|Monday, November 17
There's no shame in the Steroids Hall of Fame
By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com
The line of visitors stretched a good 400 yards down from the entrance of the Pharmaceutical Companies Of America Athletic Hall of Fame, because ..., well, they knew that understanding sports these days means understanding chemistry, that the most knowledgeable fans in the world are no longer the ones who either played the games or watched them religiously, but the ones who did those extra credit lab projects while the games were going on.
So they entered the Victor Conte Lobby and Welcoming Center, shaped of course like a syringe so that the lines could be consolidated into one long, thin stream. They walked past the Ben Johnson Gift Shop, where the T-shirts read, "50 CCs To Glory," and the bumper stickers say, "Honk If You Just Ran Over Dick Pound."
And they entered a fantasy world in which the athletes of tomorrow (also known as the bar scene from "Star Wars") are fashioned in all their animatronic glory, meeting the athletes of yesterday in some sort of weirdball seventh grade science text-book evolutionary time line:
"Now here," says the gentle disembodied tones of automated guide Bill Romanowski, "is the period when the athletes had only one head and hat sizes only rarely exceeded eight. You'll also notice the surprising lack of acne, except in facial areas."
The tourists headed through the appropriately named Glow-In-The-Dark Track Stars Center, in which sprinters and shot-putters, hammer throwers and hurdlers are grouped together by height, weight and dosage.
"This was known as the Dark Age of athletics," the voice droned on, "when nobody was sure who was clean and who wasn't. These days, of course, everyone is on something, and the best athletes are the ones who do their labs as well as their reps. And you'll all remember the great speedster man Mel (Bat Outta Hell) Smith, who broke every record from 60 meters through 400 before literally bursting into flames at the recent World Championships. Here, if you'll look on the floor beneath you, is a recreation of the end of that race, and the famous 40-Meter Streak of Soot."
Then it was on to the baseball exhibit, divided into the "We're Pretty Sure They Did It But We Couldn't Prove It At The Time" and "They Failed Every Test And Never Missed A Day Of Work" wings.
"Here are the statues of the first five men and two women to hit 80 home runs in a season," the voice droned. "Of course, nobody is sure that it was the chemicals that did it. But you can go to the Architectural wing to see how the ballparks shrank, or the Wham-O exhibit to see how the balls were juiced. We are still working on the When The Pitching Stinks diorama, but that should be done by Christmas."
But the largest and most impressive part of the building was the Romanowski 3-D Scratch Sniff And Inject Theatre, in which the entire history of drugs and athletes is told in a stirring two-hour movie starring Keanu Reeves, Sharif Atkins, Robert DeNiro, and Edie Falco as the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
It has been hailed by coaches, athletic trainers and oddsmakers alike as a realistic portrayal of how the sports business overcame its phobia for life-shortening, reproduction-savaging, performance-enhancing drugs and just gave in to the demands of fans, owners, commercial interests and sheer, unadulterated ego in the service of the stopwatch, the down marker, the warning track, the basket, the par-5, the two-handed backhand, the triple Lutz, the pommel horse, the power play and, of course, the governor's mansion.
Next, the tour weaved its way through the "If You Ain't Cheatin', You Ain't Tryin' " food court, where all the foods have been carefully prepared, portioned properly and presented attractively to complete the experience.
And finally, right in front of the exits, a series of trampolines, padded walls, blocking sleds and heavy bags so that the kids could work off the meal in just the right way to keep the drive home from turning into a three-lane MVA.
And next week, the local Cub Scout troop is sponsoring its annual trip to Six Flags Over BALCO.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com