Former U.S. attorney certain facts in BALCO case will come out

Updated: May 29, 2007, 6:10 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Kevin Ryan walks into the 12th-floor conference room, offers a handshake that could crush pecan shells and takes a seat on the other side of the meeting table. The former lead federal prosecutor for the BALCO case slides his new business card across the polished birch wood tabletop and asks what exactly I have in mind for the interview. His law firm's marketing director, who is there as some sort of observer, immediately leans forward.

U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan
AP Photo/Ben MargotKevin Ryan was the U.S. Attorney in charge of the BALCO investigation. He's now in private practice.

What do I have in mind? In a perfect interview world, how about everything and anything related to Ryan's five-year reign over the BALCO case? How about what he really thinks of Barry Bonds, or Bonds' very silent and very jailed personal trainer, Greg Anderson? How about Ryan's forced resignation/firing from the U.S. Attorneys office?

I can go on: the Mitchell investigation … the continuing federal criminal investigation into the use and distribution of illegal steroids and performance enhancers in sports … MLB commissioner Bud Selig … New York Yankee Jason Giambi … BALCO founder Victor Conte. This is the wish list of topics.

But Ryan, the newly named litigation partner at Allen Matkins, can only say so much. But what he does say during the nearly hour-long session -- and sometimes, what he doesn't -- is important for baseball fans to know.

"I think the public has a general sense that there's a disturbance in The Force, if you will," says Ryan. "I think [the facts] will [come] out. It's not going to be a pretty process. I don't think it's been pretty to this point. But I do think that at the end of the day we will all know the story."

A little more than a month ago Ryan was a government employee. But a combination of politics and criticism of Ryan's management style prompted his move to the private sector. He now is developing a sports practice group at the law firm.

Is it irony, or simply symmetry, that Ryan's new business address is only about two miles from AT&T Park, where the supersized Bonds works? Ryan won't discuss Bonds specifically, but he doesn't have to.

I think [the facts] will [come] out. It's not going to be a pretty process. I don't think it's been pretty to this point. But I do think that at the end of the day we will all know the story.

Ryan on BALCO investigation

Ryan, who grew up in this city watching Bonds' godfather, the great Willie Mays, and even Bonds himself, quit attending Giants games several years ago and didn't renew his share of a season-ticket package. In fact, he won't even watch the Giants on TV.

And before our interview formally begins, Ryan pulls out an ESPN The Magazine and an Outside magazine and asks if I've read their respective stories on steroid use in sports. Then he thumbs through the ESPN The Magazine until he finds an editorial cartoon he stashed between the pages. The March 2006 cartoon, drawn by George Russell of the San Francisco Chronicle, shows a young baseball fan asking a grotesquely bulked-up Bonds, "Autograph my syringe?"

Bonds' lawyer, Mike Rains, has called Ryan's tenure as U.S. attorney "a disaster." Then again, Rains is the same guy who accused Ryan's office of leaking grand jury testimony to the Chronicle (turns out another defense attorney leaked it) and whose famous client has allegedly tested positive for amphetamines and a mistress. And who can ever forget Bonds' flaxseed oil and arthritic balm defense? So Rains might want to attend to his own disaster first.

"There are some people who don't care about this issue," says Ryan. "There are some people who would rather it go away. It's a dynamic that I've never seen before … It's something we need to discuss, that's my personal view, as a society and whether or not we're going to have a level playing field or not. The decision has to be made. I don't think you can have a dual, parallel universe, where some athletes are cheating and engaging in performance-enhancing activity and some that are not, because it's not fair."

You'll hear that a lot from Ryan. To him, this is an issue of fair and unfair, of right and wrong.

"I think you just start with the basics: Cheating never pays off," he says. "Or if you do cheat, you end up with a hollow victory."

Anybody who thinks the Feds are going to call it a day now that Ryan is gone hasn't been paying attention. The BALCO case was and is about identifying the creators and distributors of those often undetectable steroids and performance enhancers sold later to the cheaters. The mandate hasn't changed.

But Ryan watches with interest as the MLB-sponsored Mitchell investigation plods along. Ryan is polite about it, but it's obvious he doesn't like Mitchell's chances of uncovering much truth. The problem: Unlike the Feds, Mitchell can't subpoena witnesses or threaten them with contempt of court if they don't cooperate.

