LONGSHOTS: Steroids muscle in on game’s strength
by Dave Long
I’ve got this great auto mechanic. His name is Leo Briand. And since I’m one of those folks who, whether it needs it or not, changes his motor oil every 100,000 miles, he’s got his hands full when my car rolls into Auto City in Manchester.
Given the care I give my car it can be a financial adventure for me as well when I send it in for a simple inspection. I just never know how much work it’ll need to get that elusive sticker. So while he’s a really good mechanic and easy to work with, the biggest reason I like him is that when I look at my bill, I never say, “Did I reeeally need all that done?” While I don’t want to cast doubt on upstanding mechanics everywhere, I can honestly say I’ve never not wondered it if I really needed it all done by anyone else who’s worked on my cars over the years. But with Leo I never do.
Now why am I bringing this up? Because of the recent admission by Alex Rodriguez that he used steroids from 2001 to 2003, which Commissioner Bud Selig followed up with by saying he had shamed the game. See, I want to feel like baseball is as honest as my auto mechanic, and it’s not. In fact it’s getting slimier by the day.
Just think about what’s happened in the last month. Several reports say prosecutors in the upcoming perjury trial of seven-time MVP Barry (Government) Bonds have a witness and evidence linking him to the steroid use he said he didn’t do. The FBI is investigating if seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens lied under oath to Congress. A-Rod comes clean to Peter Gammons on ESPN only after he’s outed by reporter Selena Roberts on SI.com. A day later 2002 MVP Miguel Tejada pleads guilty to lying to Congress. A day later A-Rod shows up at the dedication of Alex Rodriguez field at the University of Miami which the U did after gladly receiving his $3.9 million donation.
Then old-timers weighed in. Pete Rose says on talk radio he’s not buying A-Rod’s story because he doesn’t think any ballplayer would walk away from it after hitting 52 homers, while adding he’s still in his corner. A day later the honorable Hank Aaron tells CNN baseball should leave Bonds number one on the all-time list. And finally this morning I read about I-Rod answering a reporter’s question about his long-suspected status as a roids boy with “Only god knows,” which of course is not true since he does. I took that for a yes.
Can I ask something? Who is running this show — Archbishop Law and the Catholic Church?
And then there’s José Canseco, who weighed in by telling the Associated Press last week, “I think I have the ear of the nation now. I think everyone realizes I have not in any way, shape or form tried to create smoke and mirrors like Major League Baseball has and the players have. I have been excruciatingly honest about what’s going on in baseball.”
Except one thing. Yes, he told the truth, but he did it only for the same reason he took performance-enhancing drugs in the first place: to line his pockets. He’s the lowest skunk of all in this mess, because he cheated as a player to get a better contract and then ratted out his friends for money to profit from it again. But he is right about one thing. The powers that be have created a smoke screen to shield themselves from blame. It’s called the Mitchell Report — it was done by a guy who sits on the Board of Directors of the Red Sox and has brilliantly shifted the spotlight entirely onto the players and away from the enablers who looked the other way as the homers were flying out because the cash registers were going ka-ching.
That’s why the commissioner’s having the utter temerity to say last week that A-Rod shamed the game was so galling. Now I have no sympathy for A-Rod. He only came out because he got caught and the same guy who told Katie Couric he did not take PEDs on 60 Minutes.
But here’s what I don’t like. The owners had to know what was going on. I was at a game in 1990 at Fenway when the entire place serenaded Canseco with the chant of Ste-ROOOOIDS every time he went to right field. Chad Curtis went on TV in 1999 talking about how unfair it was for him to compete for a job with guys who were using and he wasn’t. Buck Showalter said on Baseball Tonight Sunday that guessing who was on them was a common practice in major-league locker rooms. And then the homers started flying out. In the first 90 years of baseball players hit 50 homers in a season 17 times. In the next 13 years it happened 20 times. And that group included the likes of Brady Anderson, Luis Gonzales and Andru Jones — who two years later can’t even hit his own weight.
What baseball did by looking the other way was create a climate where for all but, ironically, the big-time stars now in the spotlight, you almost had to do it. Those guys were competing for the million-dollar lifestyle of the majors. If they choose not to and the guy fighting for your roster spot does, he’s looking at making $4,000 a month in the minors. So what would you do? And then there are the guys with warning track power — who might get an extra 20 feet out of a bottle to get 15 homers a year and a three-year deal that will set them up for life. What that means is that, Bonds and Clemens aside, it was not for the records but a financial decision to use, just as it was for the owners to look the other way.
The weird thing is, especially for one who loves the records as I do, I don’t really care all that much about this and never did. After living through the shocking sex abuse cover-up by the Catholic Church this is pretty small potatoes. And unless the next revelation includes a player and a barnyard animal I’m pretty much numb to it all anyway.
Marvin Miller is right. This is a witch hunt to lay the blame exclusively on the players. So my real outrage lies with all the folks — players, Donald (have no) Fehr and the union, holier-than-thou look-the-other-way fans, owners and most especially the commissioner for trying to duck the blame instead of ’fessing up to put this sordid fiasco behind the game like the leader he’s supposed to be.
So his trying to lay it last week on A-Rod is both a joke and a disgrace.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.