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Thread: Records Are Made to Be ...Overstuffed With Significance

  1. #1
    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Records Are Made to Be ...Overstuffed With Significance


    November 18, 2007

    Records Are Made to Be ... Overstuffed With Significance
    BARRY BONDS’S indictment Thursday on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice put a kind of official imprimatur on his presumed villainy. Bonds, who broke Hank Aaron’s career home run record on Aug. 7, has long been suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. And though he has not been convicted, his indictment goes a step further in raising doubts about how Bonds accrued his 762 home runs, and threatens to emblazon the record with baseball’s favorite punctuation mark, the asterisk.

    But another reading of the case suggests that his demonization is something of a historical inevitability. Bonds’s accomplishment is weighted with baggage because it can hardly be otherwise for the most cherished records in sports.

    When a truly outsize ballplayer breaks a truly outsize record, he invariably carries the cultural freight of his times. “This record is not tainted at all,” Bonds said after hitting No. 762. But there is no such thing as an “untainted” record, if by tainted you mean it is tied up with the hopes, fears, paranoia, racial prejudices, mores and economic climate of the era in which it was set. The simple number in the record book is never so pure in the public realm.

    All big accomplishments in sports are seen through a contemporary prism, suggests John Thorn, a baseball historian and an editor of “Total Baseball.” “By definition, your view is distorted when you have your nose up against the glass,” he says.

    In baseball, the plot has a cyclical familiarity. In almost every case, the new record holder is seen as a villain, an exemplar of new and dangerous times, while the previous record holder is an unburdened hero. “It’s such a simple story, you would think you’re watching Punch and Judy,” Thorn says. “There’s only two roles, and they seem to alternate.”

    When Babe Ruth retired in 1935, he had hit 714 home runs, hundreds more than anybody else in baseball history. In his time, however, Ruth was not seen as the bumptious icon he was later made out to be. After the 1925 season, in which he played only 98 games, Ruth was publicly derided at a banquet by New York’s mayor, Jimmy Walker, who said that Ruth had let down the kids with his poor play. With his outsized girth and fondness for controlled beverages, Ruth epitomized the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, and like every baseball player then and now, his contract demands were deemed greedy and exorbitant.

    In short, Ruth was a flawed man of his times with layers beyond his caricature. But by the time Aaron broke his record on April 8, 1974, Ruth had died and gone to the realm of the simple and heroic. Aaron replaced him not only as baseball’s most notable slugger, but as a lightning rod for the social conditions of the time. His pursuit of Ruth’s record symbolized African-American players’ gaining a toehold in Major League Baseball two decades after they’d been admitted to the game and just a decade after Congress desegregated public facilities.

    On a more basic level, he was a black man dethroning a white hero. For those rooting against Aaron, his chase produced, at best, a kind of complex ambivalence and, at worst, virulent hatred. He regularly received death threats during the 1973 season, prompting Ruth’s widow, Claire Hodgson, to come forward and tell the riled public that her husband would have wanted Aaron to break the record.

    From 1920’s decadence to racial fears to Balco. Bonds is the emblematic slugger of baseball’s steroid era. He has never failed a league-administered drug test. But his implication in the steroids scandal furthered the suspicion that performance-enhancing drugs had seeped into baseball, and that players were illicitly rewriting the history books while the commissioner and the players’ union stood by and watched.

    Bonds was not the only player accused of using steroids, but he was the most visible and, thus, a convenient target of scorn for a public becoming accustomed to seeing its athletes, and corporate executives, and politicians, bending the rules to gain an edge.

    Now, enter the new slugger who will save baseball from Bonds: Alex Rodriguez, who at 32 is 244 homers short of the record.

    His new contract with the Yankees reportedly will include a provision for him to share some of the revenue — perhaps up to $25 million — generated by his pursuit of the record. It is curious that some cheer Rodriguez as the white knight to displace the evil Bonds, since Rodriguez has been one of baseball’s leading pariahs — a man who, in the era of hedge funds and exuberant capitalism, had turned his career into a purely economic proposal. Now he would do the same with baseball’s most hallowed record. Rodriguez may be free of steroids, but the day he breaks the record will contain no less baggage.

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  3. #2
    All dyslexics must untie!
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    Re: Records Are Made to Be ...Overstuffed With Significance

    Why couldn't the Feds indict BB back in July?
    Never overlook the obvious

  4. #3
    Member Spitball's Avatar
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    Re: Records Are Made to Be ...Overstuffed With Significance

    Interesting article. Thanks for the post, WOY.
    "I am your child from the future. I'm sorry I didn't tell you this earlier." - Dylan Easton

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    Moderator cumberlandreds's Avatar
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    Re: Records Are Made to Be ...Overstuffed With Significance

    Quote Originally Posted by gm View Post
    Why couldn't the Feds indict BB back in July?