"So [Mitchell] has a very, very difficult task," says Ryan. "And it's going to take the full cooperation of the owners, the commissioner's office and the players for him to really fulfill his mandate."

Fat chance that happens. Most lawyers, he says, will advise their clients not to talk to Mitchell's investigators. And if that happens -- and it is -- Ryan predicts more congressional intervention.

"I'm only speculating now," says Ryan, "but it wouldn't surprise me that if either the Senate or the House [of Representatives] decided, for whatever reason, baseball was unable, or any other sport was unable to clean its house effectively, I don't think they'd be the slightest bit reluctant to get back in and take a look at these things and start kicking the tires themselves.

"My sense is that if [MLB doesn't] get their house in order, someone is going to do it for them."

That noise you just heard was Bud Selig weeping. Selig wants another congressional hearing like he wants Bonds to break Hank Aaron's career home run record.

"I honestly believe that commissioner Selig thinks that this is an issue that's not good for baseball and wants to move on and wants to rid the sport of performance-enhancing drugs," says Ryan. "But I think there are a lot of people at the table who have a variety of interests that make moving forward sometimes more difficult than it needs to be."

Ryan also says, "To me you got a problem, let's deal with it. If you've got a cancer you cut it out, you treat it, and hopefully your survival rate increases and you go forward and you recognize what you need to do to get healthy again. As stakeholders everyone has to get together and let's rid this sport and these sports of the cancer, treat it and move on."

My immediate reaction was, 'Good for him.' He acknowledged that he did something that he was sorry for. He believes there is a greater issue that needs to be discussed. He took responsibility for his actions and he's trying to move on. And I think in some ways he serves as an example for what needs to be done ... he's being honest not only with himself, but with the public and with the folks who choose to watch him play. I think that's a good thing. I don't see how anyone can say that that's a bad thing.

Ryan on Jason Giambi

Yankees DH Jason Giambi tried to move forward. Two years ago he all but admitted publicly that he used steroids and human growth hormone and, in a recent interview with USA Today, said it was time for "players, ownership, everybody" to acknowledge that mistakes were made and to apologize for those mistakes.

Giambi was promptly labeled a hypocrite in some circles and later summoned to MLB's offices. The reaction puzzles Ryan.

"My immediate reaction was, 'Good for him,'" says Ryan. "He acknowledged that he did something that he was sorry for. He believes there is a greater issue that needs to be discussed. He took responsibility for his actions and he's trying to move on. And I think in some ways he serves as an example for what needs to be done. He's owning the problem, as I like to say. And he's being honest not only with himself, but with the public and with the folks who choose to watch him play. I think that's a good thing. I don't see how anyone can say that that's a bad thing."

I mention the reluctance of other players to come forward as Giambi has done. I then float the idea of offering a general amnesty for MLB players who admit to doing the steroid/performance enhancer deed. Ryan is intrigued.

"Here's the thing," he says, "you have to motivate people … One radical way to deal with that is to say, 'OK, we are going to give a general amnesty to everyone. And those of you who participate, who come in, tell us what happened, nothing is going to happen [to you] … And going forward we have a baseline from which to decide what went on, how it happened, and hopefully we can prevent another scandal in the future.' It's thinking outside the box. But I think given the dynamic here, you need to think a little bit outside the box or you'll never really, really, really, really get to the bottom of it."

Right now, we're not anywhere close to the bottom of the steroids box. But the BALCO case did help create a national debate. It had something to do with those congressional hearings, the ones where Sammy Sosa forgot how to speak English, Mark McGwire forgot the past and Rafael Palmeiro forgot that you should never wag your finger in denial.

BALCO and those hearings were also partly responsible for the Anabolic Steroids Act of 2004, for the modification of sentencing guidelines related to illegal steroids and performance enhancers, and for the overhaul of MLB's drug testing and penalties.

"We don't want to repeat the same mistakes we made in the past," says Ryan. "And we don't want to keep in place the same type of structure, in my opinion, that led to the mischief that we have seen. But before you can move on, you have to close things out, in my opinion. And we haven't closed things out yet."

So we wait for -- how did Ryan put it? -- a day when there is no more disturbance of The Force. But this time Ryan will be watching with interest from the 12th floor of a San Francisco office building.

"I think what we did has resulted in very positive things," he says. "The participants from our side should be applauded for holding tough in some very strong seas. I'm very proud of this one. Probably one of the cases I'm most proud of being involved in."

No matter what Bonds and his lawyer say.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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