His team didn't play baseball yesterday, but Barry Bonds nonetheless was ducking to avoid a hardball.
The San Francisco Giants slugger, in town for a weekend series with the Orioles at Camden Yards, was asked about his ties to BALCO, the California lab at the center of an investigation of an alleged sports doping conspiracy.
"I don't know BALCO, dude," Bonds said in the visitors' dugout before last night's game was rained out.
The issue has potentially serious repercussions for Bonds and baseball, which has been criticized for not acting as quickly as its Olympic counterpart to uncover steroid use that could sully the records of some of its top stars.
This week, four of America's elite track athletes were notified of potential BALCO-related drug violations by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which launched proceedings against them.
The accusations against Tim Montgomery, Michelle Collins, Chryste Gaines and Alvin Harrison followed their appearances last fall before a San Francisco grand jury investigating the alleged sale of performance-enhancing drugs to athletes by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.
It was the same grand jury that in December summoned Bonds, who had publicly touted the lab and whose personal trainer has been charged in an indictment alleging the distribution of banned substances.
But while the four track athletes find their participation in the Athens Olympics in jeopardy, Bonds endures only fans' whispers.
And Major League Baseball faces an image-damaging scenario of track pushing forward with a sprinter's speed to resolve steroid cases while baseball seems to move at the deliberate pace of the game itself.
In an interview this week, baseball's point man on drug testing suggested the public may not be aware of steps the game is taking to protect it from drug cheaters and resolve what commissioner Bud Selig calls a "grave issue."
Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor, said those measures include negotiations with the players' union on improving drug testing. The collective bargaining agreement with the union doesn't expire until the end of the 2006 season, but Manfred said the issue's urgent nature compels the parties to try to rewrite the rules now.
Manfred also said baseball was seriously considering "reasonable cause testing," which would allow the sport to test athletes - above and beyond the normal protocol - if there are grounds to believe they have used a prohibited substance.
Bonds' attorney, Michael Rains, has denied that his client was provided illegal steroids by the trainer, Greg Anderson.
Still, suspicions about Bonds and other players have led federal lawmakers, among others, to question whether baseball is moving as aggressively as it should be.
"USADA is doing things in a much more stern way," said Jerrold Colton, a New Jersey-based attorney for American sprinter Kelli White, winner of last year's 100- and 200-meter world titles.
Last month, White admitted taking steroids and received a two-year competition ban from USADA after being faced with a cache of evidence that Colton says included drug-use schedules and incriminating e-mails. She is cooperating with USADA and intends to apply for reinstatement before the two years is up, the attorney said in an interview this week.
Colton, a Rutgers University professor of sports law, said that if baseball appears too passive, it's because the game - just like on the field - isn't governed by a clock.
USADA, by comparison, hopes to resolve Olympic athletes' cases before the Summer Games, which begin Aug. 13. The United States must submit its Olympic team roster by July 21.
USADA's deadline pressure has caused some athletes to worry that the agency could rush their cases to judgment.
The agency insists it's not taking shortcuts.
"Our goal is for all doping violations to be resolved before competitions," Travis T. Tygart, the agency's legal affairs director, said in a prepared statement. "That goal will not change or compromise our thorough review policy."
USADA got a big assist in April when the Senate Commerce Committee subpoenaed documents in the federal investigation of the California lab and its athlete customers. The committee then turned the BALCO records over to USADA.
The committee was focused on the Olympics and did not seek records related to Bonds, the New York Yankees' Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield or other ballplayers who appeared before the grand jury.
"If there were documents there, we would have had an interest in them," said Manfred, the baseball official.
Even without the documents, baseball players who use illegal steroids still could be nabbed in a variety of ways. They include:
Reasonable cause testing. According to its drug policy, baseball can immediately test a player if a basis exists to believe he has used a prohibited drug in the past 12 months.