- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

There’s only one way, P.R.-wise, for Major League Baseball to deal with this steroids disaster.

Hold a contest.

Yeah, that’s the ticket - a Name The Other 103 Guys Who Tested Positive In 2003 contest.

I mean, what has the sport got to lose? So much of its credibility has already been stripped away. So many presumed Hall of Famers have been exposed as chemical creations - or are heading in that direction. Now that we’ve learned about Alex Rodriguez’s flunked drug test in ‘03, why not capitalize on the public’s preoccupation with who the other juicers might have been?

Picture fans going to MLB.com and filling out a ballot (one to a customer, only 103 guesses allowed). Better yet, picture ballots being distributed in ballparks. It could be just like All-Star voting - only with prizes. The fan who gets the most names right could win a golden syringe. The fan who finishes second could win a lifetime supply of flaxseed oil. The fan who finishes third could win a Bowflex home gym. Who wouldn’t want to enter this contest?

Major League Baseball could do all this and still maintain the players’ privacy. It could simply announce, “Joe Blow of Anywhere, U.S.A., got 72 of the 103 names right to capture first prize,” and no one would know, not even Joe, which 72 were correct.

A couple more things:

1. Readers of palms, tea leaves and tarot cards would be ineligible… as would The Schwab.

2. Hanging chads would count.

There are any number of strategies contestants could employ to come up with the Dirty 103. They could start by sifting through the 80-odd names dropped in the Mitchell Report and decide who might have tested positive (keeping in mind that human growth hormone and the designer drugs turned out by BALCO wouldn’t be detectable).

We already know, for instance, that A-Rod’s name is on the list. But is Barry Bonds’? Roger Clemens’? What about some of the other suspects, like Gary Sheffield? There really aren’t many gimmies - not as many, at least, as it might appear.

Anyway, the Mitchell Report would be a good Square One. Then fans could peruse the statistics from the ‘03 season - paying particular attention to the muscle categories, where Roid Heads are known to congregate. Among the top home run hitters that year were Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield and Rafael Palmeiro. Hmmm. How many of them (and how many of the others in the top 20) should you “vote” for?

Or to put it another way: What in blazes got into Javy Lopez (43 homers, 32 more than the season before) that year?

Fans could also take the approach that steroid use seemed to be a tribal thing, that some teams had lots of partakers and others not so many. For example, 18 players who passed through the Orioles organization are mentioned in the Mitchell Report, the second most in baseball - compared with only four Twins. Does that make Tony Batista a better guess than Torii Hunter?

Then you’ve got a player like Matt Lawton, who got caught taking steroids two years later, in 2005, and was suspended for 10 games. Should we assume he was on the juice in ‘03, too?

And what about Julio Franco? He turned 45 that season and still batted .294 - with a higher slugging percentage (.452) than he had the year he turned 25 (.388). Then again, maybe it wasn’t PEDs; maybe it was formaldehyde.

Little by little, a list could be put together. Fans could even do it by process of elimination, by figuring out which guys COULDN’T POSSIBLY have been indulging in performance enhancers that season. Such as:

c Nate Cornejo. He struck out just 46 batters in 194 2/3 innings, an average of 2.1 per nine innings. Nobody who was that hittable could have been doing anything illegal.

c Anybody else on Cornejo’s wretched Detroit club. The Tigers lost 119 games that year. How could any of them have been cheating?

c The league’s top singles hitters. This rules out Juan Pierre (168 bingles), Ichiro Suzuki (162), Luis Castillo (156), Jason Kendall (153) and Matt Young (148).

c Cesar Izturis. He had one home run in 558 at-bats - and I’d be willing to bet it was 100 percent Cesar.

c David Eckstein. Do we even need to discuss this?

OK, you get the general idea. I don’t know about you, but I think this could be big. I’ve got my list, you’ve got your list, everybody else has their list… let’s see who’s got the best list. Besides, baseball has been taking a beating lately. It desperately needs to inject - if you’ll pardon the expression - a little levity into the situation.

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