Charles Krupa/AP
Alex Rodriguez

Blame Falls On Union and Government Following A-Rod Leak

February 09, 2009 05:55 PM
by Denis Cummings
The revelation that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids has raised questions over the union’s failure to protect its players and the government’s overzealous prosecution.

Rodriguez Test Result Leaked to Sports Illustrated

In 2002, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed to have each Major League player tested in 2003 to determine the percentage of players using steroids. The tests were to be anonymous and no player was to be named or punished for a positive test.

On Saturday, Sports Illustrated reported on its Web site that, according to four different anonymous sources, the urine sample given by Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids. The disclosure came just three days after a federal judge unsealed documents revealing that retired slugger Barry Bonds’ sample tested positive for THG, a designer steroid also known as “the clear.”

Rodriguez admitted Monday to ESPN’s Peter Gammons that he used performance-enhancing drugs between 2001 and 2003. “I was stupid for three years. I was very, very stupid,” he said, adding, “The more honest we can all be, the quicker we can get baseball [back] to where it needs to be.”

Rodriguez is unlikely to face criminal charges because he never denied steroid use in court or to government officials. However, his reputation is ruined and baseball’s credibility has again been diminished.

Though Rodriguez has received criticism for using steroids, many in the media are questioning why the results of a supposedly anonymous test have been revealed. Additionally, the players union failed to have the 2003 samples destroyed in a timely manner, allowing the government to seize them—perhaps illegally. The government still holds the positive test samples of Rodriguez and 103 other players, whose names could possible be leaked during the upcoming season.

Background: How the government got control of players’ samples

Anonymous testing was instituted for the 2003 to determine the percentage of players using steroids; if more than 5 percent of players tested positive, MLB would begin testing with penalties the following year. The testing was conducted by two independent firms: Comprehensive Drug Testing, which collected 1,438 urine samples, and Quest Diagnostics, which tested the samples for steroids.

In November 2003, MLB announced that 5–7 percent of players had tested positive. With the testing complete, the players union had the right to destroy all samples and the master list identifying each player’s sample after 30 days. For reasons it has yet to make clear, the union chose not to destroy all the samples immediately.

Also in November 2003, as part of the investigation into Barry Bonds and the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, a federal grand jury issued a subpoena for all players’ samples. The union objected and appeared to reach a deal with the government to hand over the samples of only 10 players targeted in the BALCO case. However, in April 2004, it filed a motion to quash the subpoena; prosecutors reacted by obtaining a warrant and seizing the estimated 500 remaining samples, including those of 104 players who had tested positive.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston, who is presiding over the Bonds perjury case, was highly critical of the prosecution’s seizure. According to Yahoo, she said during a 2004 hearing, “I think the government has displayed … a callous disregard for constitutional rights. I think it’s a seizure beyond what was authorized by the search warrant, therefore it violates the Fourth Amendment.”

The union filed a lawsuit against the government, which is currently being heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A decision is expected in the spring, but until then the government maintains control of the samples.

Opinion & Analysis: The culpability of the union and federal government


The credibility of the players union and its COO, Gene Orza, has been damaged greatly. If not for the union’s delay in destroying the urine samples, neither Bonds nor Rodriguez would have been revealed as steroid users.

The union, because of the ongoing lawsuit, has not officially commented on why it kept the samples. A lawyer involved in the BALCO case told ESPN, “It indicates how little concern anybody had for the outside investigation initially. If anybody would have had a brain, they would have realized if we don’t destroy this info, it’s going to get subpoenaed.”

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman, citing three anonymous sources, reports that Orza wanted to continue testing the samples to “find enough false positives on the list to drive the number of failures so far down that real testing wouldn’t be needed in 2004 or ever.”

The decision backfired, as did Orza’s decision to not hand over the samples of the players involved in the BALCO scandal when the government asked. “He wouldn’t give up the BALCO names,’” an anonymous source told Heyman, “so instead, [the federal government] got every name.”

Orza also reportedly tipped off Rodriguez before a surprise September 2004 test, and was accused in the Mitchell Report of doing the same thing for another player, likely David Segui. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal calls this the “most disturbing allegation” of the Sports Illustrated report, writing that the “allegations of tipping—denied by the union—create an even bigger problem for MLB, casting doubt on the credibility of its program.”

ESPN’s George Bryant comments that the union’s failure to protect players’ anonymity will threaten baseball’s efforts to openly address the use of steroids. “The opportunity for these two suspicious sides to trust one another enough to take even more meaningful steps toward greater vigilance has been diminished,” he writes. “Even the truth needs to be produced by following certain procedures; and now the union, players and even baseball management can use this lack of confidentiality to resist greater transparency.”

The Federal Government

Sports Illustrated received reports of Rodriguez’s positive test from four sources independent of each other. The information was likely leaked from the federal government, and such leaks are almost certainly a crime.

Furthermore, there is a question of whether the government obtained the information legally. Judge Illston ruled that the government’s April 2004 raid was illegal and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals appears to be favoring the players union while deciding the case. Former U.S. Attorney Charles La Bella told Yahoo’s Jonathan Littman that a leak would be especially improper because it is “information [the government] wasn’t entitled to. It’s unfair to tarnish an individual based on that illegally seized information.”

Newsday’s Ken Davidoff, who believes the government “too often seems startlingly out of control,” writes that Rodriguez and Bonds are victims of overzealous federal prosecutors. “Is this really worth our government’s extensive time?” he asks. “The amount of time and resources expended on the Bonds case is staggering, no matter his sins.”

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