Time to stop kidding ourselves, put steroids genie back in bottle

OTHER VOICES

February 22, 2005|By Tim Brown | Tim Brown,LOS ANGELES TIMES

I read the book, spoke to the commissioner and his lieutenants, phoned sports agents and field managers, a scout and a professional trainer who spotted Mark McGwire's bench presses for seven years. I studied the writings of composed or hysterical colleagues and watched a New York news conference.

I went to the gym every morning and listened to the men who had used steroids themselves or been tempted. I heard the old guys go on about the integrity of the game and what Hank Aaron or Mickey Mantle might have done, given the same benefits of medicine and science and moral capriciousness.

I did not listen to talk radio.

I think now I have heard all the oratory, seen every eye-bulge, tasted every drop of spittle and felt the breeze of every waggled forefinger. And I have counted the player denials, which could not have been more tidy.

Based on two weeks of information saturation, I can only say that my opinion of steroids in baseball is exactly what it was two weeks ago, when Jose Canseco came in.

Really, what have we learned?

That Canseco was so jacked on steroids, his sweat made the U.S. Olympic Committee's list of banned substances.

That Jason Giambi was into them up to his pinpricked rear end, as well.

That Barry Bonds quite probably used steroids. That McGwire might have, and might not have. That all of the players we suspected Canseco also suspected, from Sammy Sosa to Roger Clemens to, well, Wilson Alvarez?

That baseball knew - oh, it knew - but was backed down by the players union and greed and might have ignored reasonably credible confirmation.

We all knew.

And we bought tickets to the games and fell over ourselves to fetch the record-setting baseballs and bought the products those monsters hawked on television. We praised them for their strength and charisma, for saving the game from itself, for sparing us the dreariness of 38 home runs leading the league.

Our conclusion at the time: The baseballs were wrapped tighter. The Costa Ricans were to blame. Perfect.

Steroids in baseball. The situation isn't worse than we thought. It's exactly what we thought. For two weeks, Tony La Russa and Sandy Alderson, the lords of three World Series teams in Oakland, have said so.

Canseco's use wouldn't have been more obvious if he'd been on a Dianabol drip in the on-deck circle, La Russa as much as admitted. And La Russa, a bright man, had notions about several others with the Athletics, also. But, well, there was no testing procedure in place, and managers don't generally wander through the clubhouse holding urine-cup dispensers, and they had a pennant to win.

"I think way back when it was first identified, maybe we could have done something to stop it," La Russa said. "We should have done something to stop it. But now it's gone beyond the chance of us doing anything within baseball.

"Know why? Because we didn't take care of it."

In December, after the BALCO testimonies became public, San Francisco Giants manager Felipe Alou said he had never spoken to Bonds about steroids, even to ask if he was holding up under the accusations he used them. Speaking generally, he said he would never turn in one of his own, a philosophy baseball wore well for decades.

"There's always been stuff in this game," he said. "There used to be greenies [amphetamines]. And alcohol. There was a time when players thought a shot of whiskey would get them through the cold weather."

He shrugged, as if to say the new drugs, the new science, the world of bathroom injections and store-bought muscles were beyond his comprehension. Baseball did not educate him.

It's on Bud Selig now.

It's time to follow through on offseason, random testing, whatever the cost in budget, privacy and potential embarrassment.

It's time to hire an outside agency that knows something about performance-enhancing drugs, that understands there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of Victor Contes out there.

It's time to go to the streets with an anti-steroids campaign, to promote hard work over sleazy, life-threatening shortcuts, in high school weight rooms, college batting cages and wherever temptations grow.

We'd like the details, and the game's leaders owe everyone an explanation, because this is a bit bigger than calling an All-Star Game a tie. But it won't change who knew what when, because we all knew exactly when, and we were too busy applauding the consequences.

Finally, it is time to believe what we've known all along, to be adults, to stop denying and to start fixing. Then, maybe, they - we - could have a game to be proud of again.

That's what I learned the past two weeks.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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