True steroid story is lost in the stars

December 23, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

Now can we all stop taking the simplistic, easy-to-swallow approach to steroids in baseball? Can we all admit that this is way more complex than we've been treating it over the years?

All of us. Baseball and union officials. Fans. Media. The Justice Department. Congress.

It is obvious now, more than ever, that we don't know what we're dealing with. How much more proof do we need that we, the entire baseball-observing public, have handled the issue of performance-enhancing drugs all wrong?

It keeps on being about the quality of the user, or suspected user. It should have been, and should now be, about the quantity.

Not about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. About Larry Bigbie and Geronimo Berroa. Not about whether the career totals of a fraction of the players involved should be considered "legit." About how wide and deep the culture of accepted and accommodated doping extends.

That's not easy to get a grip on. But most of us aren't even trying anymore, and some never did try. Last week was a perfect example. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times named what it said were the redacted names in the Jason Grimsley affidavit. Last week, when the document was unsealed, it turned out that on most counts, the paper got the names wrong.

Time for a simplistic reaction: Clemens' guilt in all things he's accused of is now in doubt.

Sure it is. That same logic makes Brian Roberts innocent, too, and his denials last year credible. Except he has now admitted he had used steroids, anyway. He was right and wrong at the same time. Now what?

Here's what: The news from Grimsley's affidavit should have been the vast number of players he implicated, not the marquee value of a couple of them. But the marquee ones got a lot of eyeballs to the Times. That's on the Times, but also on all the eyeballs, all of us who were so greedy for the big names, who deluded ourselves into thinking it was only about those names.

And it's on the feds who tagged Grimsley in the first place, because by all accounts, they weren't interested in the little names, either - just the big name they hoped Grimsley would give them, Bonds.

Grimsley didn't name him, and in many eyes, that makes his testimony less sexy and, thus, less meaningful. The Mitchell Report is feeling the same barbs because there's not enough Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in it, and too much Marvin Benard and Howie Clark.

In reality, it makes all of baseball look more sleazy, and in bizarre, convoluted and confusing ways. Obsessing on a few names, though, simplifies things. It also steers culpability away from more people and funnels it toward the few. Mostly, the one, and you know which one. The only one who was indicted and faces possible prison time, despite all the ones who violated federal law.

Yet there are all the names in the Mitchell Report, in the Grimsley document, in the Kirk Radomski affidavit, also unsealed late last week. Names like ... Sid Fernandez?

The rotund former New York Mets pitcher, and, of course, another former Oriole, was connected to Radomski but not specifically named as a recipient or user of substances. He doesn't remotely fit the now-popular profile: bulky, brawny, slugging (no pitchers, fielders or singles hitters). But that is the fault of those who concocted the profile in the first place - which is all of us. In reality, the suspects span all shapes, sizes, colors and career statistics.

But viewing it that way makes it harder to follow somebody around, wave asterisk cards, dress up like syringes and throw tubes of cream at him. Who's going to go through all that for Allen Watson or Adam Piatt?

The picture of baseball in the most credibility- and accountability-challenged era in its history - and one of the worst in the history of any American sport - is created not by the broad strokes made by the famous users, but by the little marks left by the everyday grunts. There is no sport without them, and no seamy underbelly, either.

We need a do-over, on the investigation and coverage and entire public interpretation and understanding of drug use in baseball. The star system didn't work. All it did was prove how much our perceptions, prejudices and hero worship drive us, even when that drives us in the wrong direction.

We can't afford to go this far off track again. This runs too deep and in too many directions to keep obsessing over one or two "gotcha!" names. At least Mitchell, Grimsley and Radomski got a bunch of little names. We keep catching and recatching the same big ones.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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