Give drug tests a chance



A Look Inside

April 27, 2003|By PETER SCHMUCK

Last summer, Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco told the world that steroids were as common in major league baseball as pine tar and just about as easy to get.

In spring training, the death of Orioles prospect Steve Bechler shifted the focus to the widespread use of the potentially dangerous over-the-counter herbal stimulant ephedrine.

Now, the focus has shifted again with the revelation by soon-to-be Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn that the use of illegal amphetamines remains rampant decades after "greenies" supposedly had fallen out of favor among big league players.

The response has been predictable. Gwynn has been criticized for speaking up only after he retired and accepted a job as baseball coach at San Diego State University. Players and team officials insist that Gwynn's estimate that 50 percent of position players use uppers - offered during an interview with The New York Times - is an exaggeration.

Maybe it is, but there is only one way to find out, and no one seems particularly interested in instituting a random testing program to detect illegal drug use in baseball.

The Major League Baseball Players Association isn't going to allow testing without cause, even though a strong case can be made that only an Olympic-style drug program is going to rid the sport of the seemingly endless drug controversy and protect reckless players from themselves.

The union bowed to public pressure and agreed to an anonymous survey testing program for steroids during the last round of collective bargaining, but the players figure to hunker down and wait out this latest scandal. Baseball players have been getting "beaned up" for generations with the tacit approval of fans and management officials.

This would be one of baseball's dirty little secrets, but it hasn't really been a secret since the 1960s. It was just assumed that the use of illegal stimulants declined after the Pittsburgh drug scandal of 1985. More recently, it must have seemed logical to conclude that the growing availability of legal stimulants such as ephedrine would reduce demand for restricted amphetamines.

Gwynn, unlike some of the other whistleblowers, isn't backing down from his appraisal of the current drug situation, even though he claims that his phone is ringing off the hook with calls from players complaining about his decision to speak out on the subject.

The only clarification that Gwynn made in a subsequent interview was to specify that the 50 percent estimate was based on his observation of San Diego Padres teammates, which obviously didn't unruffle any feathers in his hometown.

General manager Kevin Towers and manager Bruce Bochy expressed shock at Gwynn's account of rampant amphetamine use in the Padres' clubhouse, but conceded that it could have gone on without their knowledge. Both also wondered why Gwynn didn't bring the problem to their attention while he was a member of the team.

"I'm not backing off of it," Gwynn said. "I said what I said. I'll stand by what I said. Don't tell me about Boch and Towers. I don't work for them.

"They're going to say what they have to say. I don't need to come to them. ... The reason I didn't come to them is because it's obvious."

Stand by for another burst of righteous indignation from Major League Baseball, which has made several halfhearted attempts to get a handle on substance abuse over the past 20 years, but don't hold your breath waiting for any concrete action.

No cause for panic

The Arizona Diamondbacks don't look much like the team that won the 2001 World Series, but their problems appear to be temporary.

They got off to a horrible start and currently are without the services of ace pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.

Johnson is on the disabled list with a sore knee, and Schilling underwent an appendectomy last weekend, leaving the D'backs to try to sneak by with four rookies on their 11-man pitching staff. They also have been struggling to score runs at a time when the rival San Francisco Giants are off to one of their best starts in franchise history.

Still, it's not as bad as it seems. Johnson is scheduled to start today, and Schilling is tentatively scheduled to return tomorrow. The Diamondbacks can't be happy to be 10 games out of first place, but they are starting to play better and there are still about 140 regular-season games to go. They'll still be printing playoff tickets in September.

Family matters

Giants superstar Barry Bonds continues to be a dominating presence at the plate, but his heart hasn't really been in the batter's box during the early weeks of the season.

His father, former major leaguer Bobby Bonds, just underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in December and had surgery to remove a cancerous kidney last summer. It's a wonder that Barry can concentrate on baseball at all.

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