FORT MYERS, Fla. -- So, the greatest home run hitter of this generation and perhaps of all time was asked, is the use of steroids in baseball cheating?
This is the answer Barry Bonds gave.
"I don't know what cheating is," he said, before adding the standard disclaimers of how he doesn't believe steroids help your hand-eye coordination or help you hit a baseball.
Did you expect anything different from a defiant Bonds, who spent the better part of yesterday's hourlong news conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., -- one that began with Giants PR man Jim Moorhead admonishing reporters not to ask any BALCO-related questions because Bonds couldn't answer them -- berating the media for spreading lies, creating fiction, and burdening him with "reruns."
"This is old stuff," said Bonds, who needs a dozen home runs to pass Babe Ruth and 53 to break Hank Aaron's all-time record but will be dogged by his direct link to the steroid controversy. According to grand jury testimony in connection with the indictment of his personal trainer and others that was leaked last year, Bonds said that he had used a clear substance and a cream but did not know they were steroids.
Yesterday, he said with disdain, "It's like watching `Sanford and Son.' It's almost comical, basically."
Yeah, this cloud of suspicion hanging over the entire industry is just one big hoot, isn't it?
"When your closet is clean, come clean somebody else's," he said. "Clean yours first."
Orthopedic surgeon Bill Morgan was part of the Red Sox medical staff for the last 18 years; he was team doctor since 1998 and medical director for the last three seasons until the club opted for a new medical team this spring. Morgan knows what cheating is. He made it a priority to be informed about steroids because, as he said by phone last night, "Anybody taking care of professional teams today had better become an expert on steroids."
There's only one reason, he said, why a baseball player would use steroids.
"Of course they're performance-enhancing drugs," he said. "Why do you think people use them?"
Because he is no longer employed by the Sox, Morgan has fewer constraints about speaking out on the subject. How prevalent does he believe the use of steroids is in the game?
"I would hazard a guess -- and maybe I am naive and don't see it -- but I think it's less than some estimates you've heard or read," he said. "I would say less than 15 percent."
Call him naive, but Morgan added, "I would go on record as saying there was no steroid use, to my knowledge, by the Red Sox in my years with the team."
He checked himself. "I'll be honest with you. I can't say no Red Sox player, because I was there when Jose Canseco was there. Even with him, there was nothing overt in the clubhouse, but did people suspect it? Sure. But there was never a, `By the way, can you stick this needle with steroids into my buttocks?' "
Morgan also was here with Roger Clemens, whom Canseco implicated as a steroid user without actually calling him one.
"Roger, when he was with us, I never saw it," Morgan said. "Roger was just a moose of a guy. As he got older, his body changed, like all of us.
"In retrospect, who knows? I would be extremely surprised. I saw him with his wife and kids, the way he worked, he had an outstanding character. I'd be very surprised."
Morgan is optimistic that the new steroid-testing procedures agreed upon by Major League Baseball will work to curb the use of performance-enhancing substances. Even Bonds, while saying he had no intentions of issuing a Jason Giambi-style apology ("What did I do? What did I do?") endorsed the new agreement.
But perhaps the issue still doesn't have the urgency you'd expect in some precincts. Sox owner John W. Henry said steroid use was not addressed in yesterday's team meeting, and when asked if he were satisfied with the new drug-testing program, he replied, "I've never considered it my bailiwick, the whole steroids issue, I haven't studied it. I really shouldn't comment."
While with the Sox, Morgan developed an especially close relationship with Nomar Garciaparra, performing the delicate wrist surgery on the former Sox shortstop that sidelined him for most of the 2001 season. Morgan is no dummy; he knows that Garciaparra, who posed bare-chested in all of his pumped-up glory on the cover of Sports Illustrated, is one of those players whose reputation has been clouded by the one-size-taints-all brush of suspicion.
"I've got to tell you, I had a very good relationship with Nomar," he said. "There was never any indication that Nomar ever used steroids. That one year when he wanted to add mass because he was such a skinny guy, he just worked very hard with Chris Correnti and B.J. Baker [physical therapist and former assistant trainer]. He later found out that maybe the added mass wasn't the best thing for him, and he took some off. It wasn't that much of an advantage for him. He was better a little lighter."
Morgan said he believes he would have seen the telltale signs of a steroid abuser if Garciaparra had been one.
"He didn't have the excessive acne, he didn't have the excessive weight gain, he wasn't on edge," Morgan said.
Garciaparra once had been outspoken in his resistance to a drug-testing program, believing the innocent were being lumped in with the guilty. Turns out that in the Steroid Era, that's happening anyway.
Bonds yesterday called it mostly "fiction" and "lies," perpetrated by a lynch mob that he wouldn't allow to "ruin his joy."
But there can be no joy in Mudville when the wolves are in full howl.