Current steroid scandal lacks proper place in record books

OTHER VOICES

The Kickoff

January 01, 2007|By BILL CONLIN | BILL CONLIN,Philadelphia Daily News

It should have been the biggest story of the young century.

The abuse of performance-enhancing, illegal, anabolic steroids and human growth hormones should have dwarfed the 1919 Black Sox Scandal both in scope and impact.

The Eight Men Out who dumped a World Series shamed themselves and cast suspicion on whether the national pastime was manipulated by mobsters. But no records of the day were compromised. And records, the timeless array of revered numbers under constant challenge, are the hard coin of major league baseball's realm.

The holy numbers came out of the great scandal intact. Scared honest by their brush with a crisis of confidence that could have sundered professional baseball, the 16 owners swiftly did what they should have done when the American League was admitted to major league status in1901: They hired a commissioner to keep them in line and invested him with extraordinary power.

Baseball's steroid scandal has been greeted with yawns and a chorus of "Name names or shut up."

It took decades for Roger Maris and Henry Aaron to break the home run records of Babe Ruth, a larger man than either. But three sluggers with inflated biceps, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, turned the 61 hit by Maris into so much kindling. McGwire topped Maris by nine with 70. Then Bonds, at 37, hit 73 in 2001, playing in the toughest home run park in the majors.

Barring a serious injury or a prison term - the former is far more likely than the latter - Bonds will shatter Aaron's revered career home run mark of 755 by midseason. He needs 22. He'll clearly cream that record.

So why did this big, big story become a dull, dull story?

Why are the guys in by far the most serious Great Steroid Scandal trouble the truth-seekers and not the truth-concealers? Why are San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams facing jail time for refusing to name the sources who leaked grand jury testimony that blew the lid off Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and exposed a jock-elite Steroid Nation that allegedly includes Bonds and a presumed number of high-profile players?

Easy answer for anybody who watches Entertainment Tonight, everybody who revels in the trailer-park trash rolled on and off Jerry Springer's daytime stage. Easy answer if you are addicted to Cops, and even easier if you followed Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic misspeaks or tallied the N-words dropped by the late Cosmo Kramer in his real-life role as Michael Richards - unfunny racist stand-up comic. Honk if you downloaded the clip on YouTube.

To get lathered into a state of either titillation or high dudgeon we need names. We need pictures attached to the names and the bigger the names, the better.

Innuendo just doesn't hack it anymore in the voyeur century.

Fainaru-Wada and Williams named names. They put them into a meticulously researched book called Game of Shadows. The book names Barry Bonds and other clients of BALCO uberchemist Victor Conte. Plenty of fuel for outrage there, but one element was lacking.

Show us ballplayers being booked. Show us Bud Selig reading a list of players being taken down for the 2007 season. Give us a lifetime ban or two.

There are signs that this could finally achieve the big status that has eluded it so far.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Wednesday that federal investigators probing Bonds and others with alleged connections to BALCO can use the names of more than 100 major league players who failed MLB drug testing in 2003. (The players union Thursday said it will fight the decision.) Under an agreement with the MLB Players Association, MLB agreed to confidentiality. No names from those failed tests have ever been made public. And since the tests were conducted before the new, tougher penalties for failing random tests were put into place, they are not liable for punishment. They are liable for outing by the feds, however. They are liable for subpoenas and cross-examination in the attempt to expand the role BALCO has played in the distribution of substances banned by federal laws.

So maybe we will have a juicy steroid scandal that purges major league baseball of its record-book befoulers once and for all.

Bill Conlin writes for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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