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.

Fast Break Morning Update: Cubs visit White House; Blackhawks, Bulls in action tonight

Fast Break Morning Update: Cubs visit White House; Blackhawks, Bulls in action tonight

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from Monday:

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Cubs meet President Obama in unforgettable, symbolic White House visit: ‘They said this day would never come’

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

Reports: Dolphins assistant Jeremiah Washburn to be Bears' new O-line coach

Does Cubs president Theo Epstein have a future in politics?

President Obama, with Cubs at White House: 'Among Sox fans, I'm the Cubs' No. 1 fan'

At Cubs' White House visit, President Obama touts Michelle Obama's Cubs fandom, shouts out Jose Cardenal

Fire trade for midfielder Dax McCarty

Cubs meet President Obama in unforgettable, symbolic White House visit: ‘They said this day would never come’

Cubs meet President Obama in unforgettable, symbolic White House visit: ‘They said this day would never come’

WASHINGTON – A "Let's go, Cubbies!" chant started at 1:38 p.m. on Monday when the team walked into the East Room. One minute later, a voice from above announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States." 

"They said this day would never come," Barack Obama said once he got in front of the podium. "Welcome to the White House, the World Series champion Chicago Cubs."

With those words that still sound weird more than two months later, Obama began his last official event at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., rolling through a speech that lasted almost 22 minutes and delivering a powerful message on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"Sometimes people wonder: 'Well, why are you spending time on sports?'" Obama said. "Throughout our history, sports has had this power to bring us together, even when the country's divided. Sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle, but ultimately made us think differently about ourselves and who we were.

"It is a game and it is a celebration. But there's a direct line between Jackie Robinson and me standing here. There’s a direct line between people loving Ernie Banks and the city being able to come together and work together."

As Washington prepares for Donald Trump's inauguration – with the neighborhood turning into a maze of risers, fences and barricades – this became a parting gift from the White Sox fan in chief to all the Obama staffers and alumni who love the Cubs and are now facing life after the White House.  

"Listen, I made a lot of promises in 2008," Obama said, "and we managed to fulfill a large number of them. But even I was not crazy enough to suggest that during these eight years we would see the Cubs win the World Series.

"But I did say that there's never been anything false about hope."

After a searing election, Obama stood front and center in between Cubs board members Laura Ricketts (a Hillary Clinton superdelegate) and Todd Ricketts (Trump's pick to be deputy commerce secretary). With a booming voice and some good speechwriting, Obama commanded a room filled with Hall of Famers (Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg) and Illinois politicos (Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Mike Quigley, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett).        

Obama mentioned how his administration had hosted at least 50 championship teams in the Oval Office. Until the Cubs showed up, FLOTUS hadn't participated in any of those ceremonies, but she did make time for a private meeting with the group that ended the 108-year drought for her hometown team.    

"The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Teddy Roosevelt was president," Obama said. "Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison (were) still alive. The first Cubs radio broadcast wouldn't be for almost two decades. We've been through World Wars, the Cold War, a Depression, the space race and all manner of social and technological change.

"So the first thing that made this championship so special for so many is the Cubs know what it's like to be loyal and to persevere and to hope and to suffer and then keep on hoping.

"It’s a generational thing (that) Michelle is describing. People all across the city remember the first time their parents took them to Wrigley, their memories of climbing onto their mom and dad's lap to watch games on WGN.

"That’s part of the reason, by the way, why Michelle wanted to make sure Jose Cardenal was here, because that was her favorite player. Back then, he had a big Afro and she would describe how she would try to wear her hat over her Afro the same way.

"You could see (it in) the fans who traveled to their dads' gravesites (and) wore their moms' old jerseys to games (and) covered the brick walls of Wrigley with love notes in chalk to the departed fans whose lifelong faith was finally fulfilled."       

Obama gave shoutouts to David Ross – "we’ve both been on a yearlong retirement party" – and "my fellow 44, Anthony Rizzo." Obama congratulated newlyweds Kris and Jessica Bryant and described how chairman Tom Ricketts met his wife, Cecelia, in the Wrigley Field bleachers "about 30 years ago, which is about 30 years longer than most relationships that begin there last."

Obama turned toward groovy manager Joe Maddon, who wore a black turtleneck and an olive coat, and said: "Let's face it, there are not a lot of coaches or managers who are as cool as this guy. Look how he looks right now."

"He used costume parties and his shaggin' wagon," Obama said. "He's got a lot of tricks to motivate. But he's also a master of tactics and makes the right move at the right time, when to pinch-hit, when to pinch-run, when to make it rain."

The no-shows included Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey, but 22 players stood behind Obama. Dexter Fowler – the first African-American Cub to play in the World Series and now a St. Louis Cardinal – brought Obama a personalized pair of Air Jordans. The group photo included guys from Puerto Rico (Javier Baez), Venezuela (Miguel Montero and Willson Contreras), Cuba (Aroldis Chapman) and the Dominican Republic (Pedro Strop) who will be remembered together forever.

Before Obama exited the stage and the Cubs went to visit the wounded warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the president delivered a final thought.

"Sports has a way of sometimes changing hearts in a way that politics or business (can't)," Obama said. "Sometimes it's just a matter of us being able to stay relaxed from the realities of our days. But sometimes it also speaks to something better in us.

"When you see this group of Cubs – different shades, different backgrounds, coming from different communities and different neighborhoods all across the country and then playing as one team and playing the right way and celebrating each other and being joyous in that – that tells us a little something about what America is. And what America can be."