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Greg Anderson's Coaching Kids—Why the Gag Order?

Burlingame Youth Baseball Association community closes ranks on convicted steroids dealer's involvement; values questions remain unanswered and teachable moment is lost.

There was no welcome mat for me when I showed up at Bayside Park in Burlingame on Tuesday.

Parents and coaches apparently knew I was coming after I’d called a Burlingame Youth Baseball Association official earlier in the day, giving him a heads up that I’d be at its evening game between Capitol Electric and Phil’s Snack Shack’s 11- and 12-year-old teams, and it’s a safe bet they knew I wasn’t going to be doing a straight game story.

Last month, the BYBA was the subject of a New York Times article about convicted felon Greg Anderson coaching the Capitol Electric team.

Yes, that Greg Anderson.

As in Barry Bonds’ former trainer and childhood friend. A central figure in the BALCO case that unearthed a steroids scandal that’s overturned both the perceptions and realities of competitive sports at just about every level over the last 15 years.

The Times piece was not especially well received in these parts, where Anderson is generally known as a good father and a respected coach, enjoying a deep reservoir of community support.

This combative columnist was warned to wear a helmet, and the chirping started as soon as I got to the ballpark.

“Don’t you have anything better to write about?” one parent said.   

“Nothing to talk about,” said a parent I approached for comment.

“Why can’t you just let the kids be kids?” the parent said, as if I were pulling the 11- and 12-year-olds off the field and forcing them into a life of cubicles and two-hour commutes.

Two parents and an opposing coach were quoted in the Times piece, but on this day there would be no interviews with parents from either team, apparently by now on full lockdown. The merits of a person convicted for his role in a baseball-related scandal coaching their kids was now a topic off limits.

All I got was the cold shoulder as I approached one parent after another, as if I were Bernie Madoff at the last shareholders’ meeting.

In response to an interview request, BYBA President Mike Brunicardi asked that any questions for my column be sent in an email. He answered just one of the four questions the next day.

“I hope your story begins with the great history of the Burlingame Youth Baseball Association,” Brunicardi’s email started out.

Brunicardi said Anderson is no longer listed as an official BYBA coach, noting that he was removed after a parent complained he hadn’t received proper training. He remains involved coaching the Capitol Electric team in an unofficial capacity, said a league official who asked not to be identified. Anderson wasn’t coaching third base on Tuesday, as he was a few weeks ago, according to the Times article. But he appeared to be in an active coaching role, barking instructions and encouraging his players.

That Anderson was at one time this season an official BYBA coach was the result of a procedural snafu that Brunicardi said the league will correct. Brunicardi said Anderson is welcome to apply next year, noting that he’d have to go through the regular vetting process, which includes a background check.

Brunicardi didn’t indicate when Anderson was removed from his official role.

And he left a few questions unanswered.

Were there any concerns about Anderson coaching in the BYBA?

What message does Brunicardi think Anderson coaching 11- and 12-year-olds sends?

Were there public misconceptions about Anderson taking this role?

I thought I could count on an elected public official to take a stand on the Anderson situation, so I called Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel.

No dice.

“I really don’t have any opinion on that. It’s out of the purview of the city,” she said.

Fair enough. The BYBA isn’t under her jurisdiction. But the mayor must have an opinion on a human level on the merits of a convicted steroids supplier coaching young athletes in her community.

Anderson served three months in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2005 to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering in the BALCO case. He also served more than a year for refusing to testify about Bonds, who earlier this year was convicted for obstruction of justice relating to his 2003 testimony before a federal grand jury.

“I really don’t know enough about that to comment,” she said. “We’ve got many other issues on the front burner, and I really haven’t paid any attention to that at all.”

Hard to believe the mayor of a sleepy suburb of 28,806 didn’t pay any attention when her city is the subject of an 854-word feature in a national publication.

Was she even aware of the Times piece?

“I saw something, somewhere, and I really, truly, don’t have an opinion,” she said. “Sorry.”

“I was a reporter myself,” she added, which of course has as much to do with the Anderson situation as the fact that I was a hot dog vendor while in high school.

