Guilty By Association; Innocent By Facts

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It’s a strange world we live in when the person who was rummaging through the garbage on his own time and by his own volition is on the side of “right” and the people who were technically doing “wrong” end up in jail and automatically vilified for the rest of their lives as a toxic name not to be associated with under any circumstances.

But that’s where we are.

The BALCO investigation began when an IRS investigator Jeff Novitzky received a tip that the lab was providing illegal drugs to its athletes and, under his own initiative, poked around the trash of BALCO and found evidence to begin building a case to stop what was essentially a victimless crime that few wanted solved.

Novitzky was the vigilante on an inexplicable crusade.

You can read the sequence of events here.

Because he was seen as a “dealer” who tried to circumvent the law and rules of the sports in which his clients competed, Victor Conte has become that vilified and toxic name.

Of course it’s not that simple.

Once the government got the ball rolling on that case it had to get a conviction to justify what one of their employees—Novitzky—was doing; it was in the media, people knew about it, purists were complaining about the shattered records and ludicrous muscular development and everyone jumped in to get their piece of the action.

But it was all after the fact. The complaints from people inside and outside of sports during the BALCO era were completely ignored for personal and institutional gain.

It’s not unlike the Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds trials that ended with no significant penalties assessed to the two aside from the destruction of their reputations, ruining of their career accomplishments and draining of their finances.

Marlon Byrd failed a test for performance enhancing drugs and was suspended for 50 games. Byrd worked with Conte. Therefore, the simplistic logic goes, it was Conte who gave Byrd the drug.

Byrd claims that the drug he took was unrelated to baseball; that it was a private matter for a medical condition and wasn’t used to enhance his performance. Byrd’s performance validates this claim. He was released by the Red Sox following a disastrous tenure. His production has taken a dive since last season and also resulted in the Cubs dumping him on the Red Sox.

Conte has been the one person whose answers to the questions of his complicity in the case have been consistent and believable. That he was doing something that’s considered against the law and rules of competition is based on a floating set of principles that aren’t inherent, but are created and stem from the judgment of others as to right and wrong. Conte was providing a service to his athletes by helping them improve their performance. Legalities notwithstanding, it wasn’t his problem that the scheduling of X drug made it a violation to use while Y drug was okay; that the heads of baseball and other sports looked the other way as a convenience to themselves.

It’s a capricious set of “rules” that were being “broken”.

Attacked because he tries to cut through the fog of athletics and the sanctimonious pretentions by the heads of the sports whose rules he supposedly violated, a misplaced connection between Conte and Byrd was presented as proof of guilt.

Conte’s main crime now appears to be telling the truth about PEDs and how prevalent they still are; that he accurately says if enforcement and eradication were really the goals, more would be done to improve the tests and procedures.

Factually, it doesn’t appear that Byrd got caught using something Conte had given him.

But that doesn’t matter.

It’s a splashy and attention-getting headline to say, “Marlon Byrd Busted With PEDS; Once Worked With Victor Conte”.

Facts are irrelevant when they would preclude the headline and the story detailing their conspiracy especially when there was no conspiracy at all.

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Will Alcatraz Reopen To House Vicious Criminal Barry Bonds? (And Other Questions)

Books, Hall Of Fame, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

After all that money, work and media coverage, the government was able to convict Barry Bonds for obstruction of justice.

That’s it.

It’s ironic that Bonds—whose keen batting eye and propensity to walk became as much a hallmark of his career as his home runs, attitude and polarizing personality—is essentially “walking” on the most serious charges against him for lying to a grand jury in the BALCO investigation.

What was the point of all this?

You can read about the verdict here—NY Times Story—but I ask again, was it worth it?

Will anyone think that the prosecution of Bonds will be a deterrent for some layperson who’s considering lying in front of a grand jury? And will it make a bit of difference in the scope of a case? If a prosecution wants to try someone for something, they’re going to do it—it’s not hard; and I understand the position that no one can be allowed to flout the system of justice with the arrogance and self-importance that Bonds and Roger Clemens have, but this was a colossal waste of time, energy and government resources for something that wasn’t going anywhere to begin with.

The government didn’t openly say they were either going to retry Bonds or let the case go, but if they choose to go forward with another trial, then the travesty becomes an exercise in egomania; the circus becomes a morality play of fantasy with no discernible endgame.

One has to wonder about the pragmatism of the combatants. Would the government have been better-served to offer Bonds an acceptable plea deal with a fine rather than go through all this for no gain? Would Bonds have been better off taking said plea deal? A plea of no-contest or something to that effect to spare the world of this absurdity?

