about how many of the names dropped in this report are as a result of heresay, and after skimming it from beginning to end, I have to agree. So clearly, this is not an iron-clad document, though nobody should have expected it to be. As I wrote in today’s column, it’s just as likely to be remembered as baseball’s version of the Warren Report, because it no doubt would have a ton of holes.

More later, but in the meantime, here’s the list of players.

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The Mitchell Press Conference

Gotta say, it was hard not to be impressed by George Mitchell during his “detailed statement” that unveiled his report on drug use in baseball. Not just because he refused to name-drop (the report does that), but because it seems his focus is on what baseball can do going forward to eliminate steroid and HGH use from the game, and not focusing so much on what happened in the past.

Obviously, the new names in the report will get the biggest play in the media, but in all reality, that should be a sidebar. For the umpteenth time, no player who dons a uniform should be above some sort of suspicion, even if it’s minute. And it’s not a baseball thing. It’s a professional sports thing.

What was so impressive about Mitchell was that his focus was on the future. It gives baseball a chance to emerge from this storm and have some sunny, suspicion-free days ahead. Not anytime immediately, because it could take a generation to change a cultural ill. That said, perhaps baseball, and this report, will someday be remembered as the first step in making sports clean again.

Major obstacles stand in the way, obviously, not the least of which is how the Players Association reacts. Mitchell urged all of baseball to come together “in a well-planned, well-executed, and sustained effort to bring the era of steroids and human growth hormone to an end and to prevent its recurrence …” and offered some recommendations. Of course, the MLBPA rarely comes together with anybody — if they had, this embarrassment may have been avoided — and my guess is that MLBPA head Donald Fehr’s press conference will set the tone for adversarial banter. That only two players — Jason Giambi and Frank Thomas — were said to have cooperated voluntarily doesn’t bode well, either. Face it, the players are like a class full of students who have been caught cheating and think they can get away with it, no matter what it might mean to future students.

One part of the report that leaves something to be desired, however: It seems, at least through a real quick skimming, that the commissioner’s office didn’t receive a whole lot of blame, but that the rest of baseball did. Then again, the blame game only serves to keep the game stuck in its current mud. To find firm footing again, the focus has to stay on the future. Hopefully, all sides are humbled enough that they realize the same thing.

More later.

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M-Day

The names in the Mitchell Report are starting to leak, and I’ll repeat what I’ve been saying for two years: If any name surprises you anymore, then you simply have been playing ostrich.

Anyway, the two names in the news this morning: Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

Now, I know that we live in an “instant analysis” society, but I would like to see the unveiling of the report, and hear some of the questions that George Mitchell and commissioner Bud Selig answer, and hear reactions throughout the league before I form an educated opinion.

That said, I can tell you this: Clemens’ name has been whispered in off-the-record, steroid-related discussions for years, and if, indeed, he cheated his way to his phenomenal numbers, then his achievements deserve the same asterisk that Barry Bonds’ supposedly do. In fact, I would argue that Clemens might deserve the Mark McGwire treatment, because who knows how many years, victories and strikeouts were added to Clemens’ career because of performance enhancers.

As for Pettitte, his name was not heard nearly as much in private circles, at least by me, but again, nothing should be a surprise. And since Clemens and Pettitte train together, it would only make sense that their names are linked together.

One other thing as we sit here less than an hour from the release of more names. If Mitchell’s report tells us nothing more than the fact that there was a serious drug culture “from top to bottom” in baseball, then the approximately $20 million spent ($1 million per month) on the Mitchell Report was money wasted. After all, we’ve all known — at least those of us not playing ostrich — that such a culture has existed for years. Players acknowledged it in private conversations. So did executives, scouts, managers, you name it.

However, if this serves as an epiphany for the industry that such a culture should not be tolerated, then every cent was worth it. Baseball has been operating in denial for years, not that a problem didn’t exist, but that nothing really needed to be done about it.

Then again, never underestimate an industry’s (or individual’s) ability to fool itself. Thus, the reason that the most important part of the Mitchell Report is not the release of it, but the reaction to it.

More later. 

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The Mitchell Report

OK, now we know. Baseball is delivering its early Christmas present tomorrow, with the announcement of George Mitchell’s 20-month investigation into drug use in baseball.

Now, while this report promises to be titillating, I can’t help but question what good it will do for baseball in the long run. If there’s a single name mentioned that surprises anybody, then you simply haven’t been paying attention all these years. And if it slows down the attempt by players to gain an edge through any means possible, I’d be shocked. The only thing that will really affect change will be cooperation between the owners and the Players Association to bring in more comprehensive drug testing, and to start imparting a message that performance-enhancers won’t be tolerated. Personally, I think that a clause in every players’ contract that is similar to the one for gambling _ namely, that participation brings a ban for life _ would be a wonderful step, but I’m sooner expecting to see Dorothy fall out of the sky.

As for the investigation itself, it’s likely to have a lot of holes. Howard Bryant, who once upon a time covered the A’s for the San Jose Mercury News, wrote an excellent comprehensive piece for ESPN.com on the details of the investigation, and let’s just say there is much that’s left to be desired. The gist I get from it is that baseball is looking for a scapegoat, and if that’s the case, then they missed the boat as badly as the Warren Commission.

Meantime, the real issue is whether this will have any impact on fans going out to the ballpark. Baseball generated a record $6 billion in revenue last season, even as new players were linked to controversies, and Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the home run record brought with it endless discussion about the impact of steroids. So it sure doesn’t seem like fans give a mularkey about the fact that players are using this stuff.

Until they do, baseball really has no reason to police itself. This report was intended to appease Congress, and only time will tell if it does. It is, no matter how baseball spins it, not an attempt to rid the drug culture from the game. I’m afraid that might be with us to stay.