Sports views

Hardly the summer of love for those linked to steroids scandal

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Before this week, this was hardly shaping up as the summer of love for those tainted by the BALCO scandal.

Barry Bonds couldn't walk, Marion Jones couldn't run, and Jason Giambi couldn't hit. If it wasn't all so pathetically sad, you might think the gods of sport were exacting a payoff from those who cheat just so they can win.

Then again, maybe it was all a simple coincidence that the three biggest stars tied to the steroid probe were having such a miserable time.

Whatever, the events of the last week have to cheer up those who believe Giambi doesn't really know what he keeps apologizing for, Bonds had no idea what the cream was, and Jones was simply giving herself a vitamin boost the times she rolled up her spandex and injected herself.

That's because, in just a few days time, all three made baby steps — literally in the case of Bonds — toward resuming careers shaken to a standstill amid the BALCO probe.

Bonds did it simply by making an appearance at SBC Park, where he actually signed some autographs for young fans. Jones did it through her attorney, finally getting an invite to a European meet where she hopes to redeem herself on the track while still waging a fight to clear her name in the courts.

And Giambi did it by managing to get his bat on the ball a few times on the Yankees' recent road trip, just when it seemed he and his $120 million contract were headed to the minors.

Baby steps all, and they may eventually prove to be nothing more than that as the temperatures rise, the baseball season drags on and Jones tries to find her footing across the ocean.

There's no guarantee, after all, that the 40-year-old Bonds will even play again this year, though he vowed when he showed up Friday for the Giants game to work hard after going through what he described as a near-death experience with a bacterial infection.

Don't blame the people who run major league baseball for hoping for a continued slow recovery. Bonds is just 11 home runs short of Babe Ruth's mark of 714 home runs and just think how awkward it would be for him to break it just about the time the BALCO case might be heading to trial.

At least Ruth is long gone. Imagine Henry Aaron having to be gracious if Bonds eventually breaks his record of 755 homers?

Giambi doesn't have to worry about home run records, just the wrath of George Steinbrenner and Yankee fans if he doesn't start producing. He was hitting only .195 before rebounding with a modest 8-for-25 streak after rejecting efforts to send him to the minors.

The common theory about steroid use is that it helps you hit with power but doesn't necessarily help you hit. Giambi seems to be proving that wrong, just as positive steroid tests among pitchers have riddled the theory that only hitters benefit from being juiced.

And then there's Jones, who is so adamant about her innocence that she filed a $25 million defamation suit that claims BALCO founder Victor Conte tarnished her reputation by going on national television to say she used steroids before and after her brilliant Sydney Olympics.

Jones used to get up to $150,000 just for showing up at track meets in Europe, but now is reduced to begging for the right to run. She finally got someone to respond, getting an invitation to compete in the 100 meters Sunday at the FBK Games in the Netherlands.

Other meets have shunned Jones, saying she has been tainted by the BALCO scandal despite having never failed a drug test.

''I think the view is she carries too much baggage, and attracts too much negative publicity,'' Steve Chisholm, a spokesman for a major British track promoter, said earlier this month.

It's hard to imagine this is the same Jones who won five medals in Sydney. Going into those games she was charming, confident and backed financially by major corporate sponsors.

That was before her then-husband, C.J. Hunter, tested positive for steroids. Her current boyfriend and the father of her child, 100-meter record holder Tim Montgomery, faces a hearing next month where he could be banned from track for life because of information gleaned from the BALCO probe.

And Jones, who failed to win a medal in Athens while facing questions about the steroid probe, has hardly looked like a world beater this year, finishing last in the 400 meters last month at the Mount San Antonio College Relays.

For Jones, the next few months are crucial. She has to show skeptics she can still run, and by doing so convince them that she was clean when she was at her best.

Giambi has something to prove before summer is over, too, while Bonds will have every at-bat and every enlarged muscle carefully examined when — and if — he comes back.

Unfortunately, it's probably too late to salvage the reputations of all three.

Bonds is the greatest hitter in the game, while Giambi is a former MVP who could dominate games. And Jones was certainly the greatest track athlete of her time.

But they will be forever linked to BALCO and steroids, their careers marked with a figurative asterisk bigger than any ever given to Roger Maris.

From that, they will never be able to escape.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org.



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