While the government spent a ton of money to try (and pretty much failed) to “get” Bonds, Bonds too must have spent a large portion of his fortune to defend himself. According to Baseball-Reference.com (scroll to the bottom of the page), Bonds earned somewhere around $188 million as a player; this is independent of ancillary income from endorsements, memorabilia sales, appearances and other avenues to accumulate cash; but Bonds never received the Alex Rodriguez contracts in which he was guaranteed $300-400 million regardless of what he did for the rest of his life. Lavish lifestyles take a toll on one’s finances and I doubt Bonds was scrimping on his spending. Combined with his divorces and support for his children, you have to wonder how much money he’s going to have left after the lawyers are paid.

To exemplify the transitory nature of this whole morass, here’s a clipping from the Times article:

The jurors ultimately chose to convict Bonds on obstruction of justice because “he was entirely evasive” in his answers in the grand jury, the jury foreman, Fred Jacob, 56, said.

“He was often dodging the question,” Jacob said. “He would just talk about something else.”

You could say the same thing about Sarah Palin during a debate or interview when she verbally wanders off like an escaped mental patient and doesn’t answer the question that was asked nor does she stick to the subject upon which it was based.

Can we put her on trial and throw her into a halfway house as well?

It would certainly do a greater service to the country if former Governor Palin were tried and incarcerated as an enemy of the state (and intelligence; and sanity) than it did for Barry Bonds.

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For analysis and truth of this kind, check out my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

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Don’t come at me if you can’t handle me.

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Bizarro Czar

Management, Players, Spring Training

From the people who blacked out the Yankees-Red Sox game in New York when I wanted to have a look at Manny Banuelos; those who reduced me to watching an internet feed, we get…faux NFL leadership.

It’s no secret that despite current labor strife, the NFL has its house in order. Commissioner Roger Goodell is in charge; his word is law; and if he wants something done in terms of player discipline or subtle pressure to maintain a positive public face, he has ways of getting it done.

The same cannot, never could and never will be said for the heads of baseball.

The two sports are so vastly different in terms of contracts, guarantees and strength of unions that the commissioner’s office can politely request certain behavioral templates from their players off the field and they’ll either be accepted or they won’t.

This of course differs from union pressures such as those now being placed on Albert Pujols to go for every single penny he can possibly get in his next contract for the good of the group. That he doesn’t want to leave St. Louis and knows the Cardinals won’t be able to pay him as lucratively as the more financially solvent and well-heeled clubs isn’t the union’s problem; they want that money to trickle down to the Eric Bruntlett-type players and that’s that.

On the other hand, the heads of baseball vs players/agents is adversarial regardless of how friendly a face they put on the relationship.

Now Marlon Byrd is feeling pressure from Commissioner Bud Selig because of Byrd’s decision to take supplement advice from Victor Conte—ESPN Story.

Yes, the same Victor Conte who was behind the BALCO nightmare.

There are varied opinions as to the expertise of Conte. In some circles, he’s considered a visionary in the world of supplements to boost athletic performance. Former client and NFL star Bill Romanowski said as much in his book, Romo.

Others have suggested that Conte is a parrot and huckster who learned a few catchphrases and can sell anything to anyone.

None of that is important as it relates to Byrd or anyone else who wants to consult with Conte.

Many of Conte’s supplements were banned from their various sports; this is of no consequence to those who are crafting them.

Outsiders to the subculture of performance enhancing drugs have never understood that.

It’s not the job of the provider (or dealer if you wish) to follow the rules of the specific sport in enhancing performance; their job is to make their clients better and keep them from getting caught; they’re not governable under individual league mandates.

Is it a big deal for Byrd to be working with Conte and should he bow to the pressures exerted from MLB and end the relationship?

It depends on the player. If Byrd is the type who can take the accusations and haranguing and not have it distract him from his job (and he doesn’t test positive), then he should just ignore Selig. If it’s going to affect his play, then he should take the easier road and find a different adviser.

The main issue is that Conte is a despised figure in baseball because he’s the name that’s associated with the PED scandal. The truth is, he’s a scapegoat for MLB itself turning a blind eye to that which they knew was going on and chose to ignore because no one cared; because everyone was making money; because ballparks were filling up with every homer crushed by Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds; with every age-defying performance from Roger Clemens. Once people started voicing their opposition to PED use and suppliers and players were getting busted, then something was done about it.

