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Don't Be Roid-iculous (Coosin Larry)
2004-03-05 13:32
by Mike Carminati

Your country is calling you. Our people are calling us. The people of America are calling us to relieve them from the distress that has infested this entire Nation… Your people are asking you to deliver them from this condition that now exists. They are asking relief.

—Huey "Don't Call Me Terrence" Long

Life is fountain of joy; but where the rabble also gather to drink, all wells are poisoned.

—Friedrich "Fat Freddy" Nietzsche

McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.

—Joseph R. McCarthy (No, not the Yankee manager)

No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.

—Edward R. "Stump" Murrow

Players today are shiftless moneygrabbers, shadows of the players of yore, right? Why, that's what their employers and their commissioner tell us, every time there is a new labor negotiation and at arbitration time every year. Listen to talk radio and every fan will spit that opinion into your ear.

And now in light of the BALCO investigation (get it? BALCO. Balki. "Don't be ridiculous"? It’s all good clean fun), we are told that the players today are so lazy that they even need help to playa kid's game, one we'd give our eyeteeth to play for a living. And their union, who, to quote Mike Lupica, "still consider themselves the de facto commissioners of the sport", is helping them do it. That's what the media are telling us. That's what the president and former owner of the Teaxas Rangers told us in his State of the Disunion Address.

Here's a sampling:

To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. 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. (Applause.)

George W. Bush "League", State of the Union, January 20, 2004

[N]ow the genie is out of the bottle, and we happen to know what's in the bottle, and we are where we are with this, baseball being dominated by headlines about drugs and drug users and drug pushers the way it was around the time of the Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985.

"Loopy" Mike Lupica, with whom this column has somehow been confused by a few emailers

Major League Baseball's cat is almost out of the bag. It is one, big, scary cat, one of those snarly, demon-eyed cats Stephen King writes into novels. It has a head like Egypt's sphinx - or Disney's Lion King on feline growth hormones.

MLB's horse is almost out of the barn. It is big enough to make the original Trojan horse run for the Aegean Sea. Or as they say in the underground labs, "Beware of geeks bearing gifts"…

And if there are lingering doubts about [Pat] Burrell, check out the young women he dates.

Nobody with that kind of stable would risk becoming a boy soprano for a few extra homers.

—The estimable Bill "Jocko" Conlin

Now, for most fans, they're guilty until proven innocent…

They [attorneys for the BALCO defendants] also continue to say Bonds never used steroids…

It's getting to the point that you expect the next excuse from one of these sluggers will be: "Yes, but the dog ate my steroids.''

Skip Bayless, whose name I was tempted use in an extremely obvious and extremely appropriate play on words but thought better of it for the sake of the children

When it comes to steroid use in baseball, everybody is a suspect, and they should be. There are too many knuckleheads in the game who want you to believe the following: The cow jumped over the moon, water isn't wet and all of these jumbo players are just eating more spinach.

According to Barry Bonds, among those knuckleheads, the baseballs last season were really soft. Right now, between hitting computer keys, I'm holding an official Rawlings baseball from last season, and it is really hard.

My fingers don't lie. As for Bonds' tongue, well, uh. Hmmmm.

Terrence "Don't Call Me Terry" Moore (My fingers don't lie either, Terrence. Read between my fingers, why don't you?)

When the president of the United States says "get rid" of steroids, as George W. Bush did in his State of the Union address in January, it's no longer a privacy issue. When the attorney general, John Ashcroft, says steroids are "bad for sports, bad for players and bad for young people who hold athletes up as role models," it's no longer a privacy issue.

— Dave Anderson in his open memo to the MLBPA Re steroids

It didn't occur to Barry Bonds on a gloomy Tuesday in sports that his name soon might be affixed with a big, fat, dirty * [asterisk], if not removed from the books altogether. Rather than provide explanations that might save his endangered legacy from the gutter, he took the cheap, cowardly and typically Barry way out.

He played the race card.

"Blue" Jay Mariotti

Indeed, Lupica has made a cottage industry out of the BALCO scandal with three articles in three days drawing from the 'roid well. But before we all follow along goose- Stepin Fetchit-ing behind these pie-eyed pipers, maybe we should consider a few items that aren't getting much attention. We'll start by following the bloviating Lupica down through the looking glass or the Mike-roscope.

Today, "The Mouse that Roared" went after players union and MLBPA executive Gene Orza:

They're right, you're wrong.

If you are looking for the credo of the Major League Baseball Players Association, there it is. They're right, you're wrong. They are right about a keeping a salary cap out of baseball, even bragging in negotiations about protecting the Yankees.

They are right about preventing Alex Rodriguez from going to the Red Sox, because they know better than Rodriguez what is good for him. And of course they are right about steroids.

There are so many things that I disagree with those statements that have nothing whatsoever to do with steroids (A-Rod, cap, etc.), but unlike Lupica, let's stay on topic. Mini Mike is pointing to the statements by Orza yesterday:

"Let's assume that (steroids) are a very bad thing to take. I have no doubt that they are not worse than cigarettes. But I would never say to the clubs as an individual who represents the interests of the players, 'Gee, I guess by not allowing baseball to suspend and fine players for smoking cigarettes, I am not protecting their health.'"

Mike had already established that MLB did all that it could to bulk up its steroid policy:

Commissioner Bud Selig, and his lieutenants Rob Manfred and Robert DuPuy, somehow managed to get testing for illegal drugs written into the last collective bargaining agreement. It isn't nearly as much as the sport needs, isn't close to the kind of drug testing baseball does in its minor leagues. It was as much as Selig and Manfred and DuPuy could get off this union.

Perhaps Orza's is an inappropriately timed statement, but as John Perricone at Only Baseball Matters documents extremely well, may have a basis in fact. Only Baseball Matters cites actual medical professionals at National Institute on Drug Awareness (NIDA) to answer Lupica's screed-ending query, "If steroids aren't bad, why are his players getting tested for them?" Quoth John:

The simple truth is that there have been essentially no studies done that have concluded that steroid use will cause anything. How can I say this? Because there have been essentially no studies done at all. Look it up. Go to the NIDA and try to find the huge library of studies and reports and data. It's not there. If it's not there, then where is it? I don't know, and neither does Lupica. (Italics his)

OK, maybe you say it's not the time to be debating the pernicious effects of these drugs. Though I don't know when the appropriate time would then be. Perhaps it's just that, to quote Austin Powers, "That train has sailed." And who's to say if steroids are being used, are they being used in a responsible manner. Their use breaks the law after all.

Yes, steroids are illegal, and baseball should be doing what it can to ensure players are not doing illegal things. I do not say this because it warps young minds like the remix of Marilyn Manson and Judas Priest on the upcoming "Grey Album II". I say this because players are assets only if they can play. If they are injured, absent, or otherwise engaged, say, in jail, then they are not of any use.

Some aren't concerned about the illegality of steroids but rather their effects on the game. After all, the power-hitting of the last decade is directly attributable to steroid use isn't it? Look at the three big-name players involved, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield, all home run hitters.

The prevailing theory is that players 'roid up, that they put on massive amount of muscle through steroids and that they can therefore, hit balls farther and ergo there more home runs. One has to wonder if steroids really do make players that much stronger why pitchers don't combat this strategy by taking the drugs themselves. You never hear about pitchers blowing up over the winter. However, the added strength would seem to be a greater aid to pitchers who could perhaps gain a few miles on a fastball. Hitters, on should remember, have a task that requires more than just strength. There are many talents that go into being a good hitter. That's why players of such disparate body types as Richie Sexson (6'6" and 205 lbs.) and John Kruk (5'10", 204 lbs. allegedly) can be effective hitters. The thinner Sexson body type can even generate more power sometimes.

