The End . (or Just The Beginning?)

Sport moves toward full disclosure of past drug problems

Steroids In Baseball

November 17, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

Baseball was forced to confront its steroid nightmare four years ago when federal prosecutors subpoenaed Barry Bonds and other stars in their efforts to bust a San Francisco drug lab. In the time since, the city has remained the capital and Bonds the chief face of the game's drug problem.

But with the news Thursday that Bonds was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, is baseball about to awaken to a better day? Or are the dual prospects of a Bonds trial and former senator George Mitchell's report on steroids enough to ensure many fitful times ahead?

No one thinks the steroid issue will disappear with Bonds, who holds one of sports' most hallowed records with 762 home runs.

But some observers think the worst drug sins are in the past and that once they are revealed, the game will be healthier.

"I think we're on the other side of the hill," former Major League Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent said.

Still, the Bonds saga must play out. Bonds faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts; his legacy has been damaged, as have his Hall of Fame chances.

Vincent regards the Bonds indictment as only tangentially related to baseball's drug problem. But he said he believes the Mitchell report, which is expected to be released before the end of the year, will be a bombshell and help the game reckon with a past that might have included hundreds of players abusing performance enhancers.

"I think the Mitchell report will drown this story out," he said. "I think it will tell us a lot about what went on."

What will also become apparent, Vincent said, is that baseball already is moving toward a better future under the stronger testing policy that took effect in 2005. Former Orioles vice president Jim Duquette, who previously spent 14 years in the New York Mets organization, agrees and welcomes the unveiling of the Mitchell report. While he called the indictment of Bonds a shame, he said he feels it could morph into a positive.

"I think it's a good day because it's a start of the kind of full disclosure that everybody's been looking for," said Duquette, who resigned from the Orioles last month. "To me, that plus the Mitchell investigation are the start of putting this whole cloud behind us. It's time to move forward. I view it as a positive, and I'm not even in the majority of people that think that Bonds is necessarily guilty right now. I'm in the category of we still need to wait to see the evidence, though it sure seems we're headed in that direction."

Though speculation about perjury charges against Bonds had swirled for more than a year, some in baseball were taken aback by Thursday's news.

"I don't think anybody can really be surprised to find out he lied about steroids, especially inside the game, but the fact that anybody would want to take it that far that they'd want to put him in jail, or the threat of putting in jail, that's a surprise," former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey said.

"It's a black eye and a half," he said. "The guy just set the all-time home run record and then is indicted and maybe put in jail. Along with the O.J. [Simpson] thing and everything else that's going on in sports, baseball doesn't need this. That's really sad to hear."

For steroid watchdogs who have spent decades preaching about the proliferation of performance enhancers, the Bonds indictment was another sign that federal prosecutors take the issue seriously.

In the past year, federal officials had already busted an Internet steroid ring that allegedly included pharmacies in Orlando, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., and cracked down on a pipeline of human growth hormone from China. In the Bonds proceedings, prosecutors took the unusual step of handing the case to a second grand jury after the first jury's 18-month term expired.

"I think this all shows the degree to which this is not just a drug-testing issue but a law enforcement issue," said Dr. Gary Wadler, a professor at New York University and a member of the committee that determines banned substances for the World Anti-Doping Agency. "And in that sense, it's encouraging."

Vincent agreed and said American society has begun to view steroids as a serious problem.

"I think there's a recognition of the wider cheating phenomenon and the lack of a national standard of right and wrong," he said. "We're moving in the right direction in that people are talking about the risks when you have 300-pound linemen in Division III football and Congress is looking at the dangers posed to high schools."

Polls have shown that most baseball fans already believe Bonds cheated, but Bonds biographer Jeff Pearlman said the indictment will solidify those feelings. He called the news a "sledgehammer to the head" for San Francisco fans who remained loyal to Bonds during his home run chase.

"How can you still support him at this point?" he wondered.

Vincent said he can't imagine fans being jolted by the indictment.

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