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Old 04-04-2005, 12:17 AM   #1
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Default [Sports Central Newsletter] #123 - Baseball Returns

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The Sports Central Newsletter
April 2005 - Issue #123
http://www.sports-central.org
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|-- WELCOME --|

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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|

- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "Sorting Out Steroids"
- Editor's Pick: "Top 10 Questions For Opening Day"
- Shots From the Lip: "Baseball Returns After a Tumultuous Winter"

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|-- WORDS FROM THE EDITOR --|

Hello folks,

With Opening Day hours away, baseball is on the minds of many, especially after Monday night's national championship game between Illinois and North Carolina concludes another scintillating March Madness.

Sadly, however, if you play word association, the word "steroids" has become synonymous with baseball. No matter how tiresome the topic has become, it's undeniably significant in the landscape of baseball and the sporting world in general.

With that in mind, Brad tries to sort out steroids in his O-Files column and Mike takes a broader look at steroids and baseball as a whole, with a unique twist to punish hitters who strikeout too much. Plus, don't miss my Editor's Pick this month, Adam Russell's "Top 10 Questions For Opening Day." Enjoy!

Thanks for reading,

— Marc James
Sports Central Founder/Publisher
mailto:marc@sports-central.org

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|-- THE O-FILES -- |

"Sorting Out Steroids"
By Brad Oremland

Honestly, I don't know what to think about steroids in sports.

I know I disapprove of their use without a prescription: they're illegal, unhealthy, and provide an unfair advantage to the athletes who take them. Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti, and Jason Giambi were nobodies without steroids. Lyle Alzado said of his first year in the NFL, "I was taking steroids and I saw that they made me play better and better."

Alzado's is the definitive warning story about anabolic steroids. His tale has become exaggerated, almost clichιd. He started using steroids after being cut from the football team at Kilgore Junior College (TX), started for the Broncos as an NFL rookie, later made two Pro Bowls and three AP all-pro teams, and was the league's Comeback Player of the Year in 1982. That part of the story reinforces the athletic benefits of steroid use.

The negative side of Alzado's story is even stronger, though. By some estimates, he spent $30,000 a year on steroids. He developed violent tendencies and a short temper: according to one famous story Alzado told, he once chased a man through the streets of Denver for sideswiping his car, and according to some accounts, "beat the hell out of him." Alzado's second wife called the police on multiple occasions because he was physically abusive, and she blamed the breakup of their marriage on his steroid use. In a first-person Sports Illustrated story in July 1991, Alzado wrote, "It was addicting, mentally addicting ... It wasn't worth it. If you're on steroids or human growth hormone, stop. I should have."

Most tragically, steroids were probably to blame for Alzado's death in 1992, just one year after his fourth marriage and two years after his last NFL training camp. Brain lymphoma — the rare form of cancer which led to Alzado's passing — has not been definitively linked to steroid abuse, but most people — including Alzado — were sure that his cancer was brought on by steroids. At age 41, Alzado was unable to walk a straight line. Two years later, he was dead.

The negative physical effects Alzado experienced are unusual, but more common problems include liver damage, blood clots and elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, and kidney problems. Less threatening issues include acne, bloating, and stunted growth. Men may develop depression, grow breasts, experience shrunken testicles, low sperm counts, and/or impotence. Women can grow facial hair and experience male pattern baldness and reduced breast size.

None of that matters here.

If people want to risk the physical, emotional, and legal downsides of steroid use, it seems like a bad idea, but it's their call. In the context of sports, what matters is what happens on the field, or the track, or wherever actual competitive events are held. No athletes should have an edge on their peers or predecessors because of a dangerous and illegal drug. That means professional sports, at the very least, need comprehensive steroid testing. The NCAA and the Olympics do, too.

Furthermore, those who get caught should suffer