The ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is pretty clear: federal prosecutors had no business grabbing the results of Major League Baseball's 2003 drug tests. What's less clear is how to unring the bell that overzealous G-men have been ringing since, oh, about the time President George W. Bush made a point of mentioning steroids in his 2004 State of the Union address.
Let's recall how we got here. In 2003, MLB and the players' union embarked on a testing program that was not designed to catch cheaters. It was designed to see if there was a problem: the deal was that if more than 5% of the tests were positive, a real anti-drug program would kick in the following year.
To the surprise of few, those tests did reveal enough positives to trigger the current testing-and-penalties policy. But they also triggered the curiosity of federal agents desperate to bring down big names like Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield, who'd been called to testify before the federal grand jury investigating the BALCO steroid lab.
So the feds got a subpoena to look through the records of the Long Beach lab where the tests were done. While the feds were supposedly looking for the records of 10 players who'd failed the test, the subpoena called for all the test results.
And this is where things got out of control. While lawyers were trying to work out a way of giving up only the test results the government said it really wanted, federal lawyers went and got a search warrant. That warrant was limited to the "dirty 10" players' records. But when agents swept down on the testing lab, they grabbed all the test results (including a bunch that belonged to plain old folks who never played baseball).
So now prosecutors had what they needed to charge Barry Bonds with perjury. But they also had a great big list of names. And then the leaks began. Names like Alex Rodriguez, David Otiz, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettite. Does anyone wonder about the source of those leaks?
Remember, the government was never supposed to have these test results. Three separate federal judges have ruled the taking of the test records was improper, and they did so emphatically. There have even been suggestions from the bench that the feds were guilty of miserepresentation and manipulation.
The waters have been so muddied that we have some players asking that all the 2003 data be released, just to get it all out in the open. Clearly, some players didn't test positive and now they want their names cleared.
I can understand that. But let's remember what happened here: this was a private arrangement between labor and management. It would be just the same as if your workplace had a drug-testing program (maybe it does), and when one of your co-workers was being investigated by the cops, they barged in and took all the test results. How would you feel then?
Look, I'll be honest. I'd be happy to see performance-enhancing drugs eradicated from pro sports. But it's not worth violating the rule of law to get it done. If we're going to clean up the National Pastime, let's not trample on the flag in the process.