Tuesday, February 08, 2005

It's Only Going to Get Worse

There are fewer prospects in this world less appealing than the concept of Jose Canseco as an author. Okay, so Tonya Harding as a boxer (where she has now started to look like Butterbean -- scroll down the link to see what I mean) comes to mind, but otherwise you'll have to search far and wide for people to fill out your list.

That said, Jose Canseco's book (in which he names names and alleges steroid use by star players) comes at a time when the Lords of Baseball might have thought that they put the issue of steroid usage to rest. You have to give Bud Selig and Donald Fehr credit, because they resolved a simmering controversy with an agreement only to look forward, and not backward. That's noteworthy, because many a controversy never gets resolved because of the participants' desire to go through a blow-by-blow as to what got them to an impasse. Not here.

Which, at the time, was good not only for buffed players of yesteryear (whose HR totals sometimes defied explanation) but also for the mainstream media, who basically set a strikeout record on this issue at the same time home run records were being shattered. Yes, your beloved mainstream baseball scribes saw players come back from the off-season weighing 25 pounds more, with the telltale signs of steroid use on their bodies, and wrote nothing about it.

Tying Canseco and the MSM's strikeout record together, Canseco's book alleges that certain players used steroids. Basically, those players are denying it, and some of their supporters within Major League Baseball are backing up those making the denials. It's not a pretty situation, and, of course, depending on to whom you speak, Canseco is either a sayer of the truth or a modern-day Joseph McCarthy, finding steroidists in the closet where none existed. It may well be that Canseco has identified the wrong guys, but everyone has to remember a few basic points. One, even if you think that Canseco is a jerk, that doesn't necessarily mean he is lying. Two, the steroids policy didn't come about in Major League Baseball because no players were using the juice and therefore it was done as a protective measure. To the contrary, the Lords of Baseball knew a steroid problem existed and acted when both the public and a majority of the players demanded that something be done about it.

Which means, of course, that the problem that Bud Selig and Donald Fehr seemingly wanted to avoid is now rearing its ugly head. Names are being named, and it may well be that more surface because either former players just want the truth to be known and have a need to confess or they feel cheated because other players used performance-enhancing drugs and profited at their expense. However the information is delivered, those involved in Major League Baseball should be very careful. Close ranks too much, and your pants will catch fire. After all, someone had to have been using steroids. And, my guess is, there were enough someones to fill the rosters of several teams' worth of players.

As for the mainstream sports media, I heard Tim Kurkjian on ESPN Radio this morning, and he did concede (if somewhat weakly) that the MSM missed this issue. But then he did a classic retreat, indicating that it was a very hard issue to cover and that steroids were legal in the game, as if to excuse their use (regardless of the fact, Tim, that they were illegal in the real world). The reason the MSM missed the issue is that like the owners and the fans, they really didn't want to know. They wanted to believe that all the HRs were the result of smaller parks and watered down pitching staffs, that they really were watching history in the making, and nothing more. They also didn't want to jeopardize their relationships with players, who aren't always the easiest to deal with in the first place. Write about steroid usage and lose access was probably the mantra of many. The bottom line is that all of the sports media fanned on this issue. Numerous times. Let's face it, they're more feature writers than they are investigative journalists, and no one had the guts to turn on his paper's news reporters to the issue (again, the issue of jeopardizing relationships with players comes to mind).

Instead, it took the FBI and an investigation into BALCO to bring the whole dirty business to light, and then the SF Chronicle had itself a story. Which is fine, except for the fact that almost everyone involved in the game knew that strange stuff was going on well before the BALCO scandal came to light. It's good to see that Major League Baseball has addressed the problem to a degree, but it's a shame that it took so long.

And now the prodigal son has returned, telling stories, spinning tales, doing something to get himself attention and make some money at the same time. The family secrets are coming out of the old, musty closets, and many of those who were told all was well but now know its not demand to know what really went on. Who hit his HRs legitimately? Who was juiced?

This whole story line will get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

The lessons? For Major League Baseball, act on the tips you get when you get them. Don't ignore them. The next time you do, Congress will be all over you; they gave you a pass this time. For the players' union, listen to the majority of the players who want a clean game, and stop always trying to protect silly positions and your bad boys at the expense of your majority -- those tactics make your entire membership look bad. For the writers, just do your job and cover the news that's there. After all, the last time I checked, you're not on Major League Baseball's payroll.

Only a short while now until pitchers and catchers report.

Let's see what else gets reported.

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