Friday, November 28, 2008

After Bonds, will baseball ever be the same?

JUST WHEN I thought it was about time to haul out the old snowboard or lace up the size 12 skates, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston decided to hit a double into deep centre field.
While the entire world has been focused on the TV screen in the past few days as to the horror in Mumbei (formerly Bombay) and also the collapse of the almighty dollar and sense, Judge Illston gave some relief by ordering the release of grand jury testimony concerning steroids in the grand ol’ game – baseball.
What she did was give every baseball fanatic a chance to argue concerning Barry (I want to make that ‘clear’) Bonds and all the others in other sports such as football and track and field and their involvement with the latest so-called “junk.”
Of course, the lifting of the restrictions on the BALCO testimony should mean Bonds will testify freely in March 2009 when he goes to trial.
Pro sports has taken an awful licking ever since 2003 when it was revealed that baseball (and football among others) was knee deep in the mire of performance-enhancing drugs.
During the past three years, ‘roids has been a frequent topic and for this scribbler it’s one I have frequently called the “the pig sty of life.”
It's a sordid underbelly that sometimes deals with shady lawyers and sports agents as well as not-so-gullible athletes, who often break down the legal boundaries while clinging to "I know nothing" defence.In recent times, two seasoned NFL writers -- Jason Cole and Charles Robinson -- delved into the possibility of New Orleans Saints' running back Reggie Bush taking cash and gifts while he was playing at USC. Definitely a no-no, if true.
However, while a U.S. federal investigation has not revealed all the facts and figures to the general public to date, it's a serious charge put forward by the Yahoo! Sports investigative team.But it's not surprising to learn about illegal activities in sports.
Take for instance, the high-profile BALCO case, which has wrapped its deplorable arms around the likes of baseball superstar Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees star Jason Giambi, sprinter Tim Montgomery and others. While Bonds is still being investigated concerning taking steroids, five defendants, including BALCO founder Victor Conte, have pleaded guilty to illegal drug distribution, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Not only has The Chronicle reported on it, but two of their reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, were ruled in September, 2006 to be in contempt of court for "refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating leaked transcripts in the (steroid distribution) case," involving BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative).U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White sentenced the reporters to 18 months behind bars and docked their newspaper $1,000-a-day.
The pair, meanwhile, are free with the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Frisco hearing the case in March (2007).
While this reporter has detailed the "top cheaters" as well as the "dirtiest players" in a July, 2006 column, it's time to put forward an annual list of sports scandals from a wide range of sources.Remember, this is my list, but you might have a different order:
* 1. The BALCO scandal. That case is on-going, but its repercussions will, undoubtedly, change the face of baseball and other sports, for it involves stars, such as Bonds.
* 2. Canada's Ben Johnson. It was a crushing blow to the sprinter and the entire nation when he was found to have used a banned substance during the 100 metres at the 1988 Seoul, South Korea Olympics. It left Johnson's life in disarray.
* 3. Tonya Harding. It was a whack attack heard around the world when figure skater Harding "hired" some goons to attack fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan's knees in 1994. Since then Harding has been lost in an avalanche of bad publicity.
* 4. Pete Rose. An on-going drama, which still haunts baseball. The one-time superstar with the Cincinnati Reds was certain to gain Hall of Fame status, but he was banned from the game by former Major League Commissioner A. Bart Giamatti for his betting misdeeds. Rose is still denied access to Cooperstown, but, supposedly, thrives on appearances at baseball-card shows.
* 5. Mike Danton. A one-time player with the NHL's St. Louis Blues remains behind bars for his involvement in a murder-for-hire plot.
* 6. Mike Tyson. A walking-talking disaster appears ready to fall -- once again. The former, bruising heavyweight champion of the world is now cavorting with the unsavoury characters from the Las Vegas Strip.
* 7. O.J. Simpson. The former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL superstar with the Buffalo Bills, who was cleared of a double murder, has stooped to a new low with his latest book project. Oh, what a tangled web, O.J.
Of course, there are dozens of other scandals and the list could include the Kobe Bryant sex assault case; the Sammy Sosa cork bat case along with a bevy of college basketball points-shaving incidents.
One which we haven't mention is the gambling case, involving former Philadelphia Flyers' standout-turned-Phoenix Coyotes' assistant, Rick Tocchet. It probably deserves an entire page in the future.
P.S. Tocchet did “serve” his penance and is now the new interim coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, replacing Barry Melrose, who was fired Nov. 14.
At the very outset of this column, I mentioned Judge Illston, who hit a “double” in unsealing the grand jury testimony and all those so-called “hot” documents.
However, she could have hit one out of the park by allowing reporters access as well.
While all the legal types will get a chance to peer into the “secrets” chambers, the Ol’ Columnist will just have to wait until March when Bonds is expected to answer “the charges of making false statements and obstruction of justice, etc., etc.”


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