Report: U.S. government may subpoena as many as 104 MLB players

As many as 104 Major League Baseball players could be subpoenaed by federal investigators in connection with the BALCO steroid distribution case after the United States attorney's office obtained positive steroid test results from 2003, according to a published report.

The results, according to The New York Times, were part of the 2003 tests conducted by Major League Baseball that were intended to be anonymous. But through some deft legal maneuvering, the U.S. government seized the records from two different companies hired to provide the tests.

An anonymous source told the newspaper that the federal government plans to question all 104 players about their positive steroid tests and how they obtained whatever substance was found in their urine sample.

The potential list of suppliers named by the players would be sent to federal prosecutors around the country. The investigations that result from that information could lead to player names being revealed in court documents.

Players who tested positive for steroids may have to testify before grand juries or as witnesses in a jury trial. Their names may also be revealed in documents used to obtain search warrants or in charging documents for a specific case involving an alleged steroids distributor.

The 2003 anonymous tests came about when Major League Baseball and its players union were coming under intense public scrutiny about alleged steroid abuse in the sport. There were no planned punishments for positive tests, but if more than 5 percent of tests came back positive, then a punishment phase would kick in.

While each urine sample had a code next to it and not a name, one company hired by MLB possessed the samples while a second company had the corresponding list of names that matched up with each coded sample, according to the report.

The BALCO connection came to light when federal prosecutors in California wanted to see if 10 players who had testified in the San Francisco-area case had lied to a grand jury.

In their search for those 10 names, the U.S. Attorney's office issued a subpoena for the 2003 tests. The two testing companies -- Comprehensive Drug Testing and Quest Diagnostics -- refused to comply -- and were prepared to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to The Times.

The MLB players' union told prosecutors they intended to file a motion to quash the subpoenas. The government then moved quickly to obtain search warrants and executed them the next day, according to the newspaper.

In their search, federal investigators came upon the full list of 104 players, far more than the 10 they believed may be linked to BALCO. With the list in hand, investigators then went to the other lab and matched the codes and names with the positive test results.

The players union continues to battle the government in hopes of keeping the test results confidential. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled in January that the government acted within the law and could keep the results. The court may still rehear the case at the union's request.

Once the legal process is exhausted and if the government prevails, it may be a matter of weeks before the 104 players are contacted by federal prosecutors, according to the newspaper.