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Integrity 01/12/2010

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BOMBSHELL!!

Mark McGwire used steroids!  Wow!  What a shocker!  As news, this revelation ranks right up there with the news flash that the  sun sets in the west.

Let me state from the onset that this post is not about McGwire getting in to the Hall of Fame.  If he gets in, fine.  If not, fine.  I have no feeling either way on the McGwire Hall candidacy. 

Sure, I understand that for years McGwire has danced around the steroid issue.  He repeatedly  told congress when asked about his usage in a 2005 hearing that he was

McGwire before congress in 2005

there to talk about the future, not the past.  But the innuendo had chased him from the game.  You knew that when St Louis Cardinal manager Tony Larussa hired McGwire as the Card’s hitting coach during the off-season that this day had to come.  Larussa wanted to bring his former (and some say fallen) star back to the game that he loved and that had defined him for most of his adult life.  Larussa had to know that this would ultimately force McGwire to go public with his past.  For his part, Larussa says that he did not know that McGwire had used steroids until he received a call from McGwire the morning of January 11, 2010.  All Larussa knew was that the Cardinals ran a clean strength and conditioning program.  Larussa also knows all the revelations that have come out from that era.  Larussa ‘knew’ about McGwire, but he never asked the question, therefore he did not know.  Baseball ‘knew’ about steroids, but turned a blind eye and counted up riches beyound belief.  Heck even the fans ‘knew.’  Apparently the only people who did not know were the writers who watched players double and triple their home run output along with their size.  These writers kept their head in the sand, or turned a blind eye to what was happening, and now talk about how we all were fooled or cheated.  They were either incredibly obtuse, or were complicit to behavior they now condemn and distance themselves from. 

McGwire celebrater HR 62

As I have shared previously, I emotionally came  back to baseball during baseball’s summer of love.  I, like most fans, was disheartened during the work stoppage of  ’94 and ’95.  I still followed baseball when the game resumed in late April of ’95, and the Rockies first ever playoff appearance at the end of that season made baseball easier for me to accept, but something was missing.  The magical home run chase in 1998 changed all that.  I was a season ticket holder in Colorado, and made sure to see every swing by Sosa and McGwire when the Cubs and Cards came to town.  In addition, Colorado had the good fortune to be the host of the All Star Game that season. The main attraction that year was the home run derby.  With both Sosa and McGwire locked on pace to break the single season HR total of 61, along with such luminaries Jim Thome, A Rod and Griffey, Jr., swinging in the thin air, it was going to be quite a show.  (Sosa came to Denver but had to withdraw from derby participation.)  I was sitting at Coors Field during the Derby with 3 buddies and we, as fans, talked about steroid usage as it related to the players we were watching.  We did not know, but we ‘knew.’  We were not sure who used, but we had our suspicion.  That assumption did not diminish the pleasure of the event, or of the great home run chase that season.  Both players involved that summer have been implicated in steroid usage.  One has now admitted it.  Still, baseball cashed in on the new popularity of the game, and writers covered every swing.   Many were apparently too blind to see what we saw.  Yet many of these same writers who enjoyed increased readership because of baseball’s returning popularity and thus cashed in themselves now feel that they must protect the integrity of the game.   They will not vote for anyone associated with steroids for the Hall of Fame.   They did not mind, however, when the ball bashing kept the parks full and therefore kept them employed.  In a very real sense, they owe their livelihood to the very people they covered and built up at the time, but now villafy.  We all ‘knew’ what was going on, yet these pundits did not?  These writers vote on Hall membership because they know better than we do.  They have access to locker rooms and travel with the teams.  They have more exposure to the game and players than the average fan, therefore they are better qualified to judge.  With all that access, they did not know at the time? 

Apparently the one of the biggest flaws of many players who used  steroids is that they have not admitted their usage nor been contrite for their transgression.  Is it not

Sosa and McGwire in '98

time that the same people calling for these acts of contrition make one of their own?  Many of the writers who now pontificate about how these players stained the game were in a position to know at the time, yet said nothing and thus were complicit in the era as well.  Perhaps it is time for these bloviators to ‘man up’ and come clean themselves.  Stop with the hypocrisy.  If the writers can not come clean and admit their complicity in keeping the story quiet within the steroid era, then it is time to take the writers out of the Hall selection process.  If these individuals did not have the moral fortitude to be honest about what was going on at the time, why should they now have the moral authority to sit in judgement on Hall membership?