    This was touched on during the ESPN Sports Reporters show yesterday. I don't remember which one, maybe Mitch Album, said the Feds had nothing new on Bonds since last year. Since Anderson wasn't talking, they(The Feds) decided to wait until after he broke the record so the if their case fell apart the Feds couldn't be blamed for knocking Bonds out of setting the record. Don't know how true that is but it's an interesting theory.
    Reds Fan Since 1971

  6. #5
    Churlish Johnny Footstool's Avatar
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    Re: Records Are Made to Be ...Overstuffed With Significance

    He has never failed a league-administered drug test.
    Wow, there's a ringing endorsement.

    It's kind of shocking, too, considering the widespread steroids testing MLB conducted throughout the 90s.
    "I prefer books and movies where the conflict isn't of the extreme cannibal apocalypse variety I guess." Redsfaithful

  7. #6
    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: Records Are Made to Be ...Overstuffed With Significance

    Quote Originally Posted by cumberlandreds View Post
    This was touched on during the ESPN Sports Reporters show yesterday. I don't remember which one, maybe Mitch Album, said the Feds had nothing new on Bonds since last year. Since Anderson wasn't talking, they(The Feds) decided to wait until after he broke the record so the if their case fell apart the Feds couldn't be blamed for knocking Bonds out of setting the record. Don't know how true that is but it's an interesting theory.
    Here's an article on the guy who investigated Bonds.


    November 18, 2007
    A Harvest of Trash and Turmoil for an Agent Fighting Steroids

    Jeff Novitzky is an unlikely contender for the role of Eliot Ness of the steroids age. He is an I.R.S. special agent, a position that is rarely glamorous. The work is often tedious and dull, poring over bank records and tax returns, and writing reports.

    Mr. Novitzky, an accomplished high school athlete who majored in accounting in college, is quiet, respectful and direct in his work for the Internal Revenue Service, and he enjoys getting out of the office to track his cases. He is not above going through people’s trash. Or listening in on their phone calls.

    He has been known to take their trash home some nights, to keep working.

    Now, Mr. Novitzky is front and center in the biggest investigation to hit baseball since Chicago’s Black Sox scandal in 1919. He dug up the evidence that a grand jury used last week to indict Barry Bonds, who became baseball’s career home run leader this year with the San Francisco Giants. Mr. Bonds faces five felony charges for perjury and obstruction of justice that could send him to prison for years.

    It was clear almost immediately after the indictment was announced that Mr. Bonds would not be the only person on trial in San Francisco next year. Mr. Bonds’s lawyers are trying to base their defense on Mr. Novitzky and his methods. The very qualities that make Mr. Novitzky a respected investigator — his passion, aggressiveness and perseverance — are expected to be used against him in trying to have the case dismissed.

    Over the past five years, the meticulous but little-known Mr. Novitzky has been dogging some of the world’s finest athletes and their coaches and the people who may have supplied them with performance-enhancing drugs.

    Among government officials and antidoping authorities, Mr. Novitzky is heralded as a pioneer. They credit him with helping to change how the illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs is prosecuted. They describe him as a tenacious and methodical investigator whose work has always held up in court.

    Mr. Novitzky’s work has cost the sprinter Marion Jones five Olympic medals and has helped obtain federal convictions of her and six others. He has persuaded many of the people who inhabit that world to save themselves by helping him — without ever raising his voice.

    He urged the former Mets clubhouse worker Kirk Radomski, said to be the biggest supplier of steroids to Major League Baseball players until 2005, to become a government informant and wear a listening device as he went about his work for 16 months. Mr. Novitzky secured his cooperation after leading a surprise raid at Mr. Radomski’s home on Long Island.

    George J. Mitchell, the former senator, is relying on information based on Mr. Novitzky’s legwork to provide details and evidence for his coming report on steroids in baseball.

    No Shortage of Critics

    Mr. Novitzky’s detractors, mainly the defendants and their lawyers, say he is biased and unfair. They say he has a vendetta against Mr. Bonds, is seeking fame and financial gain from the case, and puts words into suspects’ mouths. They say he has lied in sworn reports, including on the initial search warrant affidavit that kick-started the investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and its many famous clients.

    Since May, Mr. Bonds’s lawyer, Michael Rains, has accused Mr. Novitzky of lying in the court documents used to obtain much of the evidence gathered against Mr. Bonds, according to letters obtained by The New York Times. Mr. Novitzky’s credibility, motives and methods have been the subject of correspondence between Mr. Rains and the United States attorney’s office in San Francisco.

    “Cheating to win — the athletes did it; the government did it, too,” Victor Conte Jr., Balco’s founder and president, said in an interview. Mr. Conte spent four months in jail based on evidence Mr. Novitzky gathered.

