Last year, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci wrote a touching piece on the beauty of spring training. He talked of the fresh beginnings occurring simultaneously as America’s pastime stirred to life for another season of hot summer afternoons at the ballparks and big hits in the World Series. After Opening Day this week, Major League Baseball must be wondering how it all could crash so quickly around them.
This is a year promising the return of a pitching legend who reneged on his promise of retirement. This generation’s greatest hitter posed to continue his historic ascent into the record books.
But speculation over the use of anabolic steroids has exploded, and news got out about Major League Baseball’s embarrassingly poor system of drug tests. Commissioner Bud Selig was recently forced to testify before the U.S. Senate.
Questions of widespread steroid abuse had been simmering under the surface for a number of years, particularly after 2002. That year, retired stars and former MVP’s Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti spoke about the prevalence of steroids within baseball, even going so far as to admit his own use in the case of the latter.
It then erupted into a full-blown controversy this winter when four trainers from BALCO, a popular sports nutrition company that has serviced such superstars as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, were indicted on charges of distributing steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.
Recent anger concerning steroids has taken various forms. Some purists are disgusted that some of the unprecedented offensive numbers racked up in the recent decade could be tainted. Casual fans are given one more reason to forget about a league increasingly nurturing the stigma of an organization of whining, power-hungry millionaires. But one of the least talked about problems is how millionaire employees can influence their employers to not only overlook their own reservations on drugs, but to defy federal law too.
Moral dualism within the United States, indeed the world, is neither new nor surprising. They are no strangers to American professional sports either. For instance, NBA star Latrell Sprewell viciously attacked his coach P.J. Carlesimo in an unprovoked scenario in 1997.
He faced no criminal charges and was even able to drastically reduce his punishment. And now we face Major League Baseball and their ridiculous inability to uphold not only the basic laws of the U.S. general law, but international sporting standards as well.
Consider that a high school student caught smoking marijuana in a parking lot will never be eligible for financial aid in college. Marijuana is an illegal substance, but comparing pot to anabolic steroids is like comparing grand theft auto to first-degree murder. Yet because pro baseball rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars every year, the players can command far more privilege than any ordinary teen-ager.
Lest it be forgotten, the International Olympic Committee imposes harsh zero tolerance laws for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, stripping even first time offenders of any medals won and inflicting suspensions over any number of years. It takes the second time for a MLB player to be fined and suspended, albeit an insignificant 15-day suspension. What would happen if you, the common student, were caught for a second time in possession of steroids? See you in a couple of years and be sure not to drop the soap.
It’s time to eliminate this blemish from such an important chapter of American history and to put an end to the power of those with the financial ability to command it.
Noah Potvin can be reached at Redfloit5@hotmail.com.