Let's abandon steroid hunt, focus on future enforcement

October 02, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Sometimes, the real essence of a story is found in its broader context, which appears to be the case with the Los Angeles Times investigation that turned up the names of the current major league players who were identified in the now infamous Jason Grimsley affidavit.

Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and three popular Orioles have been soiled by the allegation that they used performance-enhancing drugs. Who knows if Brian Roberts, Jay Gibbons, Miguel Tejada and the two Houston Astros stars are truly guilty of anything - since there already are claims that Grimsley was coerced into naming names by zealous Justice Department investigators - but it will be hard to get their good names back either way.

No matter what the truth is, it might be enlightening to look at the overall context of Saturday night's steroid revelations, which first appeared at the top of the home page of the Times Web site. Right next to the breaking news were the results of the newest poll tracking the California gubernatorial race and a headline stating that incumbent Arnold Schwarzenegger has surged well ahead of challenger Phil Angelides.

Lest anyone forget, Schwarzenegger has admitted that he used anabolic steroids during his career as a professional bodybuilder, yet he tapped into voter discontent to snatch the governorship of the nation's most populous state from Democrat Gray Davis in a 2003 recall vote and appears to be a shoo-in to win re-election in November.

Doesn't that pretty much sum up public ambivalence toward the lingering steroid scandal that has tarnished competitive athletics all over the globe?

Bud Selig's anti-steroid crusade and George Mitchell's ongoing steroid probe may be well-intentioned. The congressional hearing that undressed All-American slugger Mark McGwire may have been instructive. The BALCO investigation that put a number of baseball's biggest stars in front of a grand jury may have been necessary to illustrate what was really going on in the dark recesses of America's sports cathedrals. But these latest revelations reached an American public that has grown weary of the whole issue ... and probably didn't care that much to begin with.

Maybe we were in denial in 1998 when McGwire and Sammy Sosa took us on that magical ride to a new single-season home run record, because all you had to do was look at the new generation of home run hitters to realize that something fishy was going on. Everybody, from the public to the powers that be in baseball, looked the other way because we (the public) were having too much fun and they (the players and owners) were making too much money to care.

Don't misunderstand. Steroids are dangerous and using steroids is cheating, so Congress deserves credit for putting pressure on Selig and the Major League Baseball Players Association to accept tougher penalties for steroid abuse. And Selig deserves credit for continuing to press the battle against illegal chemical enhancement as it evolves from anabolic steroids to Human Growth Hormone to whatever form it might take in the future.

Major League Baseball needs to remain vigilant and there is some value in the shame that comes with the identification of each new offender, but there has to come a point when we accept what has happened and focus on the future instead of the past.

Does anyone seriously think that Grimsley was a central figure in this scandal? Do you believe that the handful of players named in his affidavit (which also included former Oriole David Segui) were the iceberg or the tip of it?

Chances are, there were dozens of Grimsleys doing whatever they thought they had to do to stay in the game, and each of them could probably finger a handful of teammates who were involved in some way with something either illegal or just untoward. Trouble is, it takes a positive drug test to trigger any kind of disciplinary action. Everything else is just bad public relations.

Whether you believe that the hulking Clemens or the not-so-hulking Roberts did anything unsavory, no one is ever going to be able to deliver any real proof beyond the he-said-she-said admission that was squeezed out of Grimsley. It will always come down to who and what you choose to believe about baseball's steroid scandal. If you need any proof of that, consider that the BALCO grand jury has been reduced to trying to jail reporters and get Barry Bonds on tax evasion charges.

Sad but true: It may be time for Selig to call off the costly (and largely ineffective) Mitchell investigation and just stipulate that there was a serious steroid problem during the past couple of decades - and that future expenditures will focus on making sure the game's enforcement efforts keep pace with the renegade science.

Does anyone really want more than that?

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Saturdays.

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