- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

This New York Times report that Sammy Sosa failed a drug test in 2003 is a real stunner, isn’t it? It’s like finding out that the Hulk has an anger-management problem or that Michael Jackson had his nose done again.

Of all the convicts and suspects in baseball’s long-running drama, “To Syringe, With Love,” Sosa - along with Rafael Palmeiro and a few others - might have required the most suspension of disbelief. At the end of his fourth season, by which time he was 23, he was averaging only one homer every 33.8 at bats. Such a modest beginning just doesn’t fit the profile of a Future Prodigious Slugger. Heck, compared to him, young Mel Ott (one homer every 18.2 ABs through the age of 23) was Roy Hobbs Jr.

But starting in the Slam Bam Summer of ‘98, Sosa put up the following home run totals, one after another: 66, 63, 50, 64. Granted, every major leaguer was muscling up then, trading in his XL jersey for a 2X or a 3X, but Sammy’s transformation from a 165-pound singles hitter to a 220-pound longball legend seemed a bit much even for those times. His ever-present smile, moreover - even with suspicion swirling around him - made him look like the cat who swallowed the canary (if not the cat who swallowed the pharmacy).

There was no definitive proof of wrongdoing, though - except for, well, that time he got caught with a corked bat. He testified before Congress in 2005, flanked by the accused (Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro) and the admitted (Jose Canseco)- and stuck stubbornly to his story of never having taken performance enhancing drugs.

And now, years later, after Palmeiro has been outed, McGwire has gone back into seclusion and other big names - Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez - have been blackened, comes a story in the New York Times that Sosa, like A-Rod, tested positive for SOMETHING in ‘03, something other than Vitaminwater. Which means even Sammy, who has been doing quadruple axels, butterfly jumps and camel spins around the subject for the last decade, won’t be able to skate away clean. Assuming the Times’ charges hold up - and since the story wasn’t written by Jayson Blair, there’s a good chance they will - he’ll be just like rest: a collapsed star no longer giving off light, another larger-than-life hero banished to Munchkinland.

No matter what your feelings toward Sosa - and no matter how surprised (or unsurprised) you were by these latest disclosures - the news still stings like a fastball in the ribs. If you care about sports, care about their authenticity, it’s always a jolt when they prove to be otherwise. After all, the worst playing field isn’t a wet one or a muddy one or a frozen one, it’s an unlevel one. And while plenty of big leaguers partook of PEDs in the pretesting years - far more, no doubt, than the 104 who turned up in the ‘03 screening - there also were plenty who Just Said No.

Too bad there can’t be reparations for those guys. I mean, who’s to say how many championship rings and All-Star berths they lost - and how many millions of dollars - because some players were willing to stop at nothing? Why, the entire history of the game would be different. So much so that Roger Maris’ 61 homers in ‘61 would probably still be the record.

Instead, a whole era has been rendered null and void. Barry Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, A-Rod - it’s like discovering we faked the moon landing… or that Columbus turned around halfway across the Atlantic and fudged the rest (while sunning himself on the French Riviera). The credibility of baseball in that period lies, if you’ll pardon the expression, in a million little pieces.

The players union is still fighting to recover the positive drug tests seized by federal agents in their investigation of PED trafficking. What a hoot. The union is trying to take the high ground, to make it out to be an issue of confidentiality, after Miguel Tejada has pleaded guilty to lying to congressional investigators, after perjury charges have been brought against Bonds (with Roger Clemens, perhaps, to follow) and after that sorry display on Capital Hill by Sosa, Palmeiro and the stonewalling McGwire.

Some of the truth has already leaked out; what Donald Fehr, the players’ paid apologist, is hoping to avoid is a full-blown gusher. Baseball wants to move on - wants to clear the bases, so to speak - but the 800-pound PED gorilla is still standing on first, clogging things up.


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