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Time to move on

Feds, MLB missing the boat with steroid probes

Posted: Wednesday October 4, 2006 12:15PM; Updated: Wednesday October 4, 2006 2:00PM
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Journalists Lance Williams, left, and Mark Fainaru-Wada face possible jail time for their reporting on the BALCO probe.
Journalists Lance Williams, left, and Mark Fainaru-Wada face possible jail time for their reporting on the BALCO probe.
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Let us examine where our dogged federal investigators stand in their probe of baseball's steroid problem. They have recently discovered that Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and others may have been pumping themselves full of performance-enhancing drugs, according to an affidavit based on statements from admitted HGH user Jason Grimsley. Or, maybe not.

The problem is, Grimsley says he never accused Clemens and Pettitte of anything. In fact, Grimsley insists he told the feds exactly the opposite about the two Astros pitchers, that he'd be shocked if the two of them were juicers, and one assistant U.S. attorney has come forward to back him up, sort of, saying that the Los Angeles Times report about this affidavit contains "inaccuracies." Make sense?

On a related front, the federal investigation into whether Barry Bonds perjured himself when he told a grand jury that he never knowingly used steroids (as if anyone with an ounce of common sense hasn't figured out the answer to that by now) has so far cost Bonds nothing but attorney's fees. Meanwhile, the two journalists who uncovered all the information we really need to know about Bonds and steroids are staring at 18 months in the slammer if they don't reveal the anonymous sources who leaked them grand jury testimony.

In other words, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the truth tellers, could wind up spending more time in prison than all of the liars and law-breakers involved in the BALCO case combined, thanks to this fruitless, pointless federal probe that can't get the goods on a single puffed-up ballplayer. Ladies and gentlemen, your tax dollars at work.

What all this should tell us is that it's time to call off the dogs. This investigation is going nowhere, producing nothing, and when it pushes two journalists to the brink of prison, it certainly can be argued that it's doing more harm than good. Bonds has already received all the punishment he's going to get for his alleged past steroid use in the form of the vitriol he hears from fans on the road and the indelible stain on his records. As for the who-knows-how-many other players who juiced up, it's time to admit that they got away with it. What's past is past.

But the future is a different story. If the government really wants to help, instead of wasting time and money trying to prove what we all know, it could apply pressure on Major League Baseball and the Players Association to work toward developing and instituting a reliable test for HGH. It doesn't really matter that Clemens, Pettitte or anyone else may have used HGH or other undetectable performance-enhancing drugs in the past. What matters is that they could still be using them, because baseball doesn't test for HGH.

It's too late for investigations into who-injected-what to be of much use. That goes for MLB's probe, led by former Sen. George Mitchell, as well. Which player with an ounce of common sense or decent legal advice would cooperate with the probe, knowing that the committee is powerless to force him to do so?

So we are left with a fine mess in which rumors and speculation rule the day, leading us to hesitate to take any display of excellence at face value. Everyone is a suspect. When Ryan Howard goes on a home run binge, we wonder if his prodigious strength is chemically enhanced. When Clemens' fastball stays in the mid-90s even as he approaches his mid-40s, we wonder if the secret of his longevity involves more than a tough workout regimen. The truth is that we'll never know exactly how much of what we've seen over the last 10 to 15 years was affected by steroids, so there's no need for lengthy investigations. It's time to stop worrying about what happened in the past and to start thinking about what happens next.