- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

I’ve spent two days re-reading “Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train,” the wonderful 1995 biography by Henry Thomas, and I can’t find any mention that Johnson used steroids. Probably that’s because Thomas is Walter’s grandson, and we all know that some family secrets should remain just that.

“I guess you’ve caught me,” Thomas conceded. “Finally, the secret is out: Walter injected steroids into his right arm, and that accounted for his freakish speed. But he wasn’t the only one. You know Cobb was a user, too — he was always looking to get any edge he could, right?”

In case Thomas’ true meaning doesn’t come through, he was being highly sarcastic by way of responding to suggestions last week by Jeff Kent, the Houston Astros’ addled second baseman, that old-time ballplayers could have been using steroids as much as today’s.

“What a dumb thing for him to say,” Thomas said. “Heck, those old guys didn’t do anything to bulk up. They weren’t even into lifting weights, because the theory was that it would make ballplayers musclebound.”

Apparently, this Kent is no super man when it comes to baseball history. In an interview, he told the Houston Chronicle he was sick of reading that baseball was so much cleaner in the past. Commenting on speculation that such recent sluggers as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa (and Brady Anderson?) had their home run totals inflated by artificial means, Kent cited the likes of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris and asked, “Can you tell me truthfully those guys weren’t doing drugs then?”

Well, no — not unless somebody has contact with the hereafter and can get the Babe or Rog to confess. Imagine the questions they could be asked:

“Hey, Babe, how come you put on 50 pounds around your gut when you got older? That wasn’t really from hot dogs and booze, was it?”

“Hey, Rog, that business about your hair falling out down the stretch in 1961 — that really wasn’t from nerves, was it?”

We all know Ruth wasn’t an exemplary citizen; his consumption of booze and broads at least equaled his appetite for frankfurters. Yet it’s hard to buy Kent’s implication that without drugs of some sort, the mighty Bambino might have been a slap hitter who batted .238 with, say, 114 home runs lifetime.

Although Kent didn’t mention Walter Johnson — probably never heard of him — the same illogic applies: That without chemical substances, Washington’s greatest professional athlete would have been a junkball artist who won, say, 117 games lifetime.

In its article, the Chronicle identified Kent as “a Cal Berkeley product who loves to debate.” Cal Berkeley? Judging from the common sense of his arguments, or lack thereof, he’d be more likely to be a guy named Cal who uses Berkley fishing equipment.

But that’s unfair. After all, most fishermen are smart people who have something relevant and intelligent to say. Instead, Kent continued to harangue the hapless Chronicle reporter with lunkheaded locutions like “they were shooting horses with steroids in those [unspecified] days, and that’s the same kind of steroids they’re putting into human bodies now.”

Hmm, that calls for a rebuttal from Seabiscuit’s ghost. “Hey, ‘Biscuit, did anybody ever shoot you full of steroids? Is that how you beat War Admiral in the match race?”

“Neigh!”

All kidding aside, I wonder what Jeff Kent’s reason was for making himself look like such an equine derriere. Maybe he just wanted to get his name in the paper. After all, with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte joining such established Astros stars as Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Roy Oswalt, Jeff might be lucky to get mentioned anywhere except in box scores this season.

Still, it does make you wonder …

“Mr. Cobb, I’m a reporter from my school newspaper, and I was just wondering how come you spike so many opposing players?”

“Well, ah don’t mean to, son — it only happens when mah supplier is late. Ah don’t really lak bein’ called the Jawjia Peachpit.” …

“Mr. Williams, can you tell me why you’re so nasty to most sportswriters?

“That’s the dumbest $*%*& question I’ve ever heard, Bush. Sometimes, when the drugs wear off, I lose my head.” …

“And you, Mr. Johnson. Is it true that you’re afraid one of your fastballs will seriously injure a batter?”

“Not always, my boy — only when I look in for the catcher’s sign and I see Lucy in the sky with diamonds.”

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