Saturday, February 7, 2009
Events that put A-Rod under scrutiny
By Mark Fainaru-Wada ESPN.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- But for a combination of bad luck, bad timing and aggressive legal tactics by the Major League Baseball Players Association, alleged steroid use by Alex Rodriguez might never have been exposed.
Alex Rodriguez was supposed to be the player who would carry baseball beyond its steroids era.
The story that Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, as reported Saturday by Sports Illustrated, likely wouldn't have come to light had the BALCO scandal not erupted that fall.
The federal probe of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, and the dominos that began to tumble immediately after it became public in September 2003, led to a case that enveloped not just the 10 ballplayers connected to BALCO but a total of 104 players who tested positive for steroids during MLB's first year checking for the substances.
And so, more than five years after Barry Bonds was first implicated as a steroid user in the wide-ranging government probe, the heir apparent to the career home run record has tossed baseball right back into the steroid wash.
The story of how that came to pass is rooted in a series of unfortunate events for the sport.
It begins in August 2002, when the owners and the union agreed to a year of "survey" testing, in which players were checked for steroids but not identified if they showed positive.
That testing was supposed to be anonymous, used solely for the purpose of gauging whether to implement more serious testing in the years ahead. However, to confirm that each player was checked, records were kept with names assigned to a corresponding number. Those records and results were maintained by separate organizations hired by MLB.
August 2002 -- The idea of having original survey testing parameters (5-7 percent positive threshold, anonymity, etc.) is added to baseball's collective bargaining agreement to avoid a strike.
November 2003 -- Before the BALCO subpoenas go out, baseball announces 5-7 percent have tested positive, meeting the threshold for punitive testing in 2004.
November 2003 -- BALCO grand jury subpoenas test results of all MLB
players from survey testing in 2003; the results were supposed to be anonymous.
March 2004 -- Following negotiations with the union and the testing
agencies, a subpoena is re-issued for only 10 players connected to BALCO.
April 8, 2004 -- The MLBPA files a motion to quash the subpoenas. MLB, while mostly trying to avoid taking a position, files a letter in support of the union's motion.
April 9, 2004 -- The government raids Comprehensive Drug Testing (CDT) in Long
Beach, Calif., and Quest Labs in Las Vegas, obtaining documents and test results from CDT and actual samples and other documents from Quest, all enabling the government to put names to the samples and results. Investigators find a list of 104 positives, reportedly including Alex Rodriguez.
September 2004 -- According to three big league players, Rodriguez is reportedly tipped off by union chief operating officer Gene Orza that he will be tested later that month. Rodriguez declines comment about the allegation.
December 2007 -- In an interview with "60 Minutes" three days after George Mitchell's report on drugs in the sport was released, Rodriguez denies using performance-enhancing drugs.
January 2008 -- A panel of judges for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
rules in favor of the government, allowing it to keep and use the test results. The players' union requests that the full 9th Circuit re-hear the case. It remains in litigation.
Feb. 7, 2009 -- Sports Illustrated reports that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2003.
In mid-November 2003, two months after federal agents raided BALCO, baseball announced that between 5 and 7 percent of tests were positive. That's despite the fact that players effectively knew exactly when they would be tested. The percentage met a threshold that kicked in punitive testing for the coming years.
As part of baseball's agreement with the two entities that implemented its program -- Comprehensive Drug Testing (CDT) of Long Beach, Calif., and Quest Laboratories of Teterboro, N.J. -- the samples and results from the survey testing were supposed to be destroyed soon after the information was confirmed.
But, for some reason, neither the owners nor the union filed the necessary paperwork ordering CDT and Quest to destroy all the records and samples.
"It indicates how little concern anybody had for the outside investigation initially," said one lawyer who was involved in the case. "If anybody would have had a brain, they would have realized if we don't destroy this info, it's going to get subpoenaed."
About two weeks after baseball announced the percentage of players who tested positive in 2003, the grand jury investigating BALCO subpoenaed information related to all test results and samples from MLB's program.
Negotiations ensued between the government, the players' union, Quest and CDT. In March 2004, the parties appeared to reach an agreement that limited the government to obtaining information related solely to 10 players with connections to BALCO.
However, on April 8, facing a deadline on how to respond to the subpoenas, the MLBPA filed a motion to quash on behalf of the BALCO-connected players. Ultimately, in its effort to protect the 10 players swept up in BALCO, the union exposed all 104 players who had tested positive in 2003.
The next day, federal authorities conducted separate raids on CDT in Long Beach and a Quest lab in Las Vegas that was maintaining MLB's samples and results. Reacting to the union's efforts to quash the subpoenas, the government turned around and obtained search warrants to get information related to all players -- not just the BALCO athletes.
"This has just taken on a life of its own," a lawyer connected to the investigation said at the time.
Using codes assigned to each ballplayer's sample, the government was able to identify the individuals who tested positive.
Among the 104 positives, apparently, was a sample provided by Alex Rodriguez.
Mark Fainaru-Wada is an investigative reporter for ESPN's enterprise unit. He can be reached at email@example.com.