January 12, 2007
Of all the days of all the weeks of all the months that have been tainted by baseball's performance-enhancement scandal, Barry Bonds had to stumble back into the drug spotlight on the same day that new Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn were taking their post-election bows at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan.
Major League Baseball is just lucky that way, I guess.
The New York Daily News learned Wednesday that Bonds tested positive for amphetamine use last season, which triggered the first phase of baseball's amphetamine program. Bonds became subject to six random drug tests without cause and a drug education program that includes counseling. If he were to test positive a second time, he would be subject to a 25-game suspension.
I'll leave to your imagination (or a future column) what a Barry Bonds counseling session might look like, because I'm still trying to figure out how anyone could be stupid enough to test positive for anything stronger than Coors Light in the hypersensitive anti-drug environment in which today's professional athletes reside.
Bonds reportedly attributed the failed test to a substance he had taken out of the locker of teammate Mark Sweeney, who quickly denied through his agent that he had ever given Bonds anything. This kind of garden-variety excuse was tried unsuccessfully by Rafael Palmeiro in 2005 and rings even more hollow coming from someone who has been under intense scrutiny throughout the long-running Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) investigation.
Which probably explains why Bonds surfaced last night and denied that he had ever implicated Sweeney, but that also rang slightly hollow since Sweeney's agent confirmed in the original report that his client had been contacted by baseball officials in connection with Bonds' positive test. Either way, Bonds did not deny that he had tested positive, and he had to get the offending substance somewhere.
I don't want to get bogged down in a review of all the famous excuses of all the famous alleged sports cheaters, though I particularly enjoyed the way Tour de France winner Floyd Landis provided enough possible alibis to cover everyone else who was disqualified from the race last year. Let's just say it's fair to assume that Bonds will not win an ESPY for best spontaneous explanation of a drug-related offense.
If the positive test is confirmed, it's fair to conclude that - more than three years after being called to testify in front of the BALCO grand jury - he's still taking pharmaceutical advice from anyone who can sign for a Federal Express package without attracting attention from the feds.
Remember, this is the guy who insisted to a group of reporters in 2004 that he could not possibly have taken anything illegal without knowing it, then lost all credibility when it was learned that he already had told the grand jury he believed that a couple of questionable substances supplied by personal trainer Greg Anderson were flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm.
What was it this time, a tainted Flintstone vitamin?
Don't know about you, but when I'm rooting around in somebody else's medicine chest for a little pick-me-up, I read the labels really carefully.
If I earned $16 million per year and a positive steroid test could cost me nearly a third of the season (or about $5 million in salary), I would employ my own pharmacist to make sure that whatever I put into my body would pass muster with baseball's drug police.
Oops, I've just been informed that employing his own pharmacist was what got Barry into this mess to begin with. My bad.
Anyway, against such a historical backdrop, it's hard to imagine that Bonds would take any chances with his body chemistry during baseball's new era of enhanced drug screening, much less try to explain away a positive drug test by throwing a lesser teammate under the bus.
If anything close to that really happened, he would have been better served by invoking the seldom-used "I'm the dumbest guy on the planet" defense, since he is the one guy on Earth who should have known better than to put himself in that kind of situation.
Obviously, no one can fault Bonds for the timing of the newspaper revelation, since he certainly would have preferred that the whole thing pass under the radar. The Hall of Fame announcement had been such a cool breeze of positive baseball news that it pushed aside the dark cloud that has hovered over the national pastime for the past five years, but only for a moment.
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