    Mr. Novitzky declined to be interviewed for this article or to respond specifically to assertions of his misconduct by Mr. Rains. He asked that his photograph not be published, explaining in an e-mail message, “The possibility of greatly diminishing my ability to investigate this case and others arises any time my picture and name are publicized.”

    Growing up in Burlingame, Calif., Mr. Novitzky, the 6-foot-6 son of a high school basketball coach, starred in basketball and track at Mills High School, once setting a state record by clearing 7 feet in the high jump. But his collegiate career — at three universities over five years — was washed out by knee and back injuries.

    “He was very clean-cut, yes-sir, no-sir, always there on time, hustle, and do everything you asked him to do,” Stan Morrison, the former San Jose State University basketball coach, said in an interview. “He was absolutely an Eagle Scout.”

    Mr. Novitzky joined the I.R.S. in 1993. For nine years, he worked low-profile cases in the Bay Area as he and his wife, Stacy, a nurse, started their family. They have three daughters, ages 10, 8 and 2. Mr. Novitzky drives a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, coaches girls’ sports and plays fantasy football in a league with his high school buddies.

    He lives around the corner from his parents, and his father said he would rather remain an agent to stay near home than be promoted and be subject to transfers. The I.R.S. refuses to say how much Mr. Novitzky makes, but the top salary for a special agent in San Jose is $145,400 a year.

    The Balco case started in August 2002. At the time, using steroids without a prescription was a crime largely ignored by the authorities. The F.B.I. mostly stopped doing drug cases after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the Drug Enforcement Administration focused primarily on the biggest ones, involving heroin or cocaine. Rusty Payne, a D.E.A. spokesman, said the Bay Area steroids case was “from a D.E.A. standpoint, small potatoes.”

    Mr. Novitzky lives less than a mile from Mr. Conte’s Balco office and the World Gym where Mr. Bonds pumped himself up during his home run spree in 2001, when he hit a record 73.

    Assigned to the case after a tip, Mr. Novitzky started going through the Balco trash in September 2002. The reasons for the investigation are unclear. Collecting drug samples and financial records weekly, Mr. Novitzky identified more than a dozen famous clients.

    “Most federal investigations are built on cooperating witnesses,” said Nanci L. Clarence, a San Francisco defense lawyer for athletes summoned to the grand jury. “More rarely do you see Dumpster diving.”

    Mr. Novitzky also joined Mr. Bonds’s gym. Back in his office in San Jose, he teamed with Jeff Nedrow, an assistant United States attorney, and enlisted Don H. Catlin, then director of the U.C.L.A. Olympic Analytical Laboratory, as his drug tutor.

    Dr. Catlin recalled that Mr. Novitzky could not even pronounce eritropotin, a common steroid, when they first spoke. Years later, some people thought Mr. Novitzky had medical training, so commanding was his knowledge of performance-enhancing drugs.

    Some Tactical Errors

    But lawyers defending athletes are suspicious of Mr. Novitzky’s motives and describe him as out of control. They point to the many charges that have been dropped, the light sentences for those who have been convicted and the sluggish pace of the investigation. Of the seven people convicted in the Balco case, a lawyer who leaked grand jury testimony received the toughest sentence, two and a half years.

    Mr. Novitzky made some tactical mistakes. He took Balco trash home to examine, then put the resealed bags in a trash container behind a building near his old high school that had no connection to the case. The owner of that building complained to Balco.

    It was then, Mr. Conte said, that he knew someone was going through his trash. He also said he learned his mail was being opened and copied, and he said he once spotted somebody following him. Joyce Valente, a Balco employee, filed a police report about the “stolen” trash in August 2002, and the local weekly paper published an item about it. Three weeks later, forced to act quickly, Mr. Novitzky led 20 agents on the raid of Balco.

    “They came in before they were ready to,” Mr. Conte said. “They’d blown their cover.”

    Mr. Novitzky does not tape his interviews but writes detailed reports. Mr. Conte; Greg Anderson, Mr. Bonds’s personal trainer; James Valente, Balco’s former vice president; and the former pitcher Jason Grimsley are among those who have complained that Mr. Novitzky misstated some of what they said or attributed to them information he had collected elsewhere. Mr. Conte has filed sworn statements saying he had not even met 3 of the 27 athletes to whom Mr. Novitzky said he had admitted giving steroids.

    Mr. Conte said Mr. Novitzky’s mistakes led the government to drop 40 of 42 charges against him. The prosecutors said that his was a fair outcome and that Mr. Novitzky had not erred.

    In letters to Scott N. Schools, the interim United States attorney in San Francisco, Mr. Rains argued that the government should walk away from its investigation because of Mr. Novitzky’s “vendetta” against Mr. Bonds.

