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Tag: major league baseball

Stejskal: A Book Review About Baseball, A-Rod and the Steroid Era

Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End baseball’s Steroid Era , By Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts

Greg Stejskal

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

This is not a traditional book review as those are usually done about the time a book is published and first available for sale. Also in the interest of full disclosure, another retired FBI agent and I are mentioned in the book albeit briefly and tangential to the primary focus of the book. The mention is related to a FBI steroid investigation we did in the early ‘90s. I’ll explain more about that later.

One of the authors of Blood Sport, Tim Elfrink, is a reporter for the “Miami New Times”, and he broke the story of the Biogenesis/Major League Baseball performance enhancing drugs scandal. Tony Bosch, Biogenesis’ founder and owner, had become a supplier of PEDs to a number professional and college baseball players. Several the MLB players were some of biggest stars in the game, and one Alex Rodriguez, “A-Rod,” the highest paid player in the history of the game.

Blood Sport is not only a great telling of the sordid story of Bosch peddling steroids and other PEDs to baseball players, but it’s an insider’s perspective of investigative journalism. The Biogenesis saga is arguably the biggest scandal in MLB since the “Black Sox” conspiracy that fixed the 1919 World Series.

In setting the stage for the Biogenesis story, Blood Sport describes some of the very early efforts to gain an advantage by the use of chemical enhancement. One such episode occurred in 1889 and involved a 32-year-old pitcher for the (Pittsburg) Alleghenies.

The pitcher, James “Pud” Galvin, had been one of the best pitchers of the era, but at 32 was past his prime. He was asked to participate in an experiment involving the use of an anti-aging elixir which was administered by injection and was nothing more than a liquid derived from the crushed testicles of animals. (Pud’s elixir came from sheep testicles, Rocky Mountain Oysters.)

The experiment was publically known and not illegal. (The sale and use of drugs was not regulated by the US government until the early 1900s.) Pud pitched a great game, and for short time his performance was proclaimed as proof the elixir worked. It was later determined that the elixar’s relatively small amount of testosterone could not have enhanced Pud’s pitching. He probably benefited from the psychological benefit of the placebo effect. But in thinking that the male hormone, testosterone, might have performance enhancing potential, they were on to something.

Blood Sport goes on to trace some of the other efforts to gain advantage in sports through chemistry like the open and pervasive use of amphetamines starting in the 50s and going into the 80s and to some extent the present.

Contemporaneous with the decline of amphetamine use began the use of PEDs that could dramatically improve a player’s performance and potentially destroy the integrity of sports – anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are synthetic testosterone which in large amounts increases muscle size and strength. Not all steroids have this anabolic effect, but the steroids that are considered PEDs and illegal are anabolic. Testosterone is produced in males’ testicles, but much larger amounts than occur naturally are needed to enhance athletic performance.

The use of steroids as PEDs came later to baseball than to some other sports, notably football, but when they did come, it was with a vengeance.

This is where the “full-disclosure” thing I mentioned earlier comes in. It was gratifying that Blood Sport tells the story of the advent of the first major federal investigation of steroids, a FBI undercover operation dubbed Equine, and how it relates to MLB’s “steroid era.”

Equine started with a meeting of the legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, his strength and conditioning coach, Mike Gittleson, and me. Bo’s reason for meeting with me was his concern that steroids were becoming prevalent in high school and college football. Steroids were illegal under federal law except by prescription for rare circumstances that did not include enhanced performance in sports. So inspired by Bo, I decided to initiate an undercover operation, Equine, that targeted the illegal distribution of steroids. That UCO ultimately resulted in the successful prosecution of over 70 dealers in the US, Canada and Mexico and the seizure of millions of dosage units of steroids and human growth hormone (HGH).

Read more »

Stejskal: Leagues Can Learn From Major League Baseball’s Hardball Tactics

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office. His column first appeared in the New York Daily News. 

Alex Rodriguez

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

By moving to drop his civil lawsuits in federal court, Alex Rodriguez has waved the white flag and accepted his 162-game suspension.