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Say it Ain’t So(sa) 06/17/2009

Posted by sportretort in mlb, Sports, Uncategorized.
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Like the Ghost of Christmas Past, the ‘anonymous’ steroid test of 2003 keeps revisiting horror on Major League Baseball.

In 2003 , MLB, in response to public outcry about the rampant use of steroids suspected in its game, decided to test players to determine the percentage of steroid users to decide if a drug screening program was necessary.  Players

Turns out that 2003 was a bad year for Sosa, starting with the cork bat affair

Turns out that 2003 was a bad year for Sosa, starting with the cork bat affair

 who participated in the test did so under the assurance that their participation would remain anonymous, and that the results would remain private.  104 players tested positive for what we now term PEDs or performance enhancing drugs.  This result spurred MLB and the Players Association (MLBPA) to reach a collective bargaining agreement that set into motion the current testing system.  In the last 3 years, spanning thousands, if not tens of thousands of tests, fully 8 positive results have come back to MLB.  Only one so far this year.  A cynic would say that that result is because we can not or do not test for the current in vogue PEDs.  An optimist would say the program is working perfectly.  The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.  With so few positives, why is baseball constantly in the news for PEDs?  The answer to that is simple.  And complicated.

First, the one positive test this season resulted in a 50 game suspension to the LA Dodgers Manny Ramirez, one of the biggest stars in the game today.  That is the simple part.  The more complicated part is that the first name of the 104 positive results from ’03 found its way into the public earlier this season.  New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez was revealed to have tested positive while playing with the Texas Rangers back then.  After denials, A Rod came clean and admitted to the usage.  He claims to have been clean since he joined the Yankees, and has not had a positive result since formal testing began.  And yesterday, name number two of the 104 came to light. Chicago’s  Sammy Sosa was revealed to have tested positave while playing for the Cubs in ’03.   In the past, Sosa has denied any PED usage.  So far, no comment has been issued about the newest report.  Assuming it is true, 2003 was a bad year for Sosa all around because he was suspended for using a corked bat after his bat shattered during a game on June 3rd.  Sosa’s excuse about the bat was that he used corked bats during batting practice to put on a show for the fans, and that somehow one of these bats made it into his game bats.  True or not, many people did not buy that excuse back then, and are even more suspicious of it now.  Sosa is the only player to hit 60 or more home runs in 3 different season.  That, coupled with the dramatic changes in his physical appearance would lead most observers to find a revelation that he used PEDs less than a shock.  The question is, is it news if the test results are 6 years old, and should we care?  The continued existence of these tests from ’03 is what makes this such a complected situation for MLB and the MLBPA.  Here’s why.

If you are given  drug test at your place of employment and it is to remain anonymous, you have every right to expect the results to be shielded from public eyes.  But we know that 104 players tested positive.  And we know that someone

The 1998 All Star game was in Denver

The 1998 All Star game was in Denver

has that list.  Many people are calling for the list to now be made public.  Is it fair to A Rod and Sosa to have had their results made public?  No.  Would it be fair to the other 102 on the list to make their names public?  No.  But if the names keep coming out sporadically, MLB faces a death of a thousand paper cuts.  Obviously not every name on that list is a star, and so not every name would demand the attention that has been directed at A Rod and Sosa.  But for every star name, baseball is dragged through the mud.  The further argument to releasing the names is that we would know who was dirty and who was clean, but that also is incorrect because not every player was tested.  The answer is to stop the leaks.  But that is probably unrealistic.  So should baseball release the list and take the hit all at once?  See, tough questions with no easy answer.

Back to Sosa.  I know no one who is shocked to learn that he used PEDs.  And, honestly, I know very few people who care.  He was part of the 1998 home run chase that brought fans back to baseball.  Now the two principals involved in that chase, Sosa and St Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire have booth been implicated in usage of PEDs.  My point is that most people knew it at the time.  Baseball had to know, and cashed in on it.  And cashed in on Barry Bonds.  And cashed in on Rodger Clemens.  The All Star game that July was played at Coors Field in Denver. All these players were there.   As my friends and I sat through the Home Run Derby,  the discussion for a time turned to steroids (we did not have the term PED at the time).  Were these guys juicing?  Certainly not all, but just as certainly some where.  We did not know who, but we had suspicions.  It did not detract from the enjoyment of the festivities.   It did not detract from that magical summer that brought fans back to baseball.  We knew it then.  The fact that we know it now with some certainty should not detract from baseball, because now baseball is doing something to try to prevent usage.  Lets look forward, not backward with recrimination.  PEDS have been a widespread problem in all of sports.  Baseball is not unique.  But Baseball must find a way to come to terms with its past, or it will bleed to death from the thousand cuts of paper.  Or needle pokes.