    But Dwight Sparlin, a retired I.R.S. manager who led the San Francisco office when the Balco case started, said the original focus was on Mr. Conte.

    “He wasn’t even looking at Barry Bonds,” Mr. Sparlin said in an interview. “What appears to be a small money-laundering case, you never know where it will go.”

    Mr. Rains accused Mr. Novitzky of perjury in two sworn statements at the heart of the Balco case. Mr. Rains wrote that all evidence obtained from Balco and Mr. Anderson’s home against all defendants should be thrown out because Mr. Novitzky put a false statement in the original search warrant affidavit about the reliability of an informant.

    Mr. Rains also said two members of the San Mateo narcotics task force, who worked with Mr. Novitzky early in the case, met with Mr. Nedrow, the assistant United States attorney, to express their concerns about what they said were the false statements by Mr. Novitzky. Mr. Rains wrote that Mr. Nedrow replied that he would deal with the problems later but never did. One member of the task force did not respond to specific questions by e-mail, and the other could not be identified.

    In early 2003, Mr. Novitzky had a state narcotics agent go undercover in a gym to try to befriend Mr. Anderson. The agent, Iran White, later told Playboy magazine that Mr. Novitzky was obsessed with Mr. Bonds and talked about writing a book. One of the task force agents corroborated Mr. White’s account, according to Mr. Rains’s letters to Mr. Schools.

    Mr. Novitzky signed a sworn statement in 2004 denying he had ever discussed a book deal. A response to Mr. Rains from Mr. Schools did not address the specific contentions about Mr. Novitzky, but said the government would continue the case against Mr. Bonds because it had “significant evidence that contradicts your client’s grand jury testimony.”

    Mr. Conte said the government gave favorable sentences to the Balco defendants in plea negotiations after postponing a court hearing that was going to focus on Mr. Novitzky’s conduct.

    “We were going to nail him, big time,” Mr. Conte said, a threat now being repeated by Mr. Rains.

    Kevin V. Ryan, the United States attorney in San Francisco until earlier this year, said none of the complaints had merit.

    “He has taken a lot of unfair shots,” Mr. Ryan said of Mr. Novitzky in a telephone interview. “Most of the criticism, if not all, has been false or hyperbole or an effort to distract people’s attention from what is going on. There has not been a motion to suppress that has held up. Those that have been granted were reversed. Everything he has done has held up.”

    Some antidoping advocates gush when they speak of Mr. Novitzky’s effect on sports.

    “Agent Novitzky has been one of the pioneers in trying to rid an issue that is cancerlike in the world of sports,” Peter V. Ueberroth, the chairman of the United States Olympic Committee and former baseball commissioner, said in a phone interview.

    Mr. Ryan put his work in even grander terms: “He has changed the face of sports.”

    Trail of Confessions

    Last month, Mr. Novitzky induced Ms. Jones, once the world’s most famous female athlete, to admit to steroid use after seven years of public denial. To extract her confession, he used the leverage of a more serious charge from an unrelated check-fraud scheme. No positive test result was needed. Ms. Jones pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents.

    The world-class sprinters Tim Montgomery and Justin Gatlin were swayed by Mr. Novitzky to be informants. Their former coach, Trevor Graham, is also facing trial for lying to Mr. Novitzky, a charge Mr. Graham denies. Lawyers for Mr. Graham say Mr. Novitzky has been unfair, but lawyers for Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Gatlin praised him.

    “Even in the range of federal law enforcement, his ability is high.” said Timothy J. Heaphy, a former federal prosecutor who is Montgomery’s lawyer. Mr. Heaphy described him as “respectful, polite and prepared.”

    Mr. Novitzky confronted Mr. Gatlin with the evidence he had against him, and persuaded him to make more than a dozen undercover telephone calls, starting the day they met. Later, Mr. Novitzky testified for Mr. Gatlin at a track federation hearing.

    Mr. Novitzky has “a very physical, imposing presence,” Ms. Clarence, the lawyer for athletes, said, adding that he is “good at putting the thumb on people, pressuring them to cooperate.”

    His work has spawned inquiries beyond Balco. The D.E.A. is making major cases in part because Congress, influenced by the Balco case, enhanced the penalties for steroid distribution. More steroid cases are being prosecuted under state laws, too. The Albany County district attorney’s office in New York is pursuing Internet pharmacies in four states. That case has also made news for implicating professional athletes as customers.

    Next month, Mr. Bonds will make his first appearance in federal court. Mr. Radomski is expected to be sentenced. The Mitchell report is due soon. Ms. Jones is to be sentenced Jan. 11.

    After she pleaded guilty last month in White Plains, she admitted to cheating and lying about steroid use, sobbing on the courthouse steps.

    Standing alone, away from the crowd, was the tall, bald I.R.S. agent waiting for a car to take him to the airport.

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