- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005

For those civil libertarians who declared the accusations of steroid use being made against baseball players was a witch hunt, what do we make of the tougher steroid testing program announced by Major League Baseball?

Is it the equivalent of the Salem witch trials? Will players be pressed to death under heavy stones or burned at the stake?

Really, where is the outrage now from those protectors of the oppressed professional athletes who were up in arms about the questions of steroid use? How can anyone suggest these victims of such accusations were cheating? Where’s the proof, they demanded?

Well, the proof came in Phoenix on Thursday, when it was officially revealed that the MLB Players Association had agreed to a tougher steroid testing program, renegotiating a deal the union had agreed to three years earlier.

For a union whose members would, in the past, rather chew broken glass than give up any rights to the owners to agree to renegotiate such a significant portion of its contract as drug testing is tantamount to one giant positive drug test by ballplayers.

The use of steroids in the game was such a big problem that not even teammates in the clubhouse could avoid it. And when they tried to, some would not let them, the ones who didn’t feel their calling was to comfort the comfortable by defending the innocence of individuals who were part of an industry that was clearly guilty.

This change of heart by the union on steroid testing came as a result of pressure, which is the normal process for change. What was unusual about this process was that the pressure worked its way inward and back out again. In other words, the media pressure created an atmosphere in baseball clubhouses where union brothers turned against union brothers, something you rarely saw during bitter labor battles over the years that resulted in strikes and lockouts.

In those battles, the union brothers were locked in arms with one another against their enemy, the owners, and all the outside pressure in the world didn’t appear to make a dent in that resolve. But this was different. Players looked around when they were being harassed by questions of steroid use and saw the enemy in the locker next to them.

That is what drove this change, not fear of Congress or the BALCO probe, or any of the other outside pressures. Those components fed off the media pressure, with politicians capitalizing on it and prosecutors seeking to use it to advance their case. Heck, 20 years ago ballplayers were on trial for cocaine use, and you didn’t see any groundswell for stricter drug testing by the union then, did you?

As far as political pressure, remember this is the union whose members showed up at the White House wearing gym clothes 10 years ago and dismissed efforts by the president of the United States to end the baseball strike.

No, this was one time where guilty until proven innocent worked for the greater good, at least in the courtroom of the media. It wasn’t even public opinion, per se, because there was no public outrage over bigger, stronger players with inflated power numbers. The masses fed on the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase of 1998 that was, as we now know, an illusion and marveled at Barry Bonds’ home run records.

It was those who knew the secrets behind those home run records and the inflated numbers — the ones who weren’t using steroids yet were being burned at the same stake — who said, “We want our names cleared.”

“The integrity of our game was beginning to come under fire,” Tony Clark — the first baseman who, of all things, benefited from Jason Giambi’s body breakdown from steroid abuse with more playing time for the Yankees in 2004 — told the Associated Press. “There are too many great players, past and present, that deserve to be celebrated for their ability to play this game at a very high level. If a stricter drug policy brings that level of appreciation back, we felt that it was worth pursuing.”

Where did that fire come from? Not from those who felt that the Giant Head’s rights were being trampled by suggesting he was using steroids to create the home run circus in San Francisco. No, this fire started with the simple notion, even more basic than innocent until proven guilty, of believing what we could see. And you didn’t need a laboratory to see the deceit on the diamond.

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