As the reactions from Saturday’s SI.com reportage of Alex Rodriguez’ allegedly failed drug test from 2003 range from Jayson Stark accusing The Third Baseman of “destroying history” to Bill Madden calling a player with 3 MVP awards “a total bust” (well, his Hall Of Fame chances, anyway), SI’s Jon Heyman sets his sights on the Players Union’s Gene Orza (above), insisting, “this was one taint that A-Rod didn’t have to endure, and shouldn’t have had to endure.”
That steroid survey list from 2003 was supposed to be anonymous, nameless and faceless. And the list of 104 player failures was supposed to be destroyed immediately after it was tallied up. That was the plan. The only need for the litany of names was to determine whether enough failures would mean that testing would begin in earnest, with penalties, in 2004.
But here it is, six years later, and the list still exists. It exists on paper. And it exists in the minds of the tens of baseball people, and lawyers and lab people who have seen it.
That list would have been long gone if not for the union; according to three baseball sources familiar with the testing process, players union COO Gene Orza worked long and hard to try to pare down the list. Orza’s mission, SI’s sources say, was to find enough false positives on the list to drive the number of failures so far down that real testing wouldn’t be needed in 2004 or ever.
Orza wanted to get the list down below the five percent threshold for testing to go away entirely. But after months of trying, Orza couldn’t do it, and baseball announced that a curiously imprecise 5-7 percent of players failed the 2003 survey test, enough to ramp up the testing in 2004, much to the union’s dismay.
And when BALCO investigators asked for the results of the players linked to that scandal, Orza did what came naturally to him, which was to fight. He had a history of winning his fights, so that gave him confidence that he could win this fight.
But this time he didn’t win. The feds subpoenaed all the records instead of just the BALCO boys.
“He wouldn’t give up the BALCO names,” one source said of Orza, “so instead, [the federal government] got every name.”
Orza, who didn’t return a call on Saturday, is also known as a hardliner, a stonewaller and a zealot. And when it came to player salaries it always worked. Major league players are rich beyond anyone’s dreams. Fehr and Orza did great by the players when it came to the bottom line.
But when it came time to confront the burgeoning issue of steroids, Orza’s overzealousness blinded him to the reality that this was a serious issue. Orza’s overzealousness has cost A-Rod a lot here. And 103 more players have to be worrying today that they may be next.