Suddenly every players is a solid steroid suspect

Sunday, June 2, 2002

Every player in Major League Baseball is a law-breaking, cheating, steroid-pumping freakazoid.

Of course, by "every player," I mean we're not certain who or how many, exactly, but we're pretty sure it's an awful lot, and since nobody is admitting anything, which means lots of clubhouses are housing lots of liars, then every player is, officially and until further notice, a steroid suspect.

Sorry, guys.

If half of y'all are 'roided up, how are we supposed to know which half? A show of hands might help.

Meantime, I would love to extend benefit of doubt, but there's none left. Baseball used up its allotment, one or two work stoppages ago.

Besides, aren't you players -- through your strong, stubborn union -- the ones who have successfully fought every attempt to ban steroid use? Yes, even though the NFL, NBA and Olympics all test for steroids and suspend for them, hasn't your union argued random testing is an "invasion of privacy"? Well, here comes an invasion of publicity, fellas.

The wrong kind.

Caminiti's admission

Ken Caminiti, the 1996 National League Most Valuable Player who retired last year, admits his steroid use in a new Sports Illustrated investigation, admits 'roids got him that tainted MVP award. He is the first baseball player to publicly admit he used the illegal, strength-giving drug, lending credence to his estimate "at least half" of all major leaguers are on steroids.

Suddenly, Jose Canseco's recent guesstimate of use by 85 percent of players, in his rambling retirement rant, doesn't seem quite so preposterous, quite so dismissable as sour grapes or paranoia.

Even commissioner Bud Selig admits baseball has a steroid problem.

The SI piece is credible, and logical, too, in the context of the sport's nearly ridiculous power surge, as when Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling says, "When you add steroids and strength training, you're seeing records not just being broken, but completely shattered."

That feel-good, epic Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa slugfest of '98? You wonder now.

New home run champ Barry Bonds also denies using steroids, of course, but, in lieu of decrying their use, curiously tells others to stop snooping.

"Doctors ought to quit worrying what ballplayers are taking," he said last week. "What players take doesn't matter. It's nobody else's business."

A private matter?Not really

The thinking that steroids should be a private matter helps explain the widespread, increasing acceptance of the artificial muscle builder.

It is as if players have convinced themselves steroids are not illegal in the U.S. except by medical prescription. (Which is why many arrange to buy their 'roids through pharmacies in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America.) It's almost as if players have convinced themselves steroids are safe. (Which they are ... except for their potential to damage the heart and liver, mess up the endocrine system, raise cholesterol, cause a stroke, disfigure the genitalia and create dangerously aggressive behavior.)

There are signs

Managers, here are three helpful hints to help determine whether your players are on steroids:

If your skinny middle infielder shows up for spring training with Popeye's forearms, chances are it wasn't the spinach.

If your catcher's back suddenly has more pimples than a roomful of 14-year-old boys, it ain't acne.

And if your pitcher says, "I am really pumped for tonight's game," believe him.

Caminiti is to be admired for his candor in further exposing baseball's dirty secret, but he does not qualify as a hero.

"I've made a ton of mistakes," he told SI. "I don't think using steroids is one of them."

Dear Ken, among your ton of mistakes, add your failure -- now, when the national pulpit was yours -- to condemn steroids. Because you ensure that even more high school players will try steroids for fear they will be left behind.

"Look at all the money in the game," Caminiti explains. "So I can't say, 'Don't do it.' Not when the guy next to you is as big as a house and he's going to take your job and make the money."

Yet Caminiti also says: "I'm still paying for it. My tendons and ligaments got all torn up. My muscles got too strong for" steroids. "Now, my body's not producing testosterone. You know what that's like? You get lethargic. You get depressed. It's terrible."

All the edge, all the risk

Chasing an edge despite the risk is the ultimate explanation of baseball's steroids crisis.

Whether the number of players using 'roids is 85 percent, or "at least half" or even 25 percent, it is significant, and a shame, and calls into question the credibility of every record being set.

The player en route to a career high in homers? Suspect.

The pitcher who somehow adds more velocity? Suspect.

The player who gains 15 pounds of muscle? Suspect.

And it will be so until baseball, until the players themselves, begin to clean the filth from their clubhouse.

Greg Cote is a sports columnist for the Miami Herald.

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