Bonds' attorney downplays significance of court ruling

The attorney for Barry Bonds downplayed the significance of a court ruling Wednesday allowing federal investigators access to confidential Major League Baseball drug-testing data from the 2003 season, suggesting that the San Francisco Giants slugger was not among the 100 or so players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

"My belief is there is nothing about these drug tests that hurts Barry."
-- Michael Rains, Barry Bonds' attorney

"According to this opinion, you got 100-plus [players] who have tested positive," Michael Rains told ESPN.com on Wednesday night. "And I'm here to tell you I don't think Barry is one of them."

Asked to expound on his belief, the Concord, Calif.-based attorney said, "I have had certain sources that were close to the government who have told me the government is probably going to be frustrated with what they see as it relates to Barry.

"My belief is there is nothing about these drug tests that hurts Barry."

It had been widely speculated that the ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco might dramatically strengthen the government's perjury case against Bonds if investigators linked his name to a positive 2003 test. Bonds has been the target of a perjury probe since testifying before a grand jury in 2004 that he didn't knowingly use illegal drugs.

Rains sidestepped whether Bonds himself ever confirmed he didn't test positive in 2003, saying only that he has not discussed the latest court ruling with the star player, who was traveling with his family.

However, Rains further stated that he thought Bonds already would have been indicted by a federal grand jury had evidence of a positive drug test surfaced. Rains said the government has been aware of Bonds' test data since an April 2004 raid by Internal Revenue Service agents of three labs involved in the MLB testing program.

"I'm sure if Barry would have failed the drug test that would have already been a matter of public record," said Rains, referencing the numerous leaks in the case.

At the time of the raids, federal investigators were seeking the 2003 test results of Bonds, then New York Yankees players Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi and seven other players tied to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative investigation. Investigators seized computer files containing the test results of nearly 100 other players not named in the government's subpoena and warrants.

"They've had Barry's [test results] since April or May of '04," Rains said. "From what I can tell, the players' association has never kicked up a fuss over the right of the government to use the test results of Barry or any one of the others in the BALCO case. So, of course, one thought that immediately comes to mind is if the government has not been precluded from using Barry's test results for two years, and if the grand jury was asked last July to issue an indictment against Barry, why didn't they do it? I think the answer is that the government didn't have a test result that helped them.

"So the only issue now becomes what do they do with the other 100 or so players who tested positive? What I see them doing is contacting them and leaning on them, just like they did with the guy in the desert there, [former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher] Jason Grimsley."

The ruling Wednesday by the three-judge panel overturned lower court decisions that had sided with the confidentiality issues argued by the players' association and the drug testing labs. In his dissenting opinion, Judge Sidney R. Thomas wrote, "In discussions of the alleged use of steroids by baseball players, much is made about the 'integrity of the game.' Even more important is the integrity of our legal system. Perhaps baseball has become consumed by a game of shadows, but that is no reason for the government to engage in a 'prosecution of shadows.'"

In its ruling, the court provided that the names of the players who tested positive remain sealed. It is unlikely the seal will be lifted, though the vast majority of athletes linked to the BALCO scandal ultimately were leaked.

The players' association, which sued to keep the government from accessing the records, has not decided whether to appeal the ruling. At the time, the players and owners had agreed to the 2003 as part of an MLB survey to gauge the prevalence of steroid use in the sport.

"I hope they will," Rains said when asked about a possible appeal. "For Barry, at this point, it is probably of no great issue. But for Barry and every other major league player, I think this is an outrage. It means that any contract they ever negotiate with the MLB is useless. It has no teeth. It has no meaning. And the government can willy-nilly do what it wants to undermine agreements made between a great institution and its union. It is crazy if the players union does not appeal it."

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com.