Shooting (Up) The Messanger

In the Daily News article about Curtis Wenzlaff and steroids, one thing I really take offense to is how they explicitly detail the regiment that Cansaco and (allegedly) McGuire took to get big. They spell out exactly what was taken, in what dosages, and how it was injected. The implications of the article , I think, are enough; they do not need to be providing a handbook on how to bulk up like a home run hitter at the same time.

There are two sides to this issue - how it affects the world of baseball and how it affects the world outside baseball.

Inside baseball, the big issue is, of course, cheating. Players take steroids so they can have an advantage not only over the men they are playing against in the field, but also so they can have an advantage over the men they are playing against for positions on the field. They increase their power and speed (and don’t discount confidence), giving them the ability to turn those fly outs to the track into home runs. Mike Greenwell has a legitimate beef when he claims he was cheated out of the 1988 Al MVP. From Joe Jackson to Pete Rose, baseball does not stand for anything that smacks of dishonest play. Steroids should not be looked upon any differently in this regard.

Outside baseball, the issue is health and image, and not necessarily in that order. A players image (how the public perceives him) can mean millions of dollars in product endorsements these days. Kobe Bryant, for example, lost a number of endorsement deals during his recent ordeal and I’m guessing that you won’t be seeing Sosa or Giambi in any Pepsi commercials this season.

The other, more important issue, is health, and not necessarily the health of the players themselves. They are adults and, like any drug user, be it heroin, coke, or testosterone cypionate, are responsible for what they put in their body and the possible ill affects it will have on their long-term health. Unlike your recreational drug user, though, these men are using strict regiments and supplements, amplifying an already intense workout structure. They are, to a degree, following medical guidelines and procedures, but not because they care about the health aspects, but simply to make sure they get the greatest return from their risk.

The biggest concern for me is the combination of these two outside-baseball issues. Charles Barkley famously once said (in an endorsement deal), “I am not a role model.” What he was really saying was that he shouldn’t be a role model for kids - parents and teachers should be. Unfortunately, kids (and adults) look up to athletes as examples of how to behave, what to emulate. The 14 year old kid, trying out for his high school baseball team, probably facing real competition for a position for the first time, hears whispers about how there are things you can take to make you stronger and that star players are benefiting from them. A friend of a friend hooks him up, giving him pills in all shapes and sizes, with little or no instructions. He is unsupervised medically and has no idea what he is doing to his body, which is already facing the radical changes puberty brings on. Many kids have faced severe medical problems because of this. A few have died.

Kevin Towers, the GM of the Padres, admitted after Ken Caminiti died that, despite knowing his superstar MVP was on steroids, he “never did anything about it, because selfishly, it helped the organization and helped me.” This was a brave public statement to make, reaffirming a lot of the suspicions surrounding who knew and what did they do about it. The Padres’ ownership, taking a slightly less heroic stance, chastised Towers in private and release a statement.

“Kevin may have had suspicions that certain players during the period Caminiti played for the Padres were using steroids, but no one had evidence because testing of major league players was subject to collective bargaining and could not be imposed unilaterally by Major League Baseball.”

Cowards.

Owners and Commissioners can hide behind excuses like this and the Players Union can cry about privacy issues all they want. The bottom line is money. Money the owners can make from the gate, money the players can make from the owners and endorsements, and money the union can make from the players. An article in the San Diego Union-Tribune summed it up pretty well -

Caminiti hugely increased his home run totals after joining the Padres for the 1995 season. Earning a $3 million salary that ranked 99th in the majors, Caminiti in 1996 led the team to its first playoff berth since 1984 and was the league’s unanimous Most Valuable Player. In November 1998, one month after Caminiti and the Padres reached the World Series, San Diego voters approved funding that led to $475 million Petco Park.

The media loves a good scandal, and this is turning into a huge one. Pete Rose was a wonderful story for a media that sees itself as the reporter from “The Natural” - here to protect the game from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Rose, however, was a MLB approved target, ripe for as much mudslinging as the media could dig up. The steroid scandal is one they probably could have helped to avoid, or at least nipped in the bud, but the one thing the media loves more than a scandal is access. Access will make or break a reporters career. You can’t tell me that some reporter, let’s say, in Oakland, whose job it is to hang out in locker rooms and buddy up to players all season, never heard a whisper or had an inkling that certain substances were making their way through the clubhouse. Such a reporter may have started asking some pointed questions, but probably got a quick denial, or, may have been told that such an investigation would severely limit his interaction with his subjects.

Everyone is culpable at some level. The only things that would get the ball rolling is personal admissions or deaths linked directly to steroids. Caminiti and Canseco provided the former. The latter has yet to happen, although Caminiti’s death of a drug overdose certainly put the spotlight on the dangers of drug abuse.

At this point, the problem isn’t even that players are using steroids. The real problem is the fact that it seems more people knew it was going on and chose to ignore it than we probably realize. Everyone who knows something should come clean now before the truth is forced out of them. If there is one thing that’s been proven to be true, whether it be politics or celebrity, is that it’s not the crime that kills you, it’s the cover-up.икони

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