- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

There is only one way baseball will be able to rid itself of the steroid revelations shame the players into doing something about it. This may be the one issue in baseball in which their pride could be more important than their pocketbooks, and that's where they need to be hit their pride.

This is an issue that only the players and their union will be able to do something about. The owners can make it a negotiating issue if they like, but there is no way the union will buy into it unless its membership rises up and says that all of them are tired of being tagged with baseball's latest version of the scarlet letter.

So from now on, if you are a baseball fan, you need to act like the Internal Revenue Service everyone is guilty until proven innocent.

If there is a ballplayer whose home run production dramatically jumps to record-setting levels, consider him juiced.

If there is a ballplayer who puts up unprecedented numbers in his career and looks as if his muscles have muscles, consider him juiced.

If there is a ballplayer who has put on bulk and built up power throughout his career and now spends more than half of his time on the disabled list as his body breaks down, consider him juiced.

Fair? Maybe not. But neither is the deception that players have been perpetuating with these inflated power numbers, creating the illusion that they are actually in the same class as great ballplayers like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Babe Ruth (who took performance-debilitating substances like beer and hot dogs throughout his career).

"Doctors ought to quit worrying about what ballplayers are taking," Barry Bonds told the Associated Press last week. "What players take doesn't matter. It's nobody else's business."

Barry Bonds should be embarrassed when he passes Frank Robinson on the all-time home run list. He doesn't even belong in the same outfield.

I'm sorry, but you have to consider every home run record set since 1996 to be bogus, a juiced number.

You have to deny players the benefit of the doubt because of the doubts raised by their own kind in recent days. We sort of scoffed when Jose Canseco came out with the news that he was writing a tell-all book that would reveal, among other things, an epidemic of steroid use among ballplayers. Canseco estimated that 85 percent of major leaguers used steroids. But because it was Jose, a clown as well as a ballplayer, no one really took it seriously. And because he had just failed to get another job in baseball in his bid, we figured it was just sour grapes. Finally, everyone suspected Canseco had taken steroids for years, and it seemed so scummy that he would choose to blow the whistle on everyone else.

But Ken Caminiti's confession to Sports Illustrated is different. It came out of nowhere, a former MVP telling the magazine that he was pumped up on steroids when he hit .326 with 40 home runs and drove in 130 runs in 1996. "It's no secret what's going on in baseball," he told the magazine. "At least half the guys are using steroids. They talk about it. They joke about it with each other."

It's no joke now. Caminiti's revelations have blown the doors off baseball's dirty secret, and it hits deep with players maybe even deeper than money, if you can believe that. It questions the very talent that makes them the money and could prove to be a divisive issue for a union that has prided itself on solidarity while fighting against the owners. This time they are fighting against each other.

Bonds says it's nobody's business. Frank Thomas says they need to get it out of the game. "I think it's time for testing," he told the AP.

Caminiti, an alcoholic and former drug user, says that although he made many mistakes during his playing career, "I don't think using steroids was one of them." Johnny Damon told the Boston Globe that steroids were a "severe problem. I feel I'm at a disadvantage being someone who doesn't use them."

This is what anabolic steroids do to a person they raise the body's testosterone and increase muscle mass. They also can cause liver and heart damage, strokes, high cholesterol, erratic and aggressive behavior and genitalia dysfunction. They are banned in the Olympics, the NFL and the NBA. They are illegal in the United States unless prescribed by a physician for medical reasons.

This is what anabolic steroids do to the game of baseball a game whose energy is derived from the numbers it creates, it invalidates every statistic over the last six years and perhaps longer. It turns the field of dreams into a field of fraud. And for every high school baseball player out there who wants to be the next Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire, it means that he will have to spend as much time finding a drug dealer as he does a hitting coach.

The players are the only ones who can stop it by demanding testing. They have to, or else the damage steroids will cause will be to the heart of the game itself.


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