But surely she’s heard some chatter, no?

“I really have to go,” she said.

I had to go to another field Tuesday evening to get quotes from BYBA parents from other teams.

Most were supportive of Anderson, and apparently the orders not to talk to the press hadn’t reached them yet.

“I don’t have a problem with that at all, and if he managed my children I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” said BYBA parent Vince Malta, reflecting the view of several others on an adjacent field where 13- and 14-year-old teams were playing.

“If it was something that dealt with the physical safety of my child, that’s another matter, but I don’t see that.”

To be sure, Anderson’s role coaching the Capitol Electric team poses no safety risk. No reasonable person believes he’s turning his players on to “the cream” and “the clear,” the designer steroids he reportedly provided to a who’s who of sports superstars including Bonds, Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi.

The symbolism, however, stinks like a sewage plant during a heat wave.

“It doesn’t really send a good message when you’re trying to set a good example” for kids, BYBA parent Denise D’Ambra said.

“Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes. It’s like having a drunk driver coming out of jail and driving kids around. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”

A thoughtful discussion would be a nice start.

Perhaps Anderson—who said, “No, thank you,” when asked to comment for this article—does have a place as a youth baseball coach. It could offer the disgraced trainer a measure of redemption. That’s for a community to decide, not a columnist or the New York Times.

There are two competing storylines in Anderson’s coaching youth baseball, with the unseemly message of a convicted steroids dealer sitting alongside a message of possible redemption.

A longtime East Bay Little League coach, who asked not to be identified, summed up the complexity of the Anderson situation.

“He was instrumental in assisting one of the biggest cheaters in the history of the game. Based on that alone, it is appalling to think that he’s in a position to influence young players,” the coach said. “On the other hand, baseball is a game of forgiveness in a sense. It’s the only game in which they actually keep track of your mistakes (errors) on the scoreboard. Yet, as a player you have to persevere because there will always be another ground ball, fly ball or pitch, and you have to be ready to shake off your past mistakes and make the play.

“Anderson made a huge error, and he should be allowed to make up for it. All in all, I don’t think anyone has a right to keep him from coaching.”

Anderson has by all accounts won high marks as a youth coach.

“He’s coaching our kids, not raising our kids, and he’s doing a good job,” said a parent whose kids have played for Anderson in the past.

Jon Hamm, an attorney from El Dorado Hills on business in Burlingame, happened upon Bayside Park, unaware that Anderson was coaching one of the teams. He offered the most salient perspective of the day, noting that redemption will not come from teaching kids to work the count or run out ground balls, alone.

“I think redemption requires some action,” Hamm said. “He needs to speak about what he saw and what he was involved in. If he’s teaching kids not to do what he was involved with, then I would say there’s real redemption there.”

The Anderson situation could be a teachable moment for kids, and for the community. But it won’t be as long as Anderson’s inconvenient steroids ties and felony conviction are swept under the rug by a thin-skinned BYBA community.

The BYBA brass and parents claim they’re trying to protect kids from being drawn into the Anderson controversy, but it sure seems like they’re using the kids as human shields to protect themselves from being held accountable for their own questionable judgment.

Instead of closing ranks, why not use the Anderson situation as a teachable moment. Why not ask tough questions that could be the starting point for a meaningful conversation. What values are the BYBA promoting through Anderson?

Stifling thoughtful discussion won’t make the troublesome aspects of Anderson’s coaching role go away. 

But judging by the reaction I got, don’t expect much of any conversation about this anytime soon.

I received an email from a parent blasting my column before I even wrote it. Concerned Parent of Player said my reporting was “not only unprofessional, but truly self-serving."

“You should be ashamed and embarrassed,” it read.