Although independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz reduced the original 211-game ban handed down by Major League Baseball, it is still the longest suspension ever in baseball for performance-enhancing drug use. In his lawsuits — against MLB, Bud Selig and the union — Rodriguez had contested how baseball had obtained the evidence, although Horowitz later wrote in his report that the evidence was “clear and convincing” A-Rod was in violation of baseball’s drug agreement.

Several sports commentators had sided with Rodriguez and said that he had been persecuted by MLB because baseball had used nefarious methods to obtain evidence: MLB paying for evidence or “bullying” witnesses.

Having spent over 30 years in the FBI investigating various violations of federal law, it wasn’t unusual to cut deals with unsavory individuals and co-conspirators to further an investigation. This might include paying confidential informants for information or persuading potential witnesses to agree to cooperate.

There’s an old adage that applies: “Conspiracies hatched in hell can’t have angels for witnesses.” In other words, you don’t get to pick witnesses, and they generally come with baggage that may lessen their credibility. The paradox is that Rodriguez actually chose the witnesses against him by doing business with them.

Greg Stejskal

Anthony Bosch, the Biogenesis founder who testified that he supplied Rodriguez with PEDs, became baseball’s principal witness. MLB had a witness with diminished credibility, and in order to bolster their case, it was necessary to corroborate the witness’ statements. Fortunately MLB was able to obtain Biogenesis records that included transactions between Bosch and MLB players, including Rodriguez. In addition there were hundreds of text messages between Bosch and Rodriguez using rudimentary code names for various PEDs like “gummies” for testosterone lozenges.

MLB, to its credit, had already been aggressively pursuing the Biogenesis investigation using standard investigative techniques by the time the first news reports about the scandal surfaced. MLB first tried to get Biogenesis documents from the Miami New Times, the paper that broke the story on the Bosch-PED connection. Not surprisingly, the paper refused. Undeterred, MLB later purchased Biogenesis records.

Although I think it might have been difficult to get my FBI supervisors to agree to pay as much money for the Biogenesis records as MLB did (a reported $125,000), the FBI does often pay for information. MLB was also handicapped by not having alternative means to obtain the records. The FBI has the power to issue grand jury subpoenas and search warrants.

As for “bullying” witnesses, I would prefer to characterize it as persuading witnesses to cooperate. Again MLB did not have all the investigative tools available to them. In Operation Equine — a late ’80s, early ’90s FBI undercover steroid investigation — we did arrest a steroid dealer, released him and postponed prosecution in exchange for him agreeing to cooperate. This technique, sometimes referred to as “catch and release,” was how we got the cooperation of a dealer who not only agreed to identify his suppliers, but told us he had supplied PEDs to former Oakland A’s Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.

It certainly was our intent to intimidate the dealer in order to get information, but I wouldn’t characterize it as “bullying.” Ironically, it was this information that I passed on to MLB in 1994, warning them of their steroid problem. They didn’t act on that warning then, but they are fully engaged now.

It’s important to note that of the 14 players who were suspended because of their PED links with Biogenesis only one had tested positive for a PED — Ryan Braun. Braun had successfully challenged his positive test (in 2012) because of a technicality in the chain of custody protocol when his urine sample was collected. Braun ended up accepting a 65-game suspension last year. The other 12 players all accepted 50-game bans without appeal.

Other sports leagues and the NCAA should follow MLB’s lead, and not rely solely on testing to enforce anti-doping measures. MLB should be applauded for aggressively investigating the Biogenesis matter, and using all the legitimate investigative techniques necessary.

 

Column: MLB May Never Eliminate Steroid Problem, But It Has Come a Long Way to Substantially Reducing It

Greg Stejskal served as an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office. His column first appeared in the New York Daily on June 22.

Greg Stejskal

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

In August 1994, I was attending an FBI sports presentation conference. The bureau has a program where trained agents make presentations to college and professional sports teams regarding illegal sports gambling and other topics. Representatives from the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NCAA were on hand as well, and attendees were made aware of an article I had recently written for the FBI magazine about an undercover operation (named Equine) that targeted illegal steroid distribution. Copies of the article were distributed at the conference.

