'Roid Ragers

Two macho men and the bitchy bodybuilding world that surrounds -- and, perhaps, spawned -- the BALCO steroids case

"Once," says Emeric Delczeg, 51 years old and built like a fireplug, "I was called to help Barry Bonds to pose." It was for a muscle magazine photo shoot sometime last year, Delczeg explains in his thick Eastern-bloc accent. "That's the first time and last time I saw Barry Bonds in my life. And you know what? He's not that big. I don't know what people are talking about. He's over 6 feet tall, and he has, like, 17-inch arms. That's nothing." He pulls up a sleeve of his T-shirt and curls his right arm, flexing. "I'm 5-7, and my arms are 20. I weigh 230, and he weighs 230, same as me. He's not big." Delczeg shakes his head and shuffles off to retrieve a photograph from a recent Masters Olympia, a competition for bodybuilders 40 and older. "I tell you what," he goes on. "If he wants to get ripped -- like I am here, for example -- he would have to go down to 180 pounds, with the fat he has on. Plus, he's 40. You get older, you get heavier."

Delczeg (pronounced Dell-segg) is standing under a harsh fluorescent light in the Belmont office of his nutritional supplements company, Fitness Enterprises. The room is cramped and anonymous, one of several in this cheery, flesh-colored building, which fronts on a busy road in Belmont where one might go if one were shopping for a new 5-iron or socket wrench or barbed-wire tattoo. These are the unassuming margins of the BALCO steroid case, in which Delczeg, a minor bodybuilder and businessman, has become a reluctant bit player. "See," he says, returning to the photo, which depicts a small group of oily, plasticky men, a lineup of Dorian Grays. "This guy's 40 years old. This guy's 50. If you cover the head, you can't even tell."

Here under the light, Delczeg looks every bit his age. He has short gray hair and a neat gray mustache, and from time to time his face breaks into what seems like an involuntary grimace. If he looks strained, there's a reason. He has spent the past hour detailing just how he came to be standing on the fringe of a massive, far-reaching sports scandal involving some of the best athletes in the world and a supplements company in Burlingame; how he, a supposedly innocent man, found himself on Pages 29 to 33 of an IRS special agent's search-warrant affidavit, fingered by "a confidential informant" as a "steroid supplier" to BALCO; how his trash was searched, his car was watched, his bank records were subpoenaed; how, most important, he thinks he knows who this informant is, and how he's pretty sure it's a preening, no-good ex-associate of his who would "sell his mother out."

Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory 
Co-Operative (BALCO), outside the federal 
courthouse in San Francisco.
AP Wide World Photos
Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco.
Christopher M. Smith

"I don't know if it is Ron Kramer or if it is not Ron Kramer," Delczeg says. "All I know is, Ron Kramer was my employee, and he came and threatened me, verbally, and said he would do anything possible to destroy me."

Of course, there's a possibility that Delczeg's guess is wrong, and anyone who says otherwise, assures Kramer, now running his own supplements company in Arizona, will get a call from his lawyer. The Delczeg-Kramer dispute isn't at all surprising given the fuzzy nature of the BALCO case, which, it should be noted, was built in large part on the bags of trash intercepted outside the Burlingame company's office. Even now, eight months after the public first learned of the investigation, little is certain about the case, down to its very motivation. At its core, is it about a supplement company's allegedly dodgy finances? About Bonds? About baseball as a whole? About sport on a global scale?

Perhaps the best place to find a clue is out here on the margin, where you'll come across two old bodybuilders doing what bodybuilders have always done: striking poses and staring each other down. It may not be the heart of the case, but it might very well be its id: that peculiar strain of American macho, in which the most important thing is looking better than the next guy.

Back in his office, Delczeg is stooped behind his desk. "I keep this here for Ron Kramer," he says, sounding more frightened than anything else as he pulls out an aluminum baseball bat.

On Sept. 3, at least a year into their investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, IRS agents spearheaded a daytime raid of the firm's tiny offices and left with their arms full of boxes. It was their first public move in the probe -- the agents reportedly placed IRS placards on the dashboards of their cars in a sort of Zorro flourish -- and since that day the case has climbed steadily in the nation's consciousness. In November, a handful of Major League Baseball players, including Bonds, testified before a federal grand jury. In January, the scandal provided an applause line in President Bush's State of the Union address: "So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now."

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