- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

You can bet there is a rift in the baseball players’ association.

You can bet there is a significant number of players clamoring to be tested for steroids in a fashion that cleans up the sport and levels the playing field.

Let’s get this straight: The union leaders are not suddenly acting receptive to the pleas of the commissioner’s office because of the huffing and puffing of John McCain and the urgings from the White House.

The union leaders are impervious to outside pressure and always have been. They never respond to the criticisms of columnists or to public pressure. They never think in terms of the game’s long-term health.

Whenever the union leaders are sitting across the negotiating table from management representatives, they think nothing of shutting the game down. They think nothing of a canceled World Series. They only think of their immediate gratification, of winning. Everything is a bargaining chip with these guys. They would employ their grandmothers’ support hose as a bargaining chip if they could.

So it is all well and good that McCain is outraged and the White House is dismayed, and all the nation’s columnists are shouting in unison, imploring baseball officials to purge the steroid scourge with stricter testing. But none of it is really motivating the players’ union to act responsibly.

Here is the catalyst, rest assured: You are a pitcher and you have been facing Barry Bonds the last three or four seasons. You know he does not look right. You know he does not pass the smell test. And you hear things. Locker rooms are wonderful gossip centers once the writers and cameras have been removed from the premises.

Athletes are no different from anyone else. They talk among one another. They whisper. And they all have been saying it the last few seasons, namely: What’s up with Bonds?

And no player who is clean could be happy with the answer, especially the pitcher who has just relinquished a 450-foot home run to Bonds. He already was gifted enough as a hitter. He already was a tough out before going down the synthetic path.

The players are not a monolithic entity. They do not all think alike. And they do not all take steroids, contrary to the growing popular perception. There undoubtedly is lots of grumbling in the union ranks these days. There is lot of envy, too. Fair or not, Bonds is the face of baseball. He has accrued a vast amount of wealth and fame in the sunset seasons of his career.

How would that play with the competitor in you if you were clean? You would be irritated, right? You’re darn right you would be irritated, no matter the environment, whether on the playing field or in the workplace.

Raise your hand if you ever have been annoyed or angry with a colleague who appears to be getting over on his employer in your workplace.

Well, Bonds got all over on baseball, make no mistake about it, and the ones victimized the most by it were the pitchers standing 60 feet, 6 inches away from him.

Players know their industry. They know the quirks and habits of their competitors, and they have a pretty good idea who was clean and who was dirty. For the most part, they kept their views in-house, particularly after Rockies reliever Turk Wendell made the mistake of being honest in spring training last February, and Bonds turned it into a manhood issue.

“You got something to say, you come to my face and say it, and we’ll deal with each other,” Bonds said at the time. “Don’t talk through the media like you’re some tough guy.”

It is not about being a tough guy. It is about competing with a sense of fair play.

Bonds probably would not care for it too much if Wendell was able to snap off 110 mph fastballs and 30-foot curves following the newfangled invention of a laboratory researcher.

You can bet the union leaders know the mood of the rank and file and that the true sportsmen want a system that eliminates the cheating.

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