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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Steroid Apology, Jason Giambi?
by Hal Vickery

Baseball finally did the right thing! Of course it took the threat of congressional action to convince them, but the Commissioner’s Office and the players association (i.e. Commissioner Budlight and Donald Fehr) got together and put together a plan with some teeth in dealing with the steroid problem in baseball. Then, as if that weren’t enough, baseball threw in amphetamine testing along with the new steroid policy just for lagniappe.

The upshot of all of this is that players will now be subjected to random testing both during the season and off-season for steroids and amphetamines. The penalties are severe, too. No more ten-game suspensions for a first offense. Now that will cost players who test positive fifty games. Second time offenders will be out for one hundred games, and those stupid enough to go for strike three will receive a lifetime ban.

Of course like all lifetime bans in baseball, it is subject to appeal. In this case, the offending player will have the right to appeal after two years to an arbitration committee. Under the previous policy, a player couldn’t be banned for life until a fifth offense.

A little perspective on how just a first offense affects players was provided on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” show last week. They noted that under the policy in effect in 2005, Rafael Palmeiro lost about $150,000 in salary. Under the new policy, the same offense would have cost Palmeiro over $800,000. They rightly pointed out that this is the true incentive for players to stay off the juice.

Still, there are huge holes in the testing policy. It is already suspected that a number of players have graduated from steroids to human growth hormone, which is not detectable in a urine sample. As far as I can tell, this has not been addressed. Of course, Congress didn’t address this issue either.

If 2005 marked anything, it was the return of players to normal weights and proportions. Ivan Rodriguez took off about thirty pounds so he could “be more mobile behind the plate.” Sammy Sosa’s muscle mass decreased as much as his batting average and home run power. Barry Bonds spent most of the season on the DL. Of course, these were probably all coincidence.

And who can possibly forget the apology given by Jason Giambi for some offense that he couldn’t reveal due to the advice of his attorney. This is one that all Sox fans should have taken extreme offense at. You may recall that a bulky Giambi won the MVP award in 2000, beating out Frank Thomas, a player who has always been vocally anti-juice.

Anything that discourages steroid use among professional athletes is a good thing. Finally putting teeth into the policy is a great thing. It doesn’t go quite far enough because of the failure to address HGH, but at least it’s a start.

I say this not because of any assault on longtime records that resulted from the steroid era. I say this not because of the assault on the “integrity of the game” that players on steroids precipitated. I say this as someone who teaches high school kids.

It is at that age that kids are starting to get a sense of whether or not they have the talent to maybe perhaps pursue athletics beyond the high school level. If they make a decision to make sports a major part of their lives, they look at what the players do to attain that extra edge they need to succeed.

They ask around, and too often they have found out that professional athletes often resort to using substances to enhance their performance that are legal only by prescription. And all too often there are people around who are more than willing to provide those substances to kids in their teens.

In the case of steroids, the long term effects are subject to debate, but there is ample anecdotal evidence that they are not beneficial. Anything, either voluntary or through congressional action that discourages their use sends an important message. It tells kids that this is not the way to go.

Baseball turned a blind eye to a very real problem for too many years. The result was a terribly ambiguous message to kids. Guys bulked up on juice were hailed by the Commissioner who now wants to stop their use. Of course the Commissioner didn’t actually know they were on steroids. The problem was that he didn’t want to know.

For every parent who spoke to the congressional committee that was looking into legislation involving steroids, we know there had to be thousands who didn’t testify. It’s too bad for them that baseball chose to focus on the home run and not on what the players were doing to bulk up to hit those homers.

As it turns out, those players’ records may not last. Saturday morning on WSCR radio, Lester Munson of Sports Illustrated reported that sources are telling him that Commissioner Budlight is also looking at expunging the home run and other records set by players who were suspected of steroid use. If he follows through on this, it would be a fitting postscript to a shameful era in the sport.

An even more fitting end would be that Commissioner Budlight then ban himself for life for ignoring the problem for so many years.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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