Mooney: Byrd believes he has nothing to hide

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Mooney: Byrd believes he has nothing to hide

Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011
Posted 10:21 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

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.

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

The Cubs keep raking in the accolades.

Theo Epstein is the latest to be honored, with Fortune naming the Cubs president of baseball operations No. 1 on the newly-released list of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.

Epstein — the architect of the Cubs team that ended a 108-year championship drought — beat out such names as Pope Francis, John McCain, LeBron James and Joe Biden.

Fellow Chicagoan and White Sox ambassador Chance the Rapper also made the list at No. 46.

The rationale for Epstein includes:

In his book The Cubs Way, Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci details the five-year rebuilding plan that led to the team’s victory. The Cubs owe their success to a concatenation of different leadership styles, from the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts to the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of club president Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox. In the following passages, Verducci describes how a deeper understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline, and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—­enabled Epstein to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports.

For more on why Epstein and the Cubs topped the list, head to Fortune.com.

Epstein had a classic reaction to the honor, texting ESPN's Buster Olney:

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house. That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball - a pastime involving a lot of chance. If Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

MESA, Ariz. — Now what? Ryan Dempster believes these Cubs are young enough, hungry enough and talented enough to become the first group to win back-to-back World Series since the three-peat New York Yankees built a dynasty with titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

But Dempster already understands the expectations at Wrigley Field this season, especially after pitching on disappointing Cubs teams that got swept out of the playoffs and working as a special assistant in Theo Epstein's front office.

"Nothing can top it," Dempster said. "You can win 162 games and sweep everybody in the playoffs and it won't be as exciting for people, other than maybe the guys playing it."

That's why Jon Lester isn't putting up the "Mission Accomplished" banner at his locker, even though the Cubs had the parade down Michigan Avenue in mind when they gave him the biggest contract in franchise history at the time. Dempster — who also earned a World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox — had given Lester a scouting report as the Cubs went all-out in their pursuit of the big-game lefty.

There are still four years left on Lester's $155 million megadeal. It has been less than five months since the Cubs finally won the World Series and unleashed an epic celebration.

"Now the hard part is you don't get complacent," Lester said Wednesday after throwing six innings against an Oakland A's minor-league squad at the Sloan Park complex. "I talk about these young guys — that's where that helps. Even though you've accomplished things personally, you still want these guys to accomplish things.

"That's where that drive still gets you. You don't want to let your teammates down. You still want to be accountable for what you do. And that means showing up and doing your work in between starts and in the offseason."

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Lester believed so much in Epstein's vision, the pipeline of talent about to burst and the lure of Chicago that he signed with a last-place team. The Cubs needed a symbol to show they were serious about winning, a clubhouse tone-setter and an anchor for their rotation.

A new comfort level in Year 2 of that contract helped explain how Lester performed as an All Star, a Cy Young Award finalist and the National League Championship Series co-MVP. But Lester wants to make sure that the Cubs don't get too comfortable — or feel like they're playing with house money.

"You enjoy that, you learn from it," Lester said. "The biggest thing is not getting complacent with yourself and with your teammates. That's what drives me, making sure I'm prepared to pitch.

"I'm called upon every five days, and I have to be there. That's where that goal of 30 starts and 200 innings comes into play. I feel like if I do that, then I've done my job, for my teammates and this organization.

"The championships and the World Series — that's stuff you can't predict. It's stuff you strive to do every single year. So that's all we're going to focus on again. Our team goal again is to win a World Series."