A former batboy with the New York Mets pleaded guilty Friday to distributing performance-enhancing drugs to dozens of major league players over a decade, delivering another blow to the image of America’s pastime.

Kirk J. Radomski, 37, admitted to felony charges of distributing steroids and laundering money before U.S. District Judge Susan Illston at the federal courthouse in San Francisco. He faces a 25-year sentence and a $500,000 fine.

Radomski, who describes himself as a personal trainer, agreed to cooperate with baseball’s investigation into steroids that is being led by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. Radomski also worked as an equipment manager and clubhouse assistant while with the Mets, from 1985-95.

If his information can be corroborated, it could be the biggest break since the Balco Laboratories case that involved such stars as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield.

“This individual was a major dealer of anabolic steroids, including human growth hormones, whose clientele was focused almost exclusively on major league baseball players,” prosecutor Matt Parrella said outside the court.

He declined to name Radomski’s clients. The case, though, underscores the fact baseball’s drug problem is bigger than Bonds, who is 15 home runs shy of becoming the most prolific long-ball hitter in the game. “We look forward to working together with federal law enforcement toward our shared goal,” Mitchell said in a

steroids are overhyped right now for sure!
prepared statement.
Radomski dealt with a variety of drugs such as human growth hormone, deca-durabolin and testosterone, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Mercury News.

The warrant had some information blacked out, including what appeared to players’ names.

According to the warrant, Radomski became a major source of drugs for baseball players after federal investigators shut down Balco Laboratories in Burlingame.

Lead Balco investigator Jeff Novitzky of the San Jose office of the Internal Revenue Service took over the case in 2005 after receiving a tip from the Federal Bureau of Investigations. It fell under the IRS’s jurisdiction because of the charge of laundering money from the illegal sale of steroids.

Signs of baseball’s acute drug problem were evident even as the game flourished during the magical season of 1998, when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single-game home run record.

The revelation that McGwire used androstenedione, a pro-hormone then banned by the International Olympic Committee but not by baseball, caused a minor stir before almost everyone returned to celebrating the pursuit of the record.

Not even Ken Caminiti’s honesty registered loudly. He told Sports Illustrated in 2002 that he used steroids when he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in ’96.

“It’s no secret what’s going on in baseball,” said Caminiti, who grew up in San Jose. “At least half the guys are using steroids. They talk about it. They joke about it with each other.”

Caminiti wasn’t taken seriously because he struggled with alcohol and recreational drugs. He died in 2004 of an overdose.

Tony Gwynn, Caminiti’s All-Star teammate in San Diego, lent credibility to the claims when telling the New York Times in 2003 that amphetamine use was rampant.

“People might think there is a steroid problem in baseball, but it’s nowhere near the other problem,” Gwynn said. “Guys feel like steroids are cheating” and amphetamines aren’t.

The drug issue didn’t seem to resonant with fans until after federal agents raided Balco Laboratories in Burlingame in September 2003. Of the more than 30 athletes subpoenaed to testify in front of a grand jury investigating the Balco case, about a third were baseball players. Bonds and the New York Yankees’ Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield were the most prominent.

By then, baseball officials had begun a campaign to rebuild faith in their game. The league and players union adopted what many considered to be a toothless steroids policy for the 2004 season. But that was about to change.

The outcry came in late 2004 when the San Francisco Chronicle reported Bonds acknowledged taking two of the Balco steroids, “the clear” and “the cream,” according to leaked statements of his grand jury testimony. The Giants slugger also said that he thought they were flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm.

Giambi and other players admitted to outright use of steroids, according to the leaked statements.

A month later, former A’s star Jose Canseco released a tell-all book in which he recounted his use of performance-enhancing drugs. Canseco wrote he took drugs with McGwire when they played for the A’s. He also named other prominent players – and even suggested President Bush knew about steroid use when he was part owner of the Texas Rangers in the 1990s.

The weight of the allegations led to a contentious 12-hour hearing by the House Government Reform Committee in March 2005. Lawmakers pressed baseball officials about their weak drug-testing policy; they also questioned some of the game’s biggest names. McGwire’s repeated answer, “I’m not here to talk about the past,” left many wondering about his clean reputation.

Baltimore Orioles Rafael Palmeiro defiantly denied using steroids during the hearing, but five months later was suspended for 10 days for violating baseball’s drug policy.

The game faced more controversy before last season with the release of “Game of Shadows,” which chronicled Bonds’ use of steroids from 1998. While the book didn’t offer much new information about the Balco case, it provided the context to help the public understand the gravity of the drug issues.

With lawmakers pressuring them again, baseball officials revised their year-old drug policy, calling for 50-game suspensions for first-time offenders of steroids. Commissioner Bud Selig also appointed George J. Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader, to head an investigation into steroid use in the sport. Mitchell’s investigation is ongoing.

IRS agent Novitzky continued his work as well. Last summer he led agents into the Arizona home of journeyman pitcher Jason Grimsley, who was caught accepting a $3,200 shipment of human growth hormone. The Diamondbacks pitcher ended his career after news of the raid.

This year, another drug episode erupted in the East Coast as federal agents targeted an illicit steroid distribution network, which allegedly was responsible for Internet sales of performance-enhancing drugs nationwide.

Some of the customers allegedly included athletes, including Los Angeles Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr.