On one jolting day
last week, baseball went from hoping its steroid crisis was fading to
confronting another season consumed by drug talk. This was after federal agents
descended on the home of Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley, literally
knocking down his door to begin what became a six-hour raid.
The shock of the
raid was compounded by a court document made public that day: In a confession
on April 19, Grimsley admitted to agents that he had used banned drugs
throughout his career. He also said that after he tested dirty in baseball's
first steroids program in 2003, he switched to human growth hormone.
"Boatloads" of players use banned drugs, he said. He added that
amphetamines were "like aspirin," saying he had seen clubhouses that
dosed coffee with them and labeled the pot "leaded." The pitcher also
named names, allegedly identifying at least half a dozen players as users of
banned substances. ( Grimsley has since denied volunteering any player
identities to agents; all names were redacted from the document.) He also named
his drug dealer and a trainer who helped him make his connections.
So the era of
performance-enhancing drugs wasn't over after all. When the news broke,
Grimsley was released by Arizona and was more famous than he had ever been, and
the baseball world was trying to figure out whom he had fingered. But the most
intriguing player in the drama may be the IRS agent who led the raid, a
38-year-old former athlete and sports fan named Jeff Novitzky, who is living
out so many people's fantasies by busting some of the biggest drug cheats in
In the past four
years Novitzky, a wiry, 6'7" Bay Area native with a shaved head, has cast a
wide net. He led the September 2003 raids on BALCO and the home of Barry
Bonds's trainer, Greg Anderson, and induced BALCO founder Victor Conte to
confess to allegedly dealing steroids to Bonds and 26 other athletes. Conte
denied making the statement, but the probe sparked the biggest doping scandal
in U.S. history, ensnaring Bonds and Yankees star Jason Giambi, among many
In North Carolina,
Novitzky reached former shot put champion C.J. Hunter, who told the agent about
alleged drug use by his ex-wife, Olympic superstar Marion Jones, another BALCO
client. ( Jones denied the charge.) The agent also tracked down Kimberly Bell,
the former girlfriend to whom Bonds allegedly confided his use of steroids, and
made her a federal witness.
In 2005 Novitzky
served as a witness in two cases brought by the United States Anti-Doping
Agency against track athletes caught up in the BALCO scandal. Last fall he led
raids on the Champaign, Ill., laboratory and home of Patrick Arnold, the
chemist who created BALCO's steroid known as "the clear" and later
pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids.
Novitzky traveled to New York City to interview a woman thought to have
insights into Bonds's alleged receipt of cash from memorabilia sales, according
to a source familiar with the agent's activities. He also has been lining up
witnesses for a grand jury probe aimed at determining if Bonds committed
perjury when he testified in 2003 that he had never knowingly used banned
The IRS has been
the lead agency in the probe because at its core, BALCO is a money laundering
case. Novitzky can't discuss his work, but it's known that he shares fans'
disgust with steroid users, and he is not afraid to get his hands dirty.
Novitzky has trailed suspected drug dealers into the players' parking lot at
the Giants' ballpark and gone through their garbage. As a result he is doing
what baseball commissioner Bud Selig, the players' union and perhaps even
quasi-independent investigator George Mitchell can't (or won't) do: He's
forcing baseball to confront its Steroid Era.
sports from the inside out. His father, Don, coached high school basketball for
three decades. At Mills High in Millbrae, about two miles from where Conte
would later do business, Novitzky starred in track and basketball: He cleared
seven feet as a high jumper and made the All--Central Coast Section basketball
team as a senior.
He earned a
partial track scholarship to Arizona but returned to the Bay Area to play
basketball, first at Skyline College, a J.C. with a strong program, and then at
San Jose State. But because of knee problems, his career stats were
unmemorable: two games, four points, two rebounds. His coach, Stan Morrison,
recalls him as smart, clean-cut and driven, "a really mature guy [who] knew
where he was going in life."