Out of Left Field
Only the Baseball Fans
...unfair advantage from drugs?
Will steroid revelations
upset the record books?
By STAN ISAACS
Who are the keepers of the baseball flame?
The owners? Bah.
The players? No way.
The players union? Ridiculous.
No, the people who care most about baseball are the fans. And the media, too. It is the fans and the media who these days fret about steroids and the players who used them and the records that were set by players who may have used them.
As Jon Heyman of Newsday has written, The code of silence is alive at spring camps in Florida, where the rule remains the same: Whatever happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse. "
Commenting about Jose Cansecos book blowing the lid off steroid use by players, new Mets manager Willie Randolph said, Im sure theres some truth in what he says, but I dont believe in what hes doing and how hes doing it-putting names out. I dont know maybe Im from the old school.
Joe McEwing, who was a teammate of the now suspect Mark McGwire with the Cardinals, said if he did have evidence that a player was a steroid user, he wouldnt tell the media or anybody else. Thats what we were brought up on. Be loyal to your family, be loyal to everyone around you.
They can say this even if a steroid user is a cheat, demeaning the game, demeaning all of them. And from the fans standpoint, a record-setting steroid user raises questions about cherished records. If Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds have been helped by use of illegal substances, should McGwire still be regarded as the man who broke Roger Maris home run record and should Bonds be acknowledged for breaking McGwires mark and then eclipsing the lifetime home run records--first of Babe Ruth, who he is about to pass, and then Henry Aaron, the all time home run leader with 755?
The steroid issue exploded this winter when the San Francisco Chronicle obtained grand jury records that revealed the Yankees Jason Giambi admitted he had used steroids. The grand jury also heard Bonds admit that he used substances known as the clear and the cream given to him by his personal trainer who was indicted in the steroid-distribution ring in the San Francisco area. Bonds, whose body has grown tremendously in the past few years despite his advancing years, actually said he didnt know the applications were steroids.
Canseco named several other players as users in his new book. Even if there is some or much exaggeration there is little doubt that some of what he says is true. The baseball establishment, almost to a man, has jumped all over him just as it did in 1970 when Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four with Leonard Shecter and revealed that players drank and caroused and cheated on their wives. Ken Caminetti, later to die of a drug overdose, was ridiculed when he told Sports Illustrated that he was a user, as was half the players in baseball. People are not used to reading the truth about professional sports, Bouton says.
After Giambis admission became public, it was revealed that the Yankees seemingly knew, or had great reason to suspect, that they were getting a steroid slugger. Before the Yankees signed off on Giambis $120 million deal, they acquiesced to his agents request and removed all references to steroids from the guarantee language routinely included in contracts. They didnt ask why he would make such a request. Hmmm. And the players union has until now blocked even the mildest attempts to harden rules against drug usage.
Former general managers have admitted that certain players were discussed as possible steroid users. Certainly, suspicions had to be heightened when the suddenly puffed-up Orioles Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs in 1996. And Steve Phillips, former Mets general manager, now an ESPN analyst, said that he had to be honest--he would have been upset if a player suspected of using steroids had suddenly stopped after he acquired him.
We come back to the matter of records. Mike Greenwall, for one, who finished second to Canseco in the voting for the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1988, claims he should be given the award retrospectively because it could have meant considerable money in higher salary and endorsements for him. What a juicy can of worms such a development conjures up.
Sandy Alderson, chief of baseball operations for the major leagues, was asked what effect Cansecos steroids assertions might have on some of baseballs records. He answered that he was not suggesting that everything Canseco says is a lie, but on the other hand, at this point, there is no factual basis on which any of those records can be reviewed. As time goes on the public will draw its own conclusions.
I am somewhat interested in all this because I am a voter for the hallowed Hall of Fame. If I draw the conclusion that Bonds, for all his bluster, and the relatively circumspect McGwire, have been helped by drugs, I will mark my ballots without them.
I will bow to the magnificence of Aarons all time pure home run total of 755 and Roger Maris untainted single season home run record of 61 in 1961.
The Wayward Press
A word here in praise of Times baseball writer Murray Chass. He did an unusual thing in a Feb. 21 column; he traced how the print and electronic media have distorted and created a phony controversy involving Boston Red Sox criticism of the Yankees Alex Rodriguez.
Chass noted that the Sox Trot Nixon had uttered a mild criticism of Rodriquez and then detailed how the stream of similar comments from Red Sox players actually were solicited and blown up by the media. Far too often, reporters in sports--and outside of it, too--do this. It is to Chass credit that he tackled the issue-and in the august New York Times no less.
©2005 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. This column first posted Feb. 28, 2005.
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