Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011
Posted 10:21 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
MESA, Ariz. Marlon Byrd pulled his Maserati into the parking lot just before 8 a.m. Wednesday, rap music blasting from the speakers. He showed up ready to work, a man with nothing to hide.
The night before, HBOs Real Sports detailed Byrds relationship with Victor Conte, a name synonymous with steroids. Conte once spent four months in a federal prison. He founded Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and ran the steroid ring that ensnared Barry Bonds on perjury charges.
Youre looking at it the wrong way, the Cubs outfielder said Wednesday at Fitch Park. Youre looking at one piece. Youre looking at Victor Conte, BALCO, steroids. Youre not looking at Victor Conte, the guy that invented ZMA.
Nutritional supplements like ZMA are what led Byrd to call Conte in 2008. Byrd remembers receiving an e-mail in return instructing him to try the SNAC (Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning) line of products.
Byrd said that it took about a year to gain Contes trust. Byrd recalled that Conte didnt want to get in trouble and repeatedly asked: Are you sure you want to do this?
Without hesitation, Byrd spoke with reporters for almost 15 minutes on Wednesday and patiently explained what he thinks is a natural alliance. He had already sat down for a 90-minute interview with HBO because he believes in the training methods.
Supplements (dont) make you Superman. Steroids make you Superman, Byrd said. (Conte) was the top guy in the supplement game before he started doing the steroids. There was nobody better to go to no one because everyone else I go to would be telling me something I already know.
A 2003 profile of Conte written by the San Francisco Chronicle reporters who produced the best-selling book Game of Shadows indicated that Conte hadnt graduated from college and didnt have a professional health or science background.
Major League Baseball has discouraged Byrd, 33, from using Contes products. HBO didnt expose the connections between Byrd and Conte. Yahoo! Sports reported that in detail in 2009, about five months before the Cubs gave Byrd a three-year, 15 million contract.
All Major League Baseball knew when it came out, because I got hit for about two weeks with interviews, Byrd said. Im sure the Cubs knew. They wouldnt have signed me if they had any worries. Im a guy that has a reputation in this game. Im a supplement guy. The Phillies knew it when I was drafted (in 1999). I look the same way as I came in.
Byrd said he has only been part of random drug testing, and not singled out for more screening. He said that while teammates have asked about what he takes, he does not goes out of his way to recommend them, and gives warnings about Contes perception.
I get tested, Byrd said. Major League Baseball knows they can test guys any time they want. Its random. I dont have any worries. I dont think Major League Baseball has any worries. Victors name is what it is. But at some point everyones going to have to move on.
Conte doesnt flinch at a comparison to being the Saddam Hussein of sports.
Byrd, who stands around 6-foot and packs about 230 pounds onto his frame, is believed to be Contes only client on a major-league roster. Theyve hung out socially. Together they attended a UFC bout this month in Las Vegas, to watch Kyle Kingsbury, another athlete aligned with SNAC.
To be honest, he could teach me how to beat the system if he wanted to, Byrd said. But I would have to ask him, and then he would have to put himself in that situation again. Were not going down that road.
Cubs manager Mike Quade was an Oakland As coach in 2000, when BALCO client Jason Giambi won the American League MVP award. Quade knows Byrd the teams only All-Star in 2010 as someone who never wants to be taken out of the lineup and plays hard all the time.
Marlons a huge part of this club and I expect him to take care of his own business, Quade said. I trust my players and I trust him to do whats right and be ready to perform. And hes done nothing but show me that for the time weve been together.
Byrd is all about routine and teammates frequently praise his work ethic, energy and veteran presence.
He ran through the clubhouse Wednesday morning with sunglasses on and his hat backwards. Early in the afternoon, when most of his teammates were already showered and about to leave the complex, he ran sprints on the green outfield grass under the supervision of two Cubs strength coaches.
It was a beautiful day, framed by a clear blue sky, and Byrd refuses to live in the shadows. He understands that he will never get the benefit of the doubt if one test returns a false positive. He has complete faith in Conte.
Its not in the back of my mind, Byrd said. Im not worried about it. All that stuff is clean. He has Olympic athletes he works with. Victor Contes going to make a mistake? Somebody turned him in. Hes not going to make a mistake with the supplements and thats why I dont have to worry about him. Going to GNC (stores)? I have to worry about (that).
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.