As far as how much effect steroid use has had on the game, one has to wonder given all of the more offensively minded parks that sprang up since Camden Yards, two rounds of expansion in six years, finaglings with the strike zone, the disappearance of the batter's box, accusations of a livelier ball, and a myriad of other factors.

Also, if one looks at the other, non-big-name players mentioned in the BALCO investigation, Marvin Bernard, Benito Santiago, and Randy Velarde, are not players that you would expect to hear. Both Bernard's and Velarde's career high in home runs is 16. Santiago's high since 1996 is 16 as well (though he hit 30 in '96). What happened to all the home runs that the steroids should have helped them hit? Oh maybe the outfielders were using steroids to give them super leaping ability to catch all of the dingers these three should have hit.

OK, say you, I've I'm dubious of the findings from the BALCO investigation, maybe I should listen to ex-players like Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti who claim that steroid use is wide spread. Why former Bonds teammate Andy Van Slyke says that "unequivocally [Bonds] has taken them". Witness this interchange from an interview with Sporting News Radio's Rick Ballou:

Ballou: Are you telling us, in your opinion, that it looks like Barry Bonds has taken steroids?

Van Slyke: Unequivocally he's taken them, without equivocation he's taken them. I can say that with utmost certainty.

Now, I never saw him put it into his body, but look, Barry went to the bank with the robber, he drove the car, he got money in his pocket from the bag that came out of the bank. Come to your own conclusion. Did he spend the money?

You decide. I think he did.

"Unequivocal" to Van Slyke seems to mean the same thing as "inconceivable" did to Wally Shawn in The Princess Bride or as "ironic" to Alanis Morissette, which is pretty much nothing. And Canseco is as credible a witness as Pete Rose today. Besides, didn't baseball test its players last year and find 5-7% use steroids? That's cause for some concern, but no cause for Mariotti's "big, fat, dirty *".

Finally, is anyone else suspicious that Bill Romanowski is the only football player involved? If you go to ESPN's main football page today, you'll find articles about free agent signings, the upcoming draft, and even baseball-flunky Drew Henson, but not one steroid article.

How can this be? Of course, steroid use is more widespread in the NFL than in baseball. The NFL does indeed suspend players for steroid use but I for one am dubious. Added bulk and muscle is obviously more of an asset in football than baseball and I have to wonder if only one player was enticed by its advantages. They say otherwise:

"I was very upset we were painted with the same brush as baseball [in the State of the Union]," said Gene Upshaw, executive director of the National Football League Players Association. "Our players have supported testing for steroids and getting steroids out of the game. They support a zero-tolerance policy.

It makes me wonder why this story is breaking in an election year after the president already made it part of his domestic agenda. Consider that this is an embattled president that has been looking for soft issues from gay marriage to Janet Jackson's breast in order to deflect scrutiny on many policies. It's easier to take potshots at already unpopular archetypes like baseball players than to answer questions about what he did and did not know about WMDs. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but is it a coincidence that Howard Stern is now being hounded off the air after he stopped supporting Bush's policies and started opposing him (and wasn't Jackson's breast a serendipitous godsend, so to speak, for the religious right as well as relatives of Colin Powell)? That the leaks have occurred and that they help certain people's agenda, I think, is more than a coincidence and more reason for everyone to make sure come November that those parties are no longer in a position to make those decisions.

Look, if the players used illegal substances, they should pay just like anyone else. However, there is a presumption of innocence that should be maintained here. The players have not been indicted yet on any charges, let alone been found guilty. Right now it's all circumstantial evidence and hearsay. Let's let the justice system handle it.

Unfortunately, baseball is again being upstaged by an overblown, off-field issue. If the players are indicted and found guilty, I don't want to hear about asterisks and revoked records, but I know that I will. It's not like this is a dream on "Dallas" and a whole season can just be forgotten.

Ah, it makes one harken for the simpler, halcyon days when our baseball players just gambled on the game and the majors practiced segregation.

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