|Wednesday, May 29
Updated: May 31, 12:15 PM ET
It's time for steroid use to finally be addressed
By Jim Caple
Baseball was so much easier when the only performance-enhancer we had to worry about was Wheaties.
Almost every day brings another steroid report. First, Jose Canseco said that 85 percent of major leaguers use steroids (based on his career, identical twin Ozzie must have been among the other 15 percent). Then Ken Caminiti told Sports Illustrated that he used steroids during his 1996 MVP season. Chad Curtis told SI that 40 to 50 percent of major leaguers use them as well.
None of these revelations are exactly news -- everyone already knew steroid use is rampant in the major leagues, even if it isn't as high as Curtis or Canseco estimate. Every time a player shows up in spring training looking as if he's wearing bowling balls under his sleeves, only the na´ve think his amazing 30-pound muscle gain was due to nothing more than winter arm curls.
If you wonder why reporters don't come straight out and write this instead of letting players attribute it to (wink,wink) offseason weight lifting, it isn't because we're trying to hide anything. It's just that we can't go around writing a specific player is on steroids without proof -- and with steroids being an illegal drug, players are rather reluctant to admit their use.
Even without such admissions, however, it is obvious that steroid use has had an enormous effect on baseball in the past decade. Ten or so years ago, players built like Canseco were the exception in baseball. Now there are so many muscles in the game that a major league clubhouse can resemble the Bulgarian women's weight lifting team locker room (only with more goatees). Part of the muscle growth is due to greatly increased weight lifting programs. Part of it is due to improved offseason conditioning. And part of is due to steroids.
The question is whether anyone really cares enough to do anything.
Oh, people say they care. Fans say they hate steroid use almost as much as they hate Donald Fehr and Bud Selig. But they also really enjoy watching home runs sail into the upper deck. After all, Mark McGwire used the performance-enhancer androstenedione four years ago when he broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record. Did that stop anyone from cheering him? Sports Illustrated periodically preaches against the evils of steroid use, but the magazine sure seems to glorify a lot of players who have some suspiciously large muscles. And SI isn't the only media outlet in that boat.
Do the players care? As long as many see steroids as a means to boosting production and salaries, they're going to be reluctant to ban their use.
Do the owners care? Selig says he strongly favors testing, but with another work stoppage looming and with the owners threatening to gas two or more teams, steroid testing isn't on the back burner, it isn't even in the kitchen.
It's time to start caring though. If a substance is illegal in the United States, it should be illegal in the major leagues.
It's time for the Players Association to care about something more than a paycheck. It's time for the union to agree to a steroid ban and a testing program. This isn't about giving away power to the owners, this is about protecting the long-term health of union members.
Testing won't rid baseball of steroids any more than it rid the Olympics of steroids. But it will discourage steroid use and check its growth. If players worry that they might lose a year's salary due to a suspension, they also will be less likely to risk steroid use to boost their pay.
The only way to reduce the use of steroids is to reduce the rewards for those using them. As the Ironic Times put it in a headline on its website: "85 Percent of Players on Steroids, The Rest on Waivers.''
Box score line of the week
And then two guys did it within three weeks. First, Mike Cameron homered four times against the White Sox. Then last Thursday, Shawn Green did it against the Brewers in what might have been the greatest offensive performance in major league history. Not only did Green hit a record-tying four home runs, he also doubled and singled to go 6-for-6, scored a record-tying six runs and set the record for total bases in a game (19). He is the first player to have six hits, six runs and six RBI in a game. He hit nine home runs on a six-game road trip, raising his home run total from three to 12. And all this after an 0-for-18 slump.
Green's line: 6 AB, 6 R, 6 H, 7 RBI, 4 HR
How hot was Green? During one stretch, he was 11-for-13 with seven home runs and 14 RBI. Read it and weep: He doubled, homered, homered, homered, singled, homered, homered, struck out, singled, singled, walked, grounded out, homered, hit a sacrifice fly and homered.
All that was with one bat, which broke on the final home run and was promptly sent to Cooperstown. "It died a hero," Green said.
No word whether the bat had Wonderboy and a lightning bolt burnt into the wood.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Off Base Power Rankings
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org