Time for the game to come clean; Steroid use challenges integrity
So Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker likens the questions about steroid use in baseball to McCarthyism. Maybe he meant Charlie McCarthyism. Or Eugene McCarthyism. You never know with Baker, baseball's resident social scientist, who, after all, believes the sun is a performance-enhancing substance for black and Hispanic ballplayers. Remember his observation from last year? "Your skin color is more conducive to heat than it is to the lighter-skinned people," Baker said last summer. "I don't see brothers running around burnt. That's a fact. I'm not making this up. I'm not seeing some brothers walking around with some white stuff on their ears and noses." These days, Baker is taking on a new subject - steroids. Recently, he was asked about his time managing the San Francisco Giants and Barry Bonds, whose personal trainer, Greg Anderson, is charged with illegally distributing steroids. Anderson told federal agents he gave steroids to several major league players.
"I'm not going to succumb to the pressure of what everyone else feels I should say or I should do," an agitated Baker told reporters. "I'm 55 years old almost. I have my own mind. I know what my mouth is saying, and I'm pretty good with the English language.
Especially when he is standing in the sun. Baker is feeling the pressure, and he's not alone. The squeeze is on all of baseball, which is good because that's the only way the questions about steroid use will be answered. It's not self-imposed pressure -- it's coming from those McCarthyists. But this is not a witch hunt. It's an intervention. The game's integrity has been challenged. In recent years there have been questions about the inflated home run totals. And now, after baseball's first year of steroid testing, deflated players have reported to camp. This is not a court of law in which someone is innocent until proved guilty. It is the court of public opinion, which sometimes can be reckless but also can be astute enough to believe what it sees with its own eyes. It saw ballplayers who looked like professional wrestlers and now sees players who look like they spent the winter at Weight Watcher meetings, 24-7. The pressure must continue until the players union, which has the power and resources to stop the questions and accusations, does something. The union refuses to agree to serious drug testing. Its new testing policy has been called a "complete joke" by Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency. The only way the union will embrace testing is if its members -- the players -- demand it. Unfortunately, shaming the innocent is the only way to get results. The brotherhood is starting to crack. Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz wants stricter testing. "The more it becomes a monster, the more it plays into everybody's mind," he told reporters. And Colorado pitcher Turk Wendell had the guts to say what nearly everyone in baseball has been thinking about Bonds. "If my personal trainer, me, Turk Wendell, got indicted for that, there's no one in the world who wouldn't think that I wasn't taking steroids," he said. "I mean, what, because he's Barry Bonds, no one's going to say that? I mean, obviously he did it. [His trainer] admitted to giving steroids to baseball players. He just doesn't want to say his name. You don't have to. It's clear just seeing his body." Bonds, who set the single season home run record of 73 in 2001, continues his assault on Hank Aaron's career mark of 755. However, the integrity of the game is at stake. Bonds adamantly denied he used illegal performance-enhancing drugs and shot back at Wendell. "If you've got something to say, say it to my face," Bonds told reporters. "You got something to say, you come to my face and we'll deal with each other. Don't talk through the media like you're some tough guy." Anderson's lawyer has said Bonds was clean. "Barry Bonds never took anything illegal," Tony Serra said. "He declined to take any of these illegal substances." Of course, we know lawyers never lie. In Serra's mind, there may be no such thing as an illegal substance. This is the lawyer whose claim to fame is defending drug clients. His life was portrayed by James Woods in the 1989 movie, "True Believer." Some of his former clients include Hells Angels and Black Panthers. This is Barry Bonds' character reference. Bonds also got some help from his old nemesis and teammate, Houston Astros second baseman Jeff Kent, who raised the possibility that steroid use is a baseball tradition. "Babe Ruth didn't do steroids," Kent told the Houston Chronicle. "How do you know? People are saying Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth ... how do you know those guys didn't do steroids? So all of a sudden you've got guys doing steroids now in the 20th century, 21st century? Come on." It sounds like Kent has been out in the Florida sun a little too long, which, as Dusty Baker knows, is not healthy for those lighter-skinned people. What also isn't healthy for the game is the dark cloud of steroids hovering over it. It is time for a little Kevin McCarthyism - the star of the 1956 film classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" - whose character, Dr. Miles Bennell, made this urgent phone call: "Something is happening! Send your men of science quick!"