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Jewish World Review
May 15, 2006
/ 17 Iyar, 5766
A legal groundswell builds beneath baseball
As Barry Bonds's chase of baseball's most treasured career record spirals into a national tour of resentment and ill will, the San
Francisco Giants slugger is probably, on some level, relieved to know that he's not the only person facing the wrath of the
The story of Bonds's steroid use, his relationship to the infamous Balco laboratory, and his 2003 testimony before a federal
grand jury has now morphed into a clash pitting the first amendment against the public's right to know in a San Francisco
courtroom, and it may even spark a labor clash. It also may have finally killed the period of good feeling between
Commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, the Executive Director of the Major League Players Association.
The union is objecting to the investigation of possible steroid usage by present and past players being conducted by Senator
George Mitchell, a current Boston Red Sox management partner, and ordered by Selig and MLB. That does not bode well for
the nascent labor negotiations, which have to be worked out by August 1. Only a few months ago, the contentious relationship
shared by players and owners appeared to have thawed when the sides partnered to produce the World Baseball Classic.
Now the players are about ready to resume their stance of distrust and resentment.
But that is a secondary issue at the moment, as is Bonds's pursuit of Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron. In fact, they pale in
comparison to what will transpire at two grand jury hearings in San Francisco. Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, Mark
Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, whose in-depth coverage of the Balco investigations eventually became the book "Game
of Shadows," an apparent "tell-all" about Bonds's steroid abuse, have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury
to discuss their use of court documents from Bonds's testimony in their articles, and now, their book. That's right: a federal
grand jury investigating the outcome of a federal grand jury.
It is not illegal to possess secret grand jury testimony, but it is illegal to leak grand jury transcripts. The San Francisco
Chronicle is fighting the subpoenas, arguing that the reporters are protected by the First Amendment. Unsurprisingly,
Fainaru-Wada and Williams have steadfastly refused to say who leaked them the grand jury documents. This is going to set up
a confrontation between the two writers, their newspaper, and the federal government, with the government demanding
answers from the writers and the newspaper insisting the public has the right to know.
New Jersey attorney and sports law analyst Gary Chester said yesterday that reporters and the court system have had a
continuing balancing act over the issue of first amendment rights versus the public's right to know.
"The issue is whether a reporter or reporters who break the law in the name of public disclosure can use the first amendment as
a shield," Chester said. "There has never been a satisfying dialogue between the legal professional and the reporting profession
and the rules have been laid down by the court. Neither side understands the issues that are involved."
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles has refused to comment on the two reporters and the subpoena. But that raises
another question that no one seems to be able to answer: Just how important is this Balco case in the grand scheme of things?
The case has very little importance to the health and welfare of the general population, and in reality, it deals with a narrow
band of Balco employees and a handful of athletes. At best, the case could influence a number of young people who might
have considered taking steroids for an edge on the prep field.
Even the jail sentence given to the so-called ring-leader of the steroids distribution ring was nothing of note. Balco founder
Victor Conte cut a plea deal in July 2005 and was hit with a four-month jail term and four months of house arrest. In theory,
Fainaru-Wada and Williams could get a lot more jail time should they ignore the subpoena and fail to reveal their sources.
But the reverberations of this case and the Mitchell investigation could trigger an earthquake beneath baseball. Mitchell's probe
of steroid use in baseball only came about after the release of "Game of Shadows" in March. MLB thought it had solved its
problems after going through a number of Congressional hearings on steroids and other performance enhancers in 2005.The
owners and players drew up a tougher policy for those caught taking banned substances. (On top of all this, "another" grand
jury may call Bonds to find out if he perjured himself when he testified before the Balco grand jury about his steroid use.)
Two grand jury proceedings is the last thing MLB wants or needs. Despite all the booing and bad press, the allegations and
investigations, Bonds's pursuit of Ruth and Aaron has been very good for baseball's bottom line. MLB has more marketing
partners, more television money, and more paying customers than it ever has. Cities and states are still throwing money at
owners by building new stadiums. Business is great.
But once these grand juries convene, the fear is that all the dirty laundry will come out. Selig would probably rather talk about
the contraction or even a possible work stoppage in 2007 than Bonds and Balco. But Bonds, Fainaru-Wada/Williams, and
Balco appear to headed for a perfect storm of bad press - one that could bring about a labor stoppage and put "Game of
Shadows" squarely in the mainstream national spotlight.
Congress and MLB bullied Fehr and the union into agreeing to stiffer penalties for those caught using banned substances. But
the players can scrap that deal if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't hammered out by August 1. If that happens, one
may be led to wonder this ever went to Washington in the first place.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Evan Weiner is a syndicated radio commentator. Comment by clicking here.
05/05/06: Four Years Later, Baseball Finds an Owner in D.C.
05/01/06: Turmoil brews beneath NFL's newfound tranquility
04/24/06: NFL and small town America wherewithal
04/21/06: The Two Scariest Words in Baseball: Salary Cap
04/18/06: Why the major leagues succeed
04/17/06: Fans welcome new stadiums; will stadiums welcome fans?
04/10/06: Fans welcome new stadiums; will stadiums welcome fans?
04/07/06: Don't mess with a congressman/sports fanatic
04/05/06: Los Angles loses yet again
04/04/06: NCAA's highest stakes are first beginning
04/03/06: The real reason Major League Baseball is worried about cheating
03/31/06: Baseball buoyant, better than ever
03/30/06: Affording to be in the big leagues
© 2006, Evan Weiner