- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

MIAMI. — Major league baseball’s television ratings have been enhanced by the performances on the field so far this postseason.

Oops. Better not use “performance” and “enhanced” in a sentence about baseball.

Still, viewership has been given a shot in the arm by the play of the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Marlins.

Darn, can’t use the phrase “shot in the arm,” either. It could be taken the wrong way.

It’s not easy telling fact from fiction or reality from illusion in baseball these days, but apparently a federal grand jury is going to try to do just that. What they find could result in damage to the game on par with the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, when players on the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing World Series games for a payoff from mobster Arnold Rothstein.

Back then, players were accused of not trying hard enough. This time, it is because players may have been trying too hard to find ways to get better.

Hovering over Game3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Florida Marlins at Pro Player Stadium in Miami last night was the news that Yankees slugger Jason Giambi is among the players who have been subpoened by a federal grand jury probing a San Francisco company that creates so-called nutritional supplements for athletes.

“It’s no big deal,” Giambi said. “I’m here to play baseball, and I don’t want it to distract me.”

A distraction? Funny, the word disaster comes to mind.

Somewhere in the back of our minds, in the midst of celebrating the 10 wonderful days of October that constituted the championship series in both leagues, we knew baseball somehow would find a way to shoot itself in the foot. After all, this is the industry that, on the heels of the exciting 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks, announced it would be contracting two teams.

Little did we know that baseball actually shot itself in the arm — or choked on a pill or whatever method players have been using to create the inflated hitting numbers of the past few years.

The repercussions could be wide-ranging for all of sports. Track and field is reeling from reports that numerous American athletes may have been using a designer steroid connected to this company, known as BALCO. It is not to be confused with Balto, the dog who delivered medicine to save a town in Alaska. The only dogs involved in this story may be the drug-sniffing kind.

For baseball, a game that cherishes the credibility of the numbers its players create, the investigation could lead to a dark era in which its offensive statistics are called into question.

Giambi was not the only big star subpoenaed. Barry Bonds, the slugger with the build of a linebacker who hit a single-season record 73 home runs in 2001, also will testify. The lab that was raided last month by federal authorities includes Bonds as a client, and the home of Bonds’ personal trainer also was searched. Bonds is expected to be, at the very least, a witness in the case — not a great image for the greatest player in the game.

This is the last thing baseball needed at a time when everyone has been singing its praises, but everyone involved — particularly the players — only can blame themselves. Baseball began testing for steroid use only this year, and it was a token effort. The Players Association steadfastly has refused to give in to stricter testing, even though some of its members, such as Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox, have called for it.

Players are going to have to be shamed — or scared, if federal grand juries are involved — into agreeing to stricter testing for performance enhancing substances. Until that happens, everyone is guilty until proven innocent, and until that happens, what we see take place during the World Series and beyond falls into the category of “Joe Millionaire” and other deceptive reality shows.

The season began with a young pitcher from the Baltimore Orioles dying in spring training after taking a supplement, and it will end with one of the stars of the World Series receiving a subpoena to testify in an illegal substance probe. It will be a memorable year.

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