BEIJING -- Even halfway around the world, baseball can't
avoid questions about steroids.
In the Chinese capital to formally announce a set of exhibition
games between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, Joe
Torre acknowledged America's national pastime needs to repair its
image, sullied by allegations of widespread drug use in the game.
"Our success in Major League Baseball is based on the trust of
the people," the Dodgers' manager said. "And it is our job to
regain that trust. And whatever it takes for us to do that, we have
to be willing to do it."
Hall of Famer and Padres vice president Dave Winfield added:
"It would be in the players' best interest not to be involved in
them [drugs] anymore." He said baseball was "on the right track
now. You will see that. Guaranteed."
The Dodgers and Padres will play exhibition games on March 15
and 16 at the baseball venue for the 2008 Olympics.
Baseball -- like soccer, American football and basketball -- is
eager to crack the market in China, which has a population of 1.3
billion with a swelling consumer class keen to spend on foreign
Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the MLB Players
Association, said his members seemed enthusiastic about making the
long trip to China.
"I haven't heard any players on the Dodgers or Padres -- unlike
any other international event I've been involved in -- say they
didn't want to come and play in China," Orza said. "The players
back in the States realize this is truly a start -- a first step --
in globalizing the sport.
"It's only obviously a first step. It's a long way to go. But
every long journey requires a first step."
With the sport set to be excluded from the Olympics after 2008,
baseball is trying to make sure it doesn't leave China.
Unlike soccer and basketball, baseball and American football are
invisible on playgrounds in China and absent from TV coverage.
"Hopefully, we can help you develop a love for the game as we
love it in the United States," Winfield said.
The two exhibitions and the Olympics in Beijing give baseball a
chance to show its appeal, with the sport dropped from the 2012
London Olympics but looking to return in 2016.
"There is personal disappointment that baseball won't be part
of the Olympics in 2012," Winfield added. "We'll do everything we
can to keep baseball on the agenda and on your minds and keep
making it part of the world, our gift to the rest of the world."
Torre and Winfield promised that many of their top players would
make the trip to Beijing. Both teams have concurrent spring
training games in the U.S.
"We're making an effort to make it pretty equal -- leaving back
and bringing here," Torre said. "Pitching is going to be the
toughest consideration. You're going to be playing two games here
and you are going to be playing six or seven games in Florida. But
you are going to see front-line players."