Tammy June 28, 2011 at 10:16 PM
OH SNAP!!! Nice one Phillip!!
Paul Padilla July 01, 2011 at 06:28 PM
If Mr. Anderson is setting a prime example for the kids regarding playing baseball, the fun and clean way, teaching them the rights and wrongs of baseball conduct (rules, sportsmanship) and yes, talking about the dangers of steroids, then I feel that his role as mentor should not be marred by his conviction. "Being given a second chance" for me, depends on the situation. Here, it seems, we have a man who cares about coaching up the kids. If I had a son on his team, I would definitely want him to discuss the dangers of steroid use. I mean, who better, right? If he's clean, if he's well-meaning, then the kids will learn something that they may not have if it were another coach. It's a tricky topic with multiple views. The parent's of the children playing obviously have a great stake in a convicted felon coaching their team. But I can't help to think that the most important group greatly affected by Mr. Anderson's coaching position is the kids themselves. I think they can learn so much more by Mr. Anderson's experience if he reveals the dangers and consequences of steorid use. Or he may not, and just be a darn good coach for the kids. I like to believe in progress. And if any progress can be made here, I feel like the kids can reap a crucial benefit.
Phillip Bailey July 05, 2011 at 10:42 PM
Eric: There are always FACTS that point towards a final conclusion. Isn't there different tiers or levels of drung convictions. Are we talking Crack Cocaine here or Weed. Greg was incarcerated for not testifying in a steroid scandle. Certain steroids are legal with a perscription from a doctor. Medicinal Weed is also allowable. You don't really see to many medicinal marijuana clients or crack cocaine addicts out on their youth league fields helping coach up our current youth of today, I am sure there are cases that I dont know about,,,,such as Bayview Hunters Point volunteers with former addicts speaking to the youth residing out there....and I am sure that Rev Cecil Williams has a speakers menu that rivals none to come and speak to his flock. My point is you are not willing to met our any forgiveness and are tickled to death that the vetting process in BYBA Organization brought him down to your size...and yet you can't let it go... What is really bothering you Eric? Were you overlooked in that Gym and others who did things illegally were scooped up? Either way, people need to be given a second chance based on their crime. I know people who have been convicted of several DUI's in our fine city and yet they are still functioning within their own work force community....
Phillip Bailey July 20, 2011 at 11:42 PM
There are different tiers of what is or isnt drug dealers...this is a man who made mistakes within the gym-roid era, has paid the/a price is is trying to do better. Yawns former remarks have been refuted by other body builders who have also worked out in/at said gyms. Give it a rest Eric. I mean how many Eric Yawns can there be??? I googled that name and came up with a (PLEASE NOT DEAR PATCH ADMINISTRATION) "a" Eric Yawn that has more problems that anything Greg Anderson has done. Note: It might not be "this" Eric Yawn, but heh heh how can we know for sure. Eric Yawn: Saying that YOU feel that Burlingame has been disgraced or that Burlingame is the Steroid Capital of the world is a subjective statement. Is it perhaps that YOU live in this body building world and thus your friends who don't live in Bgame give you some grief because of that fact that you do live here in Bgame? If so that's normal grief among friends. We travel out of California with our baseball team and in other states people needle us (no pun intended) after knowing we are from California. They ask us "Oh you live on the Left Coast...."..."oh ya'll are so Liberal..." Also how ironic is this link .....Eric????? http://offender.fdle.state.fl.us/offender/flyer.do?personId=11332
Phillip Bailey July 21, 2011 at 11:40 PM
Yawn, Eric: Your tirade regarding Greg could be as far fetched as you being the same Eric Yawn as the link I provided. Are you trying to say that the Internet is not World Wide? Prisoners use the internet 24/7 and they are Big Body Builders. You could be a malcontent body builder whether you are incarcerated or out in the free world. Besides several people have already refuted your tirade about you working out at the same gym as Greg. Also in this spiritual world we live in how do you know that Greg hasn't/doesn't go around to small select groups and talk about the vices assoicated with steroids. We don't know that he does but we don't know that he doesn't. People with notorieity do not make public their "donations" to society regardless of said donation (read: talk about the vices associated with steroids) being of a monetary or verbal type. Rememeber that since you also are not immortal that mortal humans such as yourself - Arnold and Greg deserve second chances and should be judged by a higher power than yourself.

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