Now that everyone has feigned shock and surprise at the revelations by Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti that Major League Baseball is awash in steroid abuse, let's get real.
There have been whispers about steroids for years, but baseball was so busy reveling in the Herculean home run feats of its biggest stars that nobody really wanted to rock the boat. Football's dirty little secret had become baseball's salvation, so everyone who wasn't going anabolic just sort of looked the other way.
It's kind of reminiscent of the early 1980s, when cocaine became the recreational drug of choice in major-league clubhouses and sparked a criminal investigation that sullied the reputation of several star players. The Pittsburgh drug scandal and the well-publicized substance problems of popular players such as Steve Howe and Darryl Strawberry finally prompted baseball to take a hard look at its disciplinary approach to drug and alcohol abuse.
Unfortunately, every attempt at addressing the broad issue of substance-abuse prevention has gotten tangled up in the bitter collective bargaining relationship between the owners and players. The Major League Baseball Players Association has long resisted random drug testing on civil libertarian grounds, and management has never pushed the issue particularly hard because there always has been more pressing business at the bargaining table.
Even so, the problem of illegal drug use comes with enough built-in checks and balances to discourage most sensible players from getting involved with cocaine or other narcotics. Public embarrassment is a strong deterrent. So is jail time and the potential loss of millions of dollars in future earnings.
Steroids are an entirely different story. The huge salaries paid to baseball's biggest boppers provide players with plenty of incentive to take whatever shortcuts they deem necessary to build strength and enhance performance.
The owners have been making out, too, since big home run totals generally have translated into bigger crowds and bigger revenues.
Basically, the industry just winked at the growing steroid-abuse problem until Canseco and Caminiti finally rubbed everybody's nose in it.
Enough. It's time to put an end to this insanity before emaciated, cancer-ridden players start showing up on "Nightline" to relate their tales of long-term steroid abuse. If that means banning all performance-enhancing chemicals and testing players periodically to keep them honest, so be it.
The union figures to resist any random testing program, but union officials need to rethink any opposition to testing and institute their own program to rid baseball of anabolic steroids if they aren't comfortable letting management handle the situation.
They could make the case that it isn't the union's place to invade the privacy of union members, but they could just as easily focus on all the instances in the history of the labor movement where unions have taken important steps to improve worker safety.
This isn't a matter of principle or labor politics. It just might be a matter of life and death.
Helling defends union
Diamondbacks pitcher Rick Helling, who was the American League player representative and is a member of the union's bargaining committee, said this week that the union has never fought against any specific measure to reduce steroid abuse. The subject apparently has never been seriously discussed until now.
"I talked to some people with the union today, and to this point, throughout the history of the collective bargaining agreement, it's never been brought up," Helling told the East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune. "The feeling I'm getting is [people think] we've fought against it or turned it down. Well, it's never been an issue before.
"Obviously it's going to be an issue this time. We'll talk about it and try to figure out what's best for players, first of all, but [also] the overall game. I want to make sure people understand it's never been an issue till now."
Big Mac re-attack
The day before Barry Bonds hit his 584th home run to pass Mark McGwire on baseball's all-time list last weekend, he told reporters that he wouldn't be surprised if Big Mac came out of retirement to add to his career total.
"Nobody knows. Mark could shock the world and come back," Bonds said. "When he walked away from the game he was far from being done playing baseball. In my opinion, I wouldn't put it past him if he felt he could get healthy again and feel good out there and able to do it. I wouldn't put it past him if he came back. He's capable of doing that.
"None of us in the game of baseball would ever think Mark McGwire's done and still can't hit a baseball. That's one thing Mark can do, and do it very well."
McGwire, however, has given no indication that he is interested in resuming his career. Close friend Tony La Russa said recently that McGwire, 38, is thoroughly enjoying life outside baseball.
In defense of McGwire