Baseball didn’t suddenly find morality. Bad public relations from historic records being broken by players who were “lying” and “cheating” was embarrassing, so action was taken.

It’s random and selective; Conte wasn’t the only one giving advice and PEDs to players; he’s simply the name everyone knows.

If I were Byrd, I’d tell MLB to take a hike.

Aside from being asked to stop working with Conte, what precisely is MLB going to do about it?

Nothing.

Byrd just better not fail a test.

If he does, that’s on him and he deserves punishment for being stupid.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN.


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Admirable And Bizarre

Media, Players

In case you were unaware or thought it had disappeared, the Barry Bonds perjury case is still going on.

From a logical (and non-legalese infused) perspective, one would think that Bonds’s lawyers could have plea bargained to end this. Realistically, if he’s convicted, how much jail time—if any—do you think he’ll get? And would he be in some hard core federal lockup or a country club/halfway house?

People don’t care anymore.

And for those that say, “he broke the law and deserves to be punished”, well, technically this is true; but realistically, is the world going to be a safer place with Barry Bonds incarcerated? If Bonds is convicted, is it going to preclude others from lying under oath when it suits them? When they think they’re infallible and untouchable? When they’ve become so accustomed to getting their way because they can hit a baseball, run fast or perform feats of athletic derring-do?

Of course not.

For most of their lives people like Bonds were allowed to slide because of who they were and that they had a rare talent; naturally he and Roger Clemens felt they could do whatever they wanted and would have it taken care of in the aftermath.

But the BALCO case and Clemens’s own PED problems are causes célèbres—they won’t go away because those prosecuting and presiding over the cases can’t let them go away despite the implicit knowledge that they’re wars of attrition with no good coming out of them for anyone.

But the Bonds case is still moving forward and in today’s New York Times, this piece focuses on former Bonds trainer Greg Anderson and his continuing refusal to testify in the case.

Regardless of what you think of PEDs and whether or not they were a stain on the game perpetrated by baseball’s bosses, the players or the flunkies like Anderson and Brian McNamee, there’s something admirable about Anderson taking the bullet and keeping his mouth shut.

You can be cynical and suggest that Bonds or others protecting Bonds have told Anderson that he’ll be taken care of financially if he takes the heat; you can accuse Anderson of a misplaced sense of right and wrong; but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Anderson has kept quiet; he’s refused to betray the people for whom he worked and is willing to face the consequences for that act.

Considering how quickly people sell out and do what’s best for them individually, it’s somewhat respectable in an ethical—if not legal—way.

As for the Bonds case, if the reporting in the article is accurate, I’m not sure how they’re going to get a conviction given the witnesses they plan to call in lieu of Anderson. This again lends credence to the question of what the point of all this is. Is it crusading for self-aggrandizement or is it going to serve the public good to try and convict Bonds?

The most bizarre testimony will come from Bonds’s former mistress Kimberly Bell.

(Judge Susan) Illston said she would allow testimony of Kimberly Bell, Bonds’s former mistress, that related to the physical and psychological changes she saw in Bonds.

Prosecutors said those changes would include how Bell noticed the shrinkage of Bonds’s testicles and the worsening of his sexual performance, which the government says indicate steroid use. The judge also will allow Bell to describe an incident in which she has said Bonds grabbed her by the throat and threatened her.

What?

And the physical and psychological changes in Bonds are related to what exactly? Because Bonds was acting like a jerk to his mistress that’s easily connected to drug use? Bell noticed changes in Bonds’s physical body? And what proof is that of anything? I’m no lawyer, but as a layman, this goes far beyond the scope of circumstantial evidence and enters the realm of the bizarre. What’s one thing got to do with another? And how would she know what the changes meant if she didn’t see Bonds shooting or ingesting the drugs?

What’s the baseline for Bonds’s sexual performance? Was there a template? A ratings system? Who’s to say that Bonds’s performance didn’t decline because he got bored with Bell and was behaving in a perfunctory fashion? It’s the same leap of logic.

As for the grabbing “her by the throat and threatening her”, did Bonds ever need a drug to act like a jerk? He was accused of physical abuse by his first wife when he played for the Pirates, was skinny and looked like a member of New Edition rather than when he was with the Giants and took on the visage of a linebacker for the 49ers.

What’s one thing got to do with the other?

This is all a waste of money and time and both sides should’ve made it go away a long time ago.

The government is representing the people; and the people don’t care.