One evening over some beers, some of the attendees were discussing steroids and their use by players in various sports. I told Kevin Hallinan, then the head of MLB security, that myself and fellow agent, Bill Randall, had learned through the Equine case that a dealer we prosecuted had told us he’d been supplying some MLB players with steroids. I also mentioned to Hallinan that the dealer believed steroid use in MLB was widespread and becoming a bigger problem. One of the players the dealer mentioned was Jose Canseco, then with the A’s.

Hallinan said he had heard reports of steroid use by players, but he didn’t think MLB could do much about it. Baseball was in the midst of trying to resolve a debilitating strike (which would end in 1995), there was no drug-testing program and it would be a full decade before players began being tested for performance-enhancing drug use. Hallinan did not express any interest in talking to the dealer or following up on the information.

The time frame of the FBI conference fell smack in the middle of baseball’s infamous “steroid era,” with such iconic events as the 1998 home run derby between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, which culminated with McGwire breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. These long-ball extravaganzas were putting fans back in the seats, but the cost was the integrity of the game.

In the early 2000s, there were revelations of steroid/PED use by players, including Ken Caminiti’s 2002 interview with Sports Illustrated, in which he speculated about widespread doping. Congressional hearings followed in 2005 and 2008, the latter featuring seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens pitted against his former trainer, Brian McNamee. Both Clemens and home run king Barry Bonds were tried in criminal trials, Bonds getting convicted on one count, and Clemens being acquitted of all charges. MLB was on the defensive and initially didn’t react well. But that has changed; MLB has taken the initiative and gained the support of the Players Association in the fight against PEDs. They’ve instituted rigorous testing protocols in their drug-testing program, including taking blood samples to test for human growth hormone.

In my view, more importantly, they are not relying on testing alone to ferret out drug use by players. When a Miami New Times report named numerous major leaguers’ PED links to the Miami anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis, MLB attempted to identify the players and get specific information from the newspaper. MLB also sent investigators to Florida and filed a civil suit against Biogenesis, its founder and several others in order to subpoena their records. It appears their aggressive efforts are about to bear fruit. MLB has reportedly convinced Anthony Bosch, the owner of Biogenesis, to name names and supply records. Players could ultimately be suspended, and it appears that the Players Association is in full support of baseball’s efforts.

istock photo

You would think the baseball commentators and writers would be supportive, too. After all, a few years ago they were chastising MLB for having ignored the PED issue and not taking stronger action. Now, some pundits have said baseball has lost its “war on drugs,” and the large number of players apparently getting steroids from Biogenesis proves it. I would argue that MLB’s dogged efforts and apparent success in identifying the players linked to Biogenesis shows it is beginning to win the war.

I have never been in favor of criminal prosecution of players. They are nothing more than high-profile users. I think MLB is right to aggressively pursue the identification of PED users and then apply the appropriate sanctions. (The standard of proof in an administrative action is considerably lower than in a criminal prosecution.)

Although I warned MLB about the steroid problem almost 19 years ago, and I was concerned that it seemed to ignore the problem, I now commend MLB’s aggressive efforts to continue to rid baseball of performance-enhancing drug use. MLB may never totally eradicate the problem, but it has gone a long way in substantially reducing use. The other professional leagues and the NCAA should take note.

I think Abraham Lincoln’s words are appropriate: “I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”

 

Justice Department to Probe Professional Baseball Players for Synthetic Testosterone

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

 The Department of Justice is joining Major League Baseball in searching for the source of synthetic testosterone found on San Francisco Giants All-Star outfielder Melky Cabrera, the USA Today reports.

Helping steer the investigation is Jeff Novitzky, a criminal investigator for the Food and Drug Administration who led a separate probe of anabolic steroids about a decade ago.

Some predict the investigation could lead to big headlines as stars are revealed for using performance-enhancing drugs, the USA Today reported.

Cabrera received a 50-game suspension last week after testing positive for testosterone use.

“We can’t have bodyguards on these guys 24/7, Giants manager Bruce Bochy told reporters Sunday. “It comes down to choices. Unfortunately, I do think they get bad advice from other sources.”