- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

Finally.

Who says baseball people can’t reach a decision? It’s just that they can’t reach one quickly.

After months and years of dithering, major league baseball’s owners and players agreed Tuesday on a tougher steroids policy. The feeling here is that it still isn’t tough enough, but at least proven offenders now will get what amounts to a punch in the nose instead of a slap on the wrist.

A first positive test will bring a 50-game suspension rather than 10 days. A second will bring a 100-game suspension rather than 30 days. A third will bring a lifetime suspension, with the culprit having the right to apply for reinstatement in two years.

I don’t much care for the last provision, because “lifetime” should mean lifetime. If a guy cheats three times, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll do so a fourth. Let’s toss the bum out and keep him out.

The agreement also provides that an independent arbitrator will review reinstatement applications. Off the top, I can think of three people who would be splendid in such a role: Former President George H.W. Bush, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and former long-distance dialer Henry Aaron.

Of course, one or more of these estimable gentlemen might be too disgusted with baseball nowadays to take the job. I refer especially to Mr. Aaron, who managed to smite 755 home runs without ingesting illegal substances. How many dingers might Hank have hammered with steroids? 855? 955? An infinite number?

For once, some genuine heroes have emerged on Capitol Hill. Northern Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, previously introduced a steroids bill and conducted the March hearing at which Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco embarrassed themselves and their sport.

Sen. John McCain also gets an assist on the legislative play. During a Senate hearing on Sept.26, the Arizona Republican lambasted commissioner Bud Selig and union head Donald Fehr for allowing baseball’s weak steroids policy to endure. Said McCain, one of Washington’s most respected and influential lawmakers: “I suggest you act — and act soon.”

So next season we’ll have a better chance of watching a baseball game without wondering what wondrous feats were chemically aided. Did Barry Bonds hit that mammoth shot into McCovey’s Cove because he has great eyes, wrists and shoulders — or because of something else? Now we’ll see.

Back to that “lifetime” business. As someone who lacked the eyesight and reflexes to play baseball as a kid, I take a hard line toward those who have the skill but lack the integrity to play by the rules. Some guy named Alexander Pope once said to err is human and to forgive divine, but I wish only the worst of times for those athletes who abuse their God-given talent in one way or another.

For a couple of decades, I loved the way Pete Rose played baseball — running onto and off the field, slapping so many hits that you needed a calculator to count them, sliding head-first without worrying that his crew cut or page boy hairdo might get mussed up, not to mention his mug.

But Pete Rose bet on his team’s games because of incredible stupidity, arrogance or both, profaning his legacy for all time. Baseball is right to keep him out of Cooperstown, a place where we are supposed to hail the best and not the worst of our knickered superstars.

Same thing with Palmeiro, whose positive steroids test irreparably tarnished his clean-cut, overachieving image. And while we don’t know for certain that Bonds, McGwire and Sammy Sosa used, look at the numbers. Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season lasted 34 years. Roger Maris’ record of 61 lasted 37 years. McGwire’s record of 70 lasted three.

You might choose to believe that McGwire, Bonds, Sosa and their ilk ascended to homeric heights without chemical assistance. You also might choose to believe that Brady Anderson of the Orioles swatted 50 homers in 1996 (26 more than in any other season) merely because he was undercutting the ball a little better. But if you so believe, you might as well send your Christmas gift list off to Santa Claus at the North Pole.

At long last, baseball has gotten off its collective rump and done something about eliminating, or at least curtailing, steroid abuses. Now all it needs to do is find an owner for the Nationals.

Finally.

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