Admit it, Bud, The Steroid Era is on the books
OK, baseball has finally gotten serious.Big Bud Selig has appointed former Sen. George Mitchell to clean up baseball from the newly found scourge of steroids. Heads will doubtless roll. The diamonds of baseball will be soaked with blood, infused with performance-enhancing drugs. America’s pastime will once again be pure as the white-driven snow, as it has always been.Happy April Fools’ Day.In a continuing show of his ineptitude as baseball commissioner – interim or otherwise – since 1992, Selig is applying a butterfly-sized Band-Aid to an open chest wound. This investigation is far too little, far too late, too narrowly focused and like Selig, powerless.If you think San Francisco’s Barry Bonds is losing any sleep over this, here’s a clue – his weight gain hasn’t come from taking Ambien and having one too many late-night snacks. Where’ve you been, Bud?There’s the old expression of closing the barn doors after the horse got out. In the case of steroids, not only has the horse escaped, but she’s already in Japan – apparently congratulating the World Baseball Classic champs … great concept, Bud.Steroid use has simply been the issue that everyone involved in the game – owners, players, fans and media – have ignored until inconvenient. Baseball shot itself in the foot with the strike of 1994. Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-games mark in 1995 was nice, but the game needed more to regain its lost prominence.Baseball’s establishment didn’t tell the players to ‘roid up (a new verb coming to Webster’s near you), but it certainly turned a blind eye when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa went on their “epic” 1998 chase. TV ratings went up, and more importantly so did revenues. Turnstiles wheeled as McGwire, Sosa, and later Bonds came to yards across the country.
TV networks and newspapers regaled the homer chases of 1998 and 2001. Selig and the owners were delighted as the game was revived, and they were rolling money.Giants owner Peter Magowan has a palace by the Bay, filled with fans every night, because San Francisco’s faithful (myself included) came to see Bonds splash down in McCovey Cove. Magowan, his other owners, Selig and Fox and ESPN aren’t giving the money back.Baseball fans aren’t stupid. We all followed along merrily. Yeah, these guys are bigger, but did you see Barry jack Nos. 61, 62 and 63 at Coors Field back in 2001? Pretty awesome, huh?How can a mark – Roger Maris’ 61 ding-dongs – which stood for 37 years be obliterated by McGwire’s 70 in 1998 and Bonds’ 73 in 2001, and nobody from baseball’s so-called defenders of integrity of the game – be they the commish, the media or fans – question it?Yes, there were a few naysayers, but they were drowned out by the money, the fans’ enjoyment of the game and the pomp of it all. Now after San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams write “Game of Shadows,” focusing on Bonds and others involved in the BALCO scandal, Selig, the media and fans are running around, yelling, “For shame.”Nice try. We’re all hypocrites in this charade, and the biggest of us all is Selig, who stood by idly.Sound and furyBut leave it to Bud to try to spin this debacle. Was Scott McClellan baseball’s second choice? The barometer of Selig’s true intentions can be seen in the parameters he’s set for the steroid investigation. Part of the problem is that baseball didn’t have a steroid ban until 2003, a little late by then. The horse was in Guam. Penalties? Not until 2004. Baseball’s hiding behind its molasses-like response to the steroid issue.The game is acting finally because Bonds is sitting on 708 career homers. Maris’ 61 was a big mark. But despite Billy Crystal’s excellent movie titled by the same number, Maris is not baseball royalty.
Babe Ruth will always be an icon, and 714 is a sacred number in a game that lives by statistics. Hank Aaron’s 755 becomes more holy as Bonds comes closer.Whatever you think of Bonds, and he’s a divisive subject – loved or hated – if baseball is really interested in the truth, it’s got to go further back than 2003. This is not arguing for a pass for Bonds, but McGwire, Sosa and everybody else who started hitting 50 dingers per year all of a sudden need to be included.You can’t just go after G. Gordon Liddy without looking at H.R. Haldeman and John Erlichman.Watching the physiques and power numbers of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds balloon in the last 10 years logically suggests that they were on steroids. But baseball’s problem is proving it beyond theories of ye olde ratio of head size to that of the privates.You can’t test McGwire and Sosa because they’re out of the game. Bonds has doubtless been tested – and passed. Rafael Palmiero was a small fry. Baseball acts in its own interests and it would have loved to have gotten a positive from Bonds to be rid of him, and more importantly, his baggage.The chances of Bonds succumbing to his conscious are about as likely as the real Paula Abdul showing up at Giants’ spring training. He’ll lawyer up. (Yes, another new verb for Webster’s.)In the end, this investigation will be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.What next?Bonds will not be suspended. He will break Ruth’s mark this year, and Aaron’s in 2007, if his Barry-ness chooses to and is healthy enough. (Remember the 2007 All-Star Game is in San Francisco, and Barry’s ego is big enough to come back for another year.)
So where do we put Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and company when it comes to the record books? Baseball of different eras has produced records. Cy Young’s 511 career wins, and 313 losses for that matter, are in cement. No one will ever pitch that long to accrue that many decisions. It was a pitcher’s era.When Ruth hit 54 homers in 1920, a staggering number since he had set the old record in 1919 with 29, he went yard more times than any other team in baseball except the Phillies. There were those, Ty Cobb included, who thought the game was going to hell then.The mound was raised 10 inches in 1968, and Denny McLain became the last pitcher to win 30 games in a year, while Bob Gibson posted another of baseball’s magic numbers – a 1.12 ERA.Maris hit 61 in an expansion year with eight more games on the schedule, earning him the dreaded asterisk. That notation was finally, and justly, removed by former commissioner Fay Vincent, and those 61 home runs are looking better than ever.People will call for the same asterisk for Bonds, McGwire and Sosa and so on. But to do so, baseball must go back and acknowledge its mistakes and admit a time when the needle was a part of the game as much as peanuts and hot dogs. It won’t, nor will we ever hear frankly from Bonds, McGwire and Sosa. The Steroid Era is officially a part of baseball history – good or bad – just like The Dead Ball Era before Ruth, the days of the Subway Series, The Black Sox, lights at Wrigley Field or the days of old Astroturf.Their records will stand, and that’s not an April Fools’ joke.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14630 or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado
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