The whisper campaign started almost as soon as news broke that federal agents had raided the home of former Orioles pitcher Jason Grimsley and a document existed that included the names of current and former major league players who may have been involved with steroids, human growth hormone and amphetamines.
That was four months ago, and only in the past few days have those whispers taken the shape of real people with real reputations who have - fairly or not - been damaged by the published reports that they were identified as steroid users in the infamous Grimsley affidavit.
Now, with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons scrambling to protect their good names, the prosecutor overseeing the Justice Department's steroid investigation and Grimsley's attorney are disputing results of the Los Angeles Times investigation that first appeared on the paper's Web site Saturday night.
Soon after the story broke, U.S. Attorney Kevin V. Ryan released a statement claiming it contained "significant inaccuracies." Attorney Ed Novak told the Arizona Republic that Grimsley never implicated - or was even asked about - Roberts or Gibbons. The Times isn't backing down. Who knows how the whole thing will eventually play out, but it isn't hard to figure out who's to blame for this mess.
The feds could clear this up right now by releasing the unredacted version of the original request for the Grimsley search warrant, because the names never should have been kept secret in the first place.
There were only two legitimate reasons to black out those names. Either the Justice Department didn't want to tip off those players that they were the subject of a continuing investigation or the government decided after two years of anti-steroid bluster that it suddenly wanted to save a few players the public embarrassment of being linked to the Grimsley document.
In hindsight, there was little logic to the first possibility, because everyone in baseball was acutely aware that the game was under a steroid microscope, and - you'd think - the players who were close to Grimsley already knew who they were. The second possible explanation doesn't wash because the whole point of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative investigation (which spawned the Grimsley surveillance) is to expose steroid abuse in professional sports. The affidavit expressly stated that one of the objects of the search was information leading to the names of other professional athletes who were obtaining illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
I can think of hundreds of reasons why those names should not have been blacked out. They are all the major league players who will remain under suspicion as long as there is any doubt about the identities of the players in the affidavit.
If it originally had been released unredacted, the players who reportedly were fingered by Grimsley would at least have been in a position to defend themselves. Instead, all they could do was shadow box with the rumors that floated around baseball for the past four months.
The feds had to know that floating a document with the names obscured would set off a nationwide media competition to unmask the latest stars of baseball's long-running steroid soap opera. The only surprise is that it took several months to get to this point. Either they wanted that to happen or they didn't care, but it seems fairly cheeky of Ryan to leave us all with a ridiculously ambiguous denial that does nothing to clarify the situation.
If any of the names in the Times report are incorrect, common decency would require that Ryan immediately clear the name of the player or players who were erroneously identified. Even if one or more of the players identified are named somewhere in the affidavit but not accused of steroid abuse, it would be a simple enough matter for investigators to make that clarification.
Maybe the "inaccuracies" to which Ryan refers are related to accounts in the Times from sources close to Grimsley about the method of interrogation that produced the names. The affidavit portrays Grimsley as voluntarily offering up current and former major league players who used steroids, hGH and amphetamines, while the Times quotes an unnamed friend claiming Grimsley told him the names were presented to him by investigators.
Grimsley also reportedly told friends that federal investigators attributed statements to him that he didn't make.
In Ryan's statement, he says he is disputing the accuracy of the story "in the interests of justice," when it would have been more fair to everyone if he had just shined some real light on the situation.
"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) on Saturdays at noon.