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'Roids Update

Last May, I read and reviewed Will Carroll's book The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems. For the most part, I viewed the book positively; it was informative, and a particular chapter left a dynamic impression:

There is a chapter in Will Carroll's new book that is, for lack of a more appropriate description, liquid dynamite. I use the description because, for all I know, Liquid Dynamite is the name of one of those supplement shakes you or your buddy take. They all have bizarre, exaggerated names like Critical Mass and White Lightning. Personally, I like the name Liquid Dynamite.

This particular chapter fits the description---or at least the "dynamite" part. In the chapter, Carroll describes his meeting with a certain "Dr. X" at a small, Midwestern airport. Understand that, as Carroll tells it, this was no chance encounter; quite the contrary indeed, as Carroll's narrative reads like an abridged version of an obfuscation course run in a John Grisham novel (I am surprised that Carroll did not buy an airline ticket with cash under the name "Sam Fortune"), crossed with the meet quick between Jim Garrison and "Mr. X" in JFK.

The chapter weaves its way quasi-conspiratorily through the email contact by "Dr. X" (via a server stronghold no doubt designed, in the movie adaption of course, by a guy named Laslo), through the good doctor's elaborate instructions, through some short-notice cancellations (no doubt owing to perceived security breaches), and finally, to the meeting with a completely indistinguishable man. While reading the chapter, I imagined one of the Sandpeople sitting in a wheelchair.

Why all the precautions?

"Dr. X" may (or may not, Carroll leaves open) be the creator of THG---better known these days as "the clear."


The Juice might be worth the price of admission, so to speak, based on that one chapter alone. It is certainly riveting. And enthralling. And infuriating. And, most of all, chilling. Carroll ends the chapter by confessing that, as he drove away from the airport upon the end of his (sole) encounter with "Dr. X," he looked in his rear-view mirror. Trust me, as the reader: when Carroll describes this paranoia, I really want to buy it. "Profile: The Creator" is one hell of a chapter.

Today, in federal district court in San Francisco, a 39-year-old man named Patrick O'Brien pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids.

What in particular did O'Brien do? He distributed tetrahydragestrinone.

And what is tetrahydragestrinone more commonly known as? THG

And what is THG? Why, it's "the Clear."

The next question would be: is O'Brien the guy described in the book? To be honest, I don't know---but I don't think so. According to the Associated Press article (linked above), O'Brien is a "noted scientist in the field of sports nutritional supplements" who supplied BALCO with "the Clear" (and, in a detail irrelevant to his guilty plea today, "was known for introducing the steroid precursor androstenedione to the United States"); the SportsCenter report I just heard implied O'Brien was the mastermind behind THG, but the report wasn't exactly in-depth.

Eh, I don't think it was him---assuming, of course: 1) there was indeed a "him," and 2) Carroll's account of "him" was in any way true-to-life, and 3) "his" credentials were as legit as "he" claimed. It could be my impression at the time I read The Juice and my resulting memory from it, but I pictured "Dr. X" being more the aloof type, not really a Boba Fett to Victor Conte's Jabba the Hutt.

For his part, as best as I can tell, Carroll has not mentioned this guy, or any guy associated with "the Clear," at his blog. Assuming Carroll is aware O'Brien was indicted awhile ago and pled guilty today, I'd have to commend Carroll for quite a bit of admirable restraint.

Anyway, the headline rang a bell in my mind, and I thought Hey, I might know who that is! Probably not, though.

* * * *

One other thing about this story. In the AP article, the reporter recounts:

[U.S. District Court Judge Susan] Illston asked Arnold if his plea was voluntary and told him he couldn't change his mind once he accepted the agreement with prosecutors.

"Mr. Arnold I think you're guilty of this offense, and I think you are pleading guilty because you are guilty," she said at the close of the hearing.

The writer makes this sound so exciting! You sure you don't want to change your mind? Really? Okaaaaaay. I've thought it over, and I really think you're guilty.

I apologize for the sarcasm, but there's nothing noteworthy about this at all; the writer just wanted to fill up the article with a couple of details and a quote---set the scene, you know. But under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, the district court is required to conduct a colloquy with the defendant, covering precisely this type of information. The purpose is to ensure that the guilty plea is freely, voluntarily, and knowingly made. You just pull out a checklist and go down it---check, check, check. If a response raises a red flag, you go over it. Doesn't look like there were any red flags here:

I agreed to distribute and in fact I did distribute anabolic steroids to two individuals who then knowingly provided these steroids to athletes," Arnold told [Judge] Illston.

Maybe I'm reading too much sensationalism into the AP story, but to the extent the writer is trying to depict something dramatic occurring during the guilty plea hearing---either suspense or some sort of dramatic display of judicial temperment---it just isn't there.