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One more question comes his way: Three major league players told SI that Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association, tipped Rodriguez about an upcoming drug test in early September 2004. Rodriguez is asked if that is true, but he does not respond. He looks at the trainer and orders him to "get someone. [The reporter] is not supposed to be in here."
No escort necessary. The reporter hands Rodriguez her card and tells him to call if there is anything else he wants to say. Rodriguez does not call. Messages left with players' association executive director Don Fehr will not be returned over the next five days. And Orza, when approached by an SI reporter on Friday at his New York City office about the tipping allegation, will say, "I'm not interested in discussing this information with you." On Monday, Orza told The New York Times , "It's not true. Simple as that."
The results of the 2003 survey testing of 1,198 players—conducted as part of an agreement between MLB and the union to determine if it was necessary to impose a mandatory random drug-testing program, with penalties, across the major leagues in 2004—were meant to remain anonymous. However, the anonymity seemed less than assured because players were asked by testers to sign their names next to a number corresponding with their urine sample.
"The idea [behind the testing] was to get a feel for how many people were doing it," Tim Crabtree, the Rangers' player representative in 2000 and '01, said on Sunday. "Yet every test had a name attached to it. So, in that regard, did the union screw up? Yeah, I'd say they did because I don't know how you can attach a name to a sample if it's truly anonymous."
Rodriguez's testing information was found after federal agents, armed with search warrants, seized the '03 test results from Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., of Long Beach, Calif., one of two labs used by MLB in connection with that year's survey testing. The seizure took place in April 2004 as part of the government's investigation into 10 major league players linked to the BALCO scandal—though Rodriguez himself has never been connected to BALCO. On that list of 104 positive test results was one belonging to Alex Rodriguez.
SINCE THE late 1990s baseball had been witnessing its own Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Players were aging backward, with 40-year-old pitchers throwing the heat of 20-year-olds and veteran hitters cranking out career highs in homers. But in 2003, when he was 28, Rodriguez seemingly didn't fit the profile. His impressive statistics—more than 40 home runs and 110 RBIs every season from 1998 through 2003—appeared to be authentic.
A benefit of using Primobolan, one of the steroids Rodriguez tested positive for, is that the steroid produces improved strength with minimum bulk. The drug also has relatively few side effects. Kirk Radomski, the former Mets clubhouse employee who in 2007 pleaded guilty to illegal distribution of steroids to numerous major leaguers, described in his recent book Bases Loaded how players increasingly turned to drugs such as Primobolan, in part to avoid testing positive. Primobolan is detectable for a far shorter period than the steroid previously favored by players, Deca-Durabolin.
At the same time, Rodriguez's pristine image was increasingly important not only to a commissioner's office that craved an embraceable star who would one day take the place of Barry Bonds as the alltime home run leader (POINT AFTER, page 74) but also to a players' union empowered by Rodriguez's record-breaking contract and to an agent, Boras, who was validated as the planet's best dealmaker, with A-Rod as his instrument.
The resistance to steroid testing among union officials was intense. In a panel discussion in March 2004, Orza openly mocked baseball's crackdown on steroids, saying, "I have no doubt that [steroids] are not worse than cigarettes." According to the 2007 Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, Orza stalled MLB in its attempts to test players for "reasonable cause" and declined to speak with Mitchell Report investigators. In September 2004, according to the Mitchell Report, Orza violated an agreement with MLB and tipped off a player (not named in the report) to an upcoming, supposedly random, drug test. In its statement last Saturday the players' association said, "As we have explained previously, in detail and in public, there was no improper tipping of players in 2004 about the timing of the drug tests." One major league player, however, told SI that he was forewarned by Orza in '04 that he would be tested on Sept. 24, "so make sure there's nothing in your system." Then there are the three players who told SI that Rodriguez was alerted by Orza to a coming test in September 2004, at the end of his first season as a Yankee.
THE YANKEES news this spring was supposed to ride on CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett—nearly half a billion dollars' worth of talent the team added in the off-season in an attempt to woo fans to its new, luxury-appointed stadium. But Rodriguez will consume the discussion when he arrives at the Yankees' spring training facility in Tampa.