Commentary

Mitchell report sheds light on what Giants knew about Bonds

Updated: December 13, 2007, 10:13 PM ET
By Mark Fainaru-Wada | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Giants were told in August 2002, a full year before the BALCO steroids scandal broke, that Barry Bonds' personal trainer was believed to be distributing performance-enhancing drugs to players in the clubhouse, but the team did nothing about it, according to the Mitchell report.

Conte and Bonds

Conte, with Bonds

While the long-awaited report reveals no new information about Bonds' connections to steroids, it does shed new light on how much the Giants knew, when they knew it and their aversion to confronting an issue that ultimately exploded in 2003 with government raids on the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and the home of Bonds' weight trainer, Greg Anderson.

Bonds was indicted Nov. 15 on perjury and obstruction of justice charges connected to his testimony before the BALCO grand jury. He pleaded not guilty.

The Giants were playing in Atlanta during the summer of 2002 when then-team trainer Stan Conte was approached by a player who said he was considering taking steroids, according to Conte's statement to Mitchell's investigators. The player, Conte said, planned to obtain the drugs from Anderson, a member of Bonds' entourage who had become a staple in the team's clubhouse.

After advising the player not to take the drugs, Conte said he promptly told general manager Brian Sabean about the encounter, according to the report.

Conte, no relation to BALCO chief Victor Conte, "told Sabean he was concerned that Anderson might be distributing steroids to Giants players." Sabean responded by suggesting Stan Conte confront Anderson and Bonds, but the trainer refused, saying that wasn't his responsibility.

"When I was interviewed by the Mitchell investigation, I answered all the questions honestly and to the best of my recollection," Conte told ESPN in a telephone interview. "I think all the facts that were presented in the area that involved me were true."

Sabean told investigators he recalled the conversation with Conte similarly, but the general manager said he did not tell anyone else with the team or Major League Baseball because he didn't want to expose Conte as the source of the information.

At Sabean's request, Conte did contact an agent he knew at the Drug Enforcement Administration to "check out" Anderson. The DEA agent came back with no information, and the report says Sabean "believed that if Anderson was in fact selling drugs illegally the government would have known about it."

The timing of Conte's contact with the DEA also suggests the team could have inadvertently had a hand in helping set off the BALCO probe. In August 2002, according to court records, Jeff Novitzky of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations unit began investigating the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to elite athletes by BALCO.

Novitzky wrote in an affidavit that the probe was launched based on "the development of information." He cited two identical tips stating that Anderson was providing drugs to major leaguers. One of those tips came from a local DEA agent.

Thirteen months after Conte had his discussion with Sabean, Novitzky led the raids on BALCO and Anderson's home. Ultimately, nine major leaguers, several of whom played for the Giants at some point, were implicated in the BALCO case.

The Giants did not return repeated calls for comment Thursday, but owner Peter Magowan issued a statement saying the team supported the Mitchell probe from its inception. Magowan did not address specific allegations in the report.

"Our organization has diligently and fully cooperated with Senator Mitchell throughout his inquiry," Magowan said. "We believe that Senator Mitchell's thoughtful and comprehensive report will serve as a meaningful tool in the fight against the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The Report clearly demonstrates the pervasiveness of the problem. The Giants accept our fair share of responsibility."

Magowan, too, has a part in Mitchell's report. The owner told Mitchell that after BALCO became public, he asked Sabean whether the team "had a problem," meaning, was there concern Anderson was dispensing steroids to members of the team. Magowan, according to the report, said Sabean indicated he was not aware of any problem.

Sabean denied to Mitchell that any such conversation occurred.

In February 2004, two months after Bonds testified before the BALCO grand jury, Magowan spoke on the phone with Bonds, according to the owner's interview with Mitchell. Magowan said he was direct with his star player, saying, "I've really got to know, did you take steroids?"

"According to Magowan, Bonds responded that when he took the substances he did not know they were steroids but he later learned they were," the report reads. "Bonds said he took these substances for a period of time to help with his arthritis, as well as sleeping problems he attributed to concern about his father's failing heath."

Magowan also told Mitchell's investigators he asked Bonds if he were being truthful, and the seven-time All-Star said he was.

Two days later, through a lawyer, Magowan amended his statement to say he had misspoken: Bonds had not indicated he later became aware of what he was taking.

Mark Fainaru-Wada, co-author of "Game of Shadows," is a reporter for ESPN. He can be reached at markfwespn@gmail.com.