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I'm Not Here To Talk About The Past

BALCO’s Victor Conte with one of his biggest clients

BALCO’s Victor Conte with one of his biggest clients Kimberly White/Corbis

In the fall of 2003, federal agents raided a company in Northern California that sold nutritional supplements to athletes, the Bay Area Laboratories Cooperative, or BALCO. What they found there would eventually implicate some of the biggest names in sports.

Lance Williams talks about the choice to cheat or to lose

BALCO was run by a former funk musician named Victor Conte. He had joined forces with Patrick Arnold, an avid body builder and brilliant chemist who had already introduced andro to the American market. Arnold had also done something that made the blood of every anti-doping expert run cold: he had created an untraceable steroid, tetrahydrogestrinone, eventually known as "the Clear. " When taken in combination with a meticulously orchestrated combination of other drugs, the Clear enabled some of the greatest athletes in the world to become greater still, without ever having to worry about failing a drug test. BALCO's clients included the top stars from the worlds of international track and field, the NFL…and major-league baseball.

  • Doug Glanville on Barry Bonds
  • Jon Miller talks about Giants fans and Barry Bonds
  • Keith Olbermann discusses hitters and peak performance years

Doug Glanville on Barry Bonds

Jon Miller talks about Giants fans and Barry Bonds

Keith Olbermann discusses hitters and peak performance years

  • Marcos Breton talks about Bonds' view of humanity.
  • Lance Williams talks about the reaction of SF fans after the steroids issue broke

Marcos Breton talks about Bonds' view of humanity.

Lance Williams talks about the reaction of SF fans after the steroids issue broke

When a federal grand jury convened in San Francisco to hear evidence in the BALCO case in December, 2003, some of the game's leading sluggers were subpoenaed to testify, including Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield – and Barry Bonds, who in 2001, at the age of 37, had hit 73 home runs -- breaking Mark McGwire's three year old record.

In San Francisco, many Giants fans were reluctant to believe that their favorite player had taken performance enhancing drugs, but some critics pointed out that his head had gotten bigger, and his shoe size had increased from 10½ to 13. Bonds himself denied that he had taken anything illegal, telling reporters at spring training that year, "They can test me every day if they choose to."

In the fall of 2004, with many fans reveling in one of the greatest post seasons in baseball history, developments in the BALCO investigation forced the game's steroid problems back onto the nation's front pages and airwaves. Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, published a series of articles based on illegally leaked grand-jury transcripts, revealing that Giambi and Sheffield had admitted using steroids, while Bonds had testified that he did not "knowingly" use them, saying his trainer, Greg Anderson, told him he was taking flaxseed oil and a balm for arthritis.

Canseco’s 2005 tell all book grabs the headlines

Canseco’s 2005 tell all book grabs the headlines New York Daily News

Footage from the 2005 congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball

Then, in February of 2005, Jose Canseco published a tell-all autobiography, Juiced. In it he extolled the benefits of anabolic steroids, detailed his own extensive use of them, and named many other stars – hitters and pitchers – who he said had also been "on the juice" – Wilson Alvarez, Ivan Rodriguez, Bret Boone, Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire.

Canseco's accusations set off a new firestorm. Sportswriters who had turned a blind eye to steroids now demanded that all users be severely punished. Fans who had cheered as their overmuscled hometown heroes pounded one ball after another into the stands, now expressed such disgust over what they had watched that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was moved to hold public hearings on the issue.

What followed would be one of professional baseball's worst moments. On March 17, 2005, before a packed committee hearing room that included the families of two young, amateur athletes who had died as a result of their involvement with steroids, the leading players of the era prevaricated, stonewalled, and did all they could to evade the issue. A sheepish Canseco now denounced steroid use, save in the case of injury. Sammy Sosa suddenly required a translator to answer questions. Rafael Palmeiro angrily wagged his finger at the congressmen and insisted, "I have never used steroids. Period." – a claim undermined by his positive test for steroids one month later. A visibly uncomfortable Mark McGwire squirmed in his chair and repeatedly deflected all questions about his own drug use, with the plea "I'm not here to talk about the past."

Howard Bryant discusses baseball players as 'role models'

Six months later, Major League Baseball and the Players Association finally took decisive action: the anti-doping program they put in place for the 2006 season would be now the toughest in professional sports. In addition to steroids, baseball players were now also forbidden to take amphetamines, which had been a major league mainstay for decades.

Players who failed a drug test once would be suspended for 50 games.

The second time – 100 games.

And the third time they would be banned for life.

From THE TENTH INNING film script and the new chapter by Kevin Baker of Baseball: An Illustrated History.

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