The expression that the easiest way to not fix a problem is to deny one exists has certainly been given ample usage in sports of late. First, we have the NHL lockout, for which there is no end in sight. But also applying to the phrase is the steroid scandal plaguing baseball.
It has become obvious to all thinking people that between 1985 or so to the present, certain players have juiced up to gain an edge on their counterparts. Not everyone, but enough to make it an issue.
Looking at how the build of players has changed throughout their careers makes you wonder. In his early Oakland years, Mark McGwire was skinny and relatively quick. Later in his career, he all of a sudden turned into a behemoth, hardly resembling his former self. Same thing with Barry Bonds. In his days with Pittsburgh, he wasn’t nearly as big and muscular as he is now. Can we really explain that away by saying he worked out a lot?
Going back to McGwire for a moment, his home run statistics are also curious. In the first six full years of his career, between 1987 and 1992, he hit 217 home runs, an average of 36 a season. But after an injury-plagued year and the 1994 strike, something miraculous seemed to happen. From 1995 to 2001, his final seven years, McGwire hit 345 home runs. That averages out to 49 a season, a jump of 13 from the previous numbers.
The Yankees’ Jason Giambi hit 100 round-trippers in his first four seasons. He then whacked 163 out of the park in his next four years, starting with the 2000 season. Giambi has all but admitted that he used steroids and it’s hard to argue with him.
Simply put, using steroids is tantamount to cheating. Players use an artificial substance to make themselves bigger, stronger and better than players who do not juice up. Anyone who argues that steroids do not give players an edge ignores evidence and common sense.
Yet in the last 15 years, as this problem has grown in magnitude, Major League Baseball has done absolutely nothing to remedy it. They wouldn’t even admit it was a problem, though there were signs along the way. McGwire’s 1998 record-breaking 70 home run season was followed up with the admission that he used androstenedione, a then-legal over-the-counter substance that enhances muscles. Then came the whole BALCO investigation involving Giambi and Bonds, among others.
In response to mounting evidence of steroid use, baseball’s new drug testing policy, enacted for this season, remains a joke. It calls for one unannounced testing of each player during the season and a 10 day suspensions for first time offenders. That’s puny. Baseball players can in some cases break the law by taking steroids and come out of it by only missing 10 days out of a 162-game season. Not to mention how little effect the missed salary would have on these players.
Throughout this, the players have denied, stonewalled, and blamed the media, with Bonds leading the charge on the last one. He is perhaps the most arrogant human being to ever put on a uniform. In announcing that he will miss significant time recovering from knee surgery and general depression, he said this: “You (the media) wanted me to jump off the bridge. I finally have jumped. You wanted to bring me down, you’ve finally brought me and my family down. Finally done it. From everybody, all of you. So now go pick a different person. I’m done.”
What a baby. The guy is a living embodiment of steroids, and he blames the media for his troubles? If Bonds breaks the career home run record, it would be a travesty to the game. Just don’t tell ESPN, because they absolutely adore him.
The recent congressional hearing on steroids, brought about because of baseball’s weak response to the issue, was a waste of time. Lawmakers did more lecturing than asking questions, and the five subpoenaed players said little. McGwire didn’t help his image by refusing to answer questions about the past, and Jose Canseco cited his Fifth Amendment rights. Commissioner Bud Selig said the problem is not as big as some think. Stonewall and deny.
Like it or not, baseball has an image problem. The 1990’s are now viewed as the Era of Steroids. All records set in this period have to be in question. That would be bad enough. But when both management and players effectively deny the severity of the problem, it only makes the situation worse. Baseball should get its act together and adopt a steroid policy that matches the true depth of the scandal.