FROM MY SEAT 

FROM MY SEAT

Not only do I think steroid use in baseball should remain legal . . . I think it should be made (read: forced to be) public. In the aftermath of former MVP Ken Caminiti’s disclosure in Sports Illustrated that he was a frequent user of anabolic steroids, the debate over what is “performance-enhancement” and what is outright cheating has resurfaced. One camp says baseball is being ruined -- and records permanently tarnished -- by the use of testosterone-building drugs. Everyone wants to hit the ball as far as Mark McGwire, regardless of what the juice used to reach those distances may do to their health (or, for all we know, what it did to Big Mac’s health). The other camp -- which, significantly, includes Major League Baseball’s player’s union -- says leave the athletes alone. Steroids are merely another step up the performance ladder, “the next level” in sportspeak. If you’re not going to ask what kind of vitamins Barry Bonds is taking, or what kind of vegetables he eats, then don’t ask about what he might periodically inject. And while I’m hardly accusing Mr. 73 of abusing steroids, Barry would be the first to tell you that, if steroids are what got him all those home runs, he’d have a lot more company in the Over-70 Club. Steroids are an athlete’s choice. There is no victim in their use. Dead issue. I’m of a mind that we treat professional baseball players like the big boys they are. The very wealthy, and thus powerful, big boys they are. Just as every major league player must decide whether to get behind the wheel of a car after that fourth or fifth drink, so he can decide whether the allure of home run distance and it’s accompanying glory are worth the needle marks that accompany steroid use. Since when is it the public’s responsibility to protect an athlete from himself? And as for protecting records, see Bonds’ stance above. Unlike football, where brute strength is the fundamental element for success (and the reason steroids are and should be banned by the NFL), I’m not convinced bigger biceps help a batter turn around a Randy Johnson slider or a Pedro Martinez fastball. The one “solution” I would ask of baseball in general and the players in particular is honesty. And this is certainly the key to obtaining performance justice and, I’m willing to bet, the ultimate eradication of steroids in the national pastime. Force the players to sign a disclosure form before every season, simply checking off a “yes” box if they have used steroids over the last 12 months or intend to over the year ahead. If they feel this is a violation of their civil rights, tell them to find the next career path that pays a minimum salary in excess of $200,000 for six months of work. And wish them well. This will allow fans, the media, and everyone directly involved in baseball to at least know who is on juice, and who isn’t. (I envision an asterisk on the back of bubble-gum cards so youngsters, too, can learn fully -- honestly -- about their heroes.) What will keep a player from lying on the disclosure form? You guessed it: random testing. The only means of measuring a player’s system objectively, player to player. If a player checked “no” on his disclosure form and is found to be positive, he’s suspended for the remainder of the season. No second chances. See you at spring training. Remember, all I’m asking for is honesty. When Sammy Sosa hits a ball 475 feet into an apartment building adjacent to Wrigley Field, I want to know if that was his muscle, built the old fashioned way, or some turbo-charged liquid power. And if he happens to be on steroids (this is merely hypothetical, Cub fans), fine. He still turned on a big-league pitch in a way no one else in the game can. Get the players to open up about this heretofore closeted skeleton and it will lead to (1) an educated army of ballplayers who at least know what steroids do to them (and for them) and (2) a situation where, more than likely, the liquid monster will be stigmatized in major-leage clubhouses far and wide. Because if steroids are confronted honestly and openly by everyone from slugging outfielders to slap-hitting utility men, the atmosphere surrounding those abusing these drugs won’t be hard to identify. It’ll be shame.

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