1998 All Star Game Ticket

1998 All Star Game Ticket

Juicing Manny Wood 05/08/2009

Posted by sportretort in mlb, Sports, Uncategorized.
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Here we go again.  Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games yesterday by Major League Baseball for violating the PED drug policy.  Word is that in spring training, a urine sample showed elevated

The Dodgers will be without Manny Ramirez and his bat for 50 games

The Dodgers will be without Manny Ramirez and his bat for 50 games

testosterone levels.  Subsequent investigation unearthed ‘paperwork’  in Manny’s name for HCG, a female fertility drug.  Apparantly the body may stop producing testosterone at the end of a steroid cycle and one of the uses of this class of drugs in males is to help mitigate such side effects.  Manny issued a statement that he had recently gotten a prescription from a physician for a medication, not a steroid, that later turned out to be a substance banned by the anti-drug policy.  Now, perhaps this is just a case of  Manny being Manny.  Perhaps he and his wife are just trying to get pregnant and Manny, never one to read all the fine print, thought he needed to take the HCG.  Or perhaps he is being disingenuous.

The larger question is why is this such a big story?  Here is a news flash.  We are in the steroid era in baseball.  Remember that anonymous sample that MLB did in 2002 to see if it needed a anti PED policy?  That sampling had 104 positive test subjects.  The only name we know for sure that was in that group was A-Rod.  Was Manny on that list?  There has to be somewhere between 90 and 100 or so players we do not know about.  How many of them are still playing?  And that sample was just the tip of the iceberg.  Since baseball adopted it’s anti drug policy, over 200 players have been found in violation.  Over half have been pitchers.  Most have been minor leaguers.  The real reason this is a story is that Manny is the first big name player caught since the ban went into effect.  Even the A-Rod test was from years ago.  It just came to light recently.  But the Manny situation and the 200 other suspensions show that PED’s are still a problem.  As they are in football, cycling, olympic events, and any other sporting endeavor.  They also show that the baseball testing can work. 

The Hall of Fame issue is also again being debated.  Should ‘cheaters’  be allowed into the hall?  Lets face it, at this time if you hit 30 home runs in a season, or throw a 95 mph fastball, or rehab from an injury, there will be questions about your juice usage.  If PED usage is rampant, and you are denied hall membership because you were caught, is it fair to admit someone else who juiced simply because that player was not caught?  Now, I am not saying every player uses PEDs.  I am simply asking that since we know usage is, or has been, wide spread, is  automatic disqualification for HOF membership because of a positive test fair?  Many HOF voters currently say yes.  The good news for Manny, and A-Rod and all the others known and yet to be found is that question will not come to a head for another 15 to 20 years.  And the passage of time may help. (A player becomes eligible for the hall 5 years after he retires, and remains eligible for 15 years after that point.  Admission after the 15 year period can only be granted by the veterans committee.)

Lets put this into perspective.  Yes, PEDs give an unfair advantage.  Yes PEDs represent a danger, especially to high

The single season HR record chase by Sosa (L) and McGwire(R) brought fans bak to baseball during the 1998 season

The single season HR record chase by Sosa (L) and McGwire(R) brought fans bak to baseball during the 1998 season

 school age kids who see the millions of dollars that some pro athletes have made at least in part with the help of PEDs and are tempted to use these substances themselves, risking health issues.  But let us also remember that baseball has benefited from these substances.  It was the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa that helped bring fans back after the last work stoppage.  Attendance increases continued with the assault on the home run record by Barry Bonds.   And by Roger Clements  7 Cy Young awards.   Alleged juicers all.  Baseball cashed in on all of them.  Baseball is alive and well, due in no small part, to the juice.   Baseball will, in the end, recognize those who otherwise belong with hall membership.  It will take a while, but it will happen.