King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Report: Bonds failed amphetamine test, blamed teammate. Now's your chance, Giants: Cut him loose! Plus: BCS ratings.

By Salon Staff
Published January 11, 2007 5:00PM (EST)

The New York Daily News reported Thursday that Barry Bonds tested positive for amphetamines last season, then initially blamed the positive test on a teammate.

Just when you thought Barry Bonds couldn't get any more repulsive.

Though speed has been the drug of choice in major league baseball for decades, testing for it was introduced only last season. Unlike the more severe penalties for failing a steroid test, where a first positive test brings a 50-game suspension, players who test positive for amphetamines for the first time aren't suspended or publicly identified.

Unless their names leak out, which, given the events in baseball over the past three years, appears inevitable. And if you're wondering why steroids are punished more severely than amphetamines, it's because Congress hasn't done any grandstanding about amphetamines in baseball, though there's no more evidence and probably less that steroids enhance performance more than speed does.

Here's what happened, according to the Daily News, which cited "several sources":

Bonds tested positive for amphetamines last season, and when told of the result by the union said he'd taken something from the locker of teammate Mark Sweeney. Bonds was referred to treatment and counseling and became subject to monthly drug tests for six months.

Sweeney first heard about the situation when union official Gene Orza told him that he shouldn't be sharing any substances with other players, and that if he had anything troublesome in his locker he should remove it. Sweeney responded that there was nothing to remove. His agent, Barry Axelrod, told the Daily News that Sweeney had given nothing to Bonds, nor did he have anything illegal to give Bonds. No one else involved was talking for attribution.

The Daily News' sources said Sweeney later confronted Bonds, who told Sweeney that Orza had misunderstood him and Bonds hadn't implicated Sweeney.

And here's my favorite part of the whole thing. Orza's only comment to the Daily News was about Bonds' alleged implication of Sweeney. "I can say unequivocally in my 22 years I've known Barry Bonds he has never blamed anyone for anything," Orza said.

What's in Gene Orza's coffee? Barry Bonds has never failed to publicly blame others, usually the media, for any problem he has ever had. Not once. It's entirely possible that Bonds didn't implicate Sweeney. But it would also be entirely in keeping with the rest of his career if he did.

For Bonds' team, the San Francisco Giants, this is a preview of what the 2007 season will be like. Controversy, ugliness, accusations, recriminations and everything, everything, about Barry Bonds, all the time.

Bonds, whose defense against steroid allegations has long been that he has never failed a drug test, agreed last month to a one-year, $16 million contract to play his 15th season with San Francisco. The slugger needs 21 home runs to tie and 22 to pass Hank Aaron for the all-time home run record.

The last time Bonds, 42, failed to hit 22 home runs in a season in which he played more than 14 games was in 1989. He hit 26 last year.

But here's the thing: The contract hasn't been signed. In fact, none of the free agents the Giants have announced agreements with have signed their contracts. That's because the team wants to change the wording in the standard contract about guaranteed money to protect itself in case Bonds is indicted on perjury charges stemming from his 2003 testimony that he never knowingly took steroids.

The club changed the wording in all its contracts, and all of the free agents have balked.

This could be fantastic news for the Giants. It's an escape hatch.

The Giants, a team badly in need of rebuilding but fearful of embarking on life after their pumped-up cash cow, came to terms with Bonds and with a bevy of grizzled veterans whose best days mostly predate the macarena. And they gave a huge contract to Barry Zito.

The idea is to mortgage the future to stay just good enough to keep the fans coming during Bonds' home run chase. The fact that the Giants play in a division in which it hasn't been necessary to win 89 games to finish first since 2004 makes it that much more plausible that the collection of Aurilias and Molinas and Kleskos and Ortizes they've gathered this winter will get to play in October.

If you don't think about it too much, that is. This team is destined for 90 losses.

Here's the Giants' chance to blow the whole thing up, to throw their hands up and say to Bonds, "That's it. We're through with you." Cut him loose, and tell the Sunshine Boys, "Thanks, but no thanks. We've changed our plans. We're going with kids."

There's sure to be lawsuits. The free agents all have signed letters of agreement from the Giants even if they don't have signed contracts. Settle 'em. Buy 'em out. Most of them will hook on somewhere else, the Giants will cut their losses and come out ahead, and the future will suddenly look a lot brighter.

And what about Barry Bonds? Call for you on Line 1, Barry. It's the Newark Bears.

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BCS title game a winner [PERMALINK]

Monday's BCS Championship Game pulled the second highest prime-time rating of the television season, Nielsen Media Research reports, trailing only the Nov. 15 finale of "Dancing With the Stars."

The game, a 41-14 blowout of Ohio State by Florida, drew a 17.4 rating and a 27 share, with an average audience throughout the game of 28.7 million people, Nielsen says. That's impressive when you consider that the outcome wasn't in doubt after halftime. The game beat the 2002 through 2005 title games, but fell short of last year's Texas-USC championship battle in the Rose Bowl, which had a 21.7 rating and a 35 share.

The most-watched show of the year so far wasn't in prime time. It was last Sunday afternoon's NFL playoff game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.

So there's a strike against my argument that Jan. 8 is way too late to be playing college football.

I still think I have a point that the BCS has diluted the major "New Year's Day" bowls, which are now sprinkled throughout New Year's week. This was the first time that the Championship Game was an added game, not one of the four major bowls.

Even with the impressive Championship Game ratings, the average rating of Fox's four bowl games -- the title game, plus the Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls -- was only 10.7. Last year's average for the four BCS bowls on ABC -- the Orange, Sugar and Fiesta, plus the Rose Bowl, which was the Championship Game -- was 14.0.

Last year only the Sugar Bowl had a single-digit rating. This year the Sugar, Orange and Fiesta were all in single digits, and the Orange and Fiesta bowls were among the lowest-rated BCS bowls ever.

Part of the problem was the matchups. Who knew Boise State would give Oklahoma hell, never mind beat the Sooners, in the Fiesta Bowl, and, with apologies to Billy Packer and Bob Edwards, who was looking forward to that Wake Forest-Louisville tilt at the Orange Bowl?

But matchups can only do so much. Last year's Sugar Bowl had Georgia vs. West Virginia, not exactly a national marquee game, and pulled a 9.0 rating. This year it was ratings champ Notre Dame vs. LSU. The result? A 9.8. A nice 9 percent improvement, but not earth-shattering.

Even with Notre Dame, the Sugar Bowl rating was down 21.6 percent from the game in the comparable time slot last year, Penn State vs. Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

I'm throwing a lot of numbers at you so your eyes will glaze over and you'll go, "Uh-huh, you're right." But the point is, the games that aren't for the national championship are exhibition games, and viewers are acting accordingly.

But here's a headline for you. The Los Angeles Times reports that Fox Sports chairman David Hill and president Ed Goren plan to meet with BCS officials to discuss ways to improve the package.

"Asked what suggestions he has," reporter Larry Stewart writes, "Hill said, 'Shortening the halftime.'"

Mark it down, sports fans. This may be the first recorded instance of a television sports executive advocating a change to a game broadcast that would favor your interests over those of non-sports fans.

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Correction [PERMALINK]

The Preseason Panel o' Experts, this column's collection of national typists and chatterers who try to predict which teams will win the NFL's eight divisions and four wild-card playoff spots, ended in a four-way tie, not a five-way tie, as reported in this space Friday.

I miscalculated the point total of Sports Illustrated's Peter King. He finished with 11 points, not 13, because he only picked three division winners, not four. That dropped him from a five-way tie for first to a seven-way tie for 12th place out of 25. The panel was kinda bunched up.

I had mistakenly credited King with pegging the Chicago Bears with winning the NFC Central, probably out of habit, since almost everybody on the panel picked Chicago. But he had gone outside the box and picked the Detroit Lions, which I mention not to embarrass him, but because he beat me not only in this panel but also in the "celebrity" Scoresheet baseball league we both played in last year.

So, yeah, to embarrass him. The four winners, then, are Cyd Ziegler of Outsports, Merril Hoge of ESPN, and the preseason annuals by the Sporting News and Street & Smith. Friday's column reporting the season results has been fixed.

Previous column: Mark McGwire, Hall of Fame arguments

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