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Thursday, January 11, 2007
Report of failed test could hinder new Bonds deal

ESPN.com news services

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds' reported positive test for amphetamines last season could be another snag in contract negotiations with the San Francisco Giants.

"There are so many substances out there right now you don't know what you should take or what you should not. Right now, I'm afraid to take vitamins for the same reason."
--Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel

News of the failed test, reported Thursday in the Daily News, is the latest in a long list of allegations surrounding the slugger, who will face more questions this season about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs in his pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record.

According to the report, Bonds failed an amphetamines test in 2006, then blamed it on a teammate. The New York City newspaper reported that when first informed of the positive result, Bonds attributed it to a substance he had taken from utilityman Mark Sweeney's locker.

Just when everybody thought the Giants were getting along well for a change.

Bonds is set to begin his 15th season with the Giants only 22 home runs shy of passing Aaron's career record of 755. He and San Francisco reached a preliminary agreement on a $16 million, one-year contract Dec. 7, the final day of baseball's winter meetings. But the seven-time NL MVP still hasn't signed the deal or taken the mandatory physical that is part of the process.

The sides have been working to finalize complicated language in the contract that concerns the left fielder's compliance with team rules, as well as what would happen if he were to be indicted or have other legal troubles.

Giants owner Peter Magowan and executive vice president Larry Baer did not return calls for comment Thursday, but the team released a statement on the situation. Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, and Sweeney also did not return messages. Borris repeatedly has declined to comment on specifics of the negotiations.

"Last night was the first time we heard of this recent accusation against Barry Bonds,'' the Giants said in the statement. "Under Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, clubs are not notified after a player receives a first positive test for amphetamines.

"The San Francisco Giants are strongly opposed to the use of performance-enhancing substances, including stimulants, by major league players. Major League Baseball has a strong policy in place to deal with the issue of performance-enhancing substances. The Giants will continue to be supportive of baseball's efforts in this area.''

Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, refused comment, according to spokesman Rich Levin.

"I don't comment on the drug program, and I've never heard Barry Bonds blame anybody for anything,'' Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, said in an e-mail to The AP.

A major-league source told the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday that Bonds knew about his failed amphetamines test last season and told several people on the team about it.

San Francisco's brass and fan base long have stood by Bonds through his off-the-field problems and injuries. So have his teammates, deciding in spring training last year to support him every step of the way.

"There are so many substances out there right now you don't know what you should take or what you should not,'' Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel said Thursday. "Right now, I'm afraid to take vitamins for the same reason. You don't know what's going to be positive or what's going to be negative. The best way for players is to stay natural. Anything with chemicals in it can be bad. I know what I do. I don't know what the other guys do, and I don't really care.

"I tell the younger guys, but you don't need to be telling Barry Bonds and Mark Sweeney what they should take or what they should not.''

There's a long history of amphetamines -- or speed and more commonly called greenies in the baseball world -- fueling generations of baseball players. Many turned to the stimulants for a way to get pepped up when their bodies couldn't do so on their own during a long season. The pills, widely used even until recently, helped with energy for day games following night games and other times when players were short on sleep, such as after a long cross-country flight.

Baseball banned the uppers for the first time starting last season. A player is not identified until after failing two amphetamines tests, which also results in a 25-game suspension. The first failed steroids test, by comparison, is a 50-game suspension.

A first amphetamines offense, however, does require six additional drug tests over the following six months.

Bonds did not appeal the positive test, according to the Daily News, which said Sweeney learned of Bonds' positive test from Orza. The newspaper reported Orza told Sweeney he should remove any troublesome substances from his locker and should not share said substances. Sweeney then said there was nothing of concern in his locker.

Sweeney's agent, Barry Axelrod, told The Associated Press on Thursday that his client received a call informing him that his name had come up in regard to the testing.

"He responded at that time ... he did not give anything to anybody and he doesn't have anything illegal,'' Axelrod said. "That was the end of it, as far as we were concerned, until yesterday. We thought it was just a sort of procedural thing.''

Bonds, who has denied using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, long has been under the microscope. A federal grand jury is investigating whether he perjured himself when he testified in 2003 in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroid distribution case that he hadn't knowingly taken any performance-enhancing drugs. He told that 2003 grand jury he believed his trainer, Greg Anderson, had given him flaxseed oil and arthritic balm, not steroids.

Bonds, who's coming off October surgery on his troublesome left elbow, played regularly in 2006 _ 130 games _ even appearing in day games that followed night games, which he typically used to sit out. He trimmed up after carrying extra weight early in the year and seemed to bounce back well from minor injuries.

After missing all but 14 games in 2005 following three operations on his right knee, Bonds batted .270 with 26 homers and 77 RBIs in 367 at-bats in 2006. He passed Babe Ruth to move into second place on the career home run list May 28.

Bonds has spent 14 of his 21 big league seasons with San Francisco and helped the Giants draw 3 million fans in all seven seasons at their waterfront ballpark. The club is counting on him to be part of the hype leading up to its hosting of the All-Star game in July.

Bonds said he noticed an improved vibe in the clubhouse last season with the additions of Steve Finley, Sweeney and Todd Greene. The slugger was more sociable too, playing cards or chess with his teammates or trainers before games -- and even making a rare appearance in the team photo.

Bonds and Sweeney appeared to be good friends, with Sweeney speaking to the slugger by phone recently this offseason.

"This year we had the best chemistry on the team. I felt like the team was clicking,'' Vizquel said. "It's sad a stupid instance like this might rupture something that was going pretty good. I don't think the players will turn on each other. We are a veteran team. We should know what [substance] is good and what is bad.''

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.