It's time for game face on steroids

In Crisis

Baseball

December 07, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

BASEBALL HAS serious work to do. A firewall needs to be built. A dome needs to be placed over the entire area - and era - contaminated by ineffective leaders and detrimental policies.

Or, in the case of steroid abuse: the egregious lack of policy.

How serious are the remedies needed to right baseball? As serious as anyone could expect in an industry in which all parties - owners and players - contributed to this monumental breach of faith, credibility and integrity.

Suspensions for Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and anyone else who admits or is caught using steroids, even if it's "inadvertent."

Pink slips for Bud Selig and Donald Fehr.

Asterisks for all the bogus records set by players while on the alphabet soup from Greg Anderson's car trunk.

If there is, indeed, a lack of fan outrage over steroid abuse by baseball players, it's an unfortunate consequence of poor leadership on the part of the commissioner and union chief as much as it is a lack of ethical standards on the part of fans.

There's nothing wrong, illegal or burdensome about holding professional baseball players to a higher standard of behavior - and testing - than the average joe who can walk into a GNC.

Part of me thinks the biggest myth perpetrated by Bonds is that his home run record belongs solely to him. Yes, he hit them, but he hit them where, off whom, in which ballpark, paid for by whom, compared to such other major league players as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Babe Ruth?

Bonds' relevance and merit is only valuable when they can be legitimately measured against those of other baseball players. He has no meaning if he created an environment and rules and abilities different from all of his peers - past and present.

This is what someone ought to pay for - with suspensions or firings or asterisks.

Baseball, as an entity, is a commodity and historic mosaic owned by no one in particular. It is the collection and continuum of players playing by the same rules. Who is Bonds or Giambi or anyone else to say what he does in private is merely his business?

Also, if what they did wasn't wrong, why did they lie about it? Isn't that an admission that what they did was a flagrant abuse of the standards and rules? These are the ethical and existential parameters in which the actions of baseball players must be examined and judged. That's why it's impossible not to judge these kinds of abusers harshly.

Ditto the so-called powers-that-be (Fehr and Selig), who set policy and enact/enforce industry rules.

Sometimes, it's not a birthright to be paid millions to play professional sports. Sometimes, it's a privilege - especially if the public is counting on the sport's integrity as an athletic contest, not some chemically enhanced entertainment/freak show.

This week, the commissioner's office is waiting for what it believes will be a policy concession on the part of the union. Fehr and union leaders are meeting in Arizona. They're expected to get back to the league office soon, with the commissioner stating that he expects new policy agreed upon and in place by spring training.

You bet Selig is eager. The heat is on. Sen. John McCain is on the warpath, telling the world that if the players don't join the land of the living and submit to drug-testing policy, Congress will introduce federal legislation. I'd like to believe there'll be stiffer testing and penalties for steroid use in baseball. However, pessimism rules.

For all Selig's talk about the need for a zero-tolerance drug policy, it's been 10 years since the commissioner's office has been attempting to "win" a concession from the players union on a zero-tolerance policy.

The desire for such a policy is admirable. However, in baseball, you get paid for results. The fact that the BALCO Boys - and others - spent at least four years chemically altering the game and the records of baseball would seem to indicate that 10 years of wanting a drug policy is a far cry from getting one.

Between 1994 and 2002, baseball was essentially lawless when it came to performance-enhancing drug use. The commissioner knew it.

When Selig and the players union stared each other down until the 11th hour of the 2002 collective-bargaining agreement talks, union chief Fehr "won" that round of the drug wars, too. Fehr won because the commissioner was under tremendous pressure to make sure another World Series wasn't cancelled. Fehr won because Selig was unwilling to resort to the ultimate hammer: invoking the best-interest-of-baseball authority.

Legally and in the interest of future bargaining with the union, the commissioner has not wanted to resort to this hammer. But now the BALCO testimony is in the public domain. The facts are alarming.

If all is fair in war, then baseball's war on steroids mandates radical tactics. Anything and everything must be done to re-order the industry and establish the highest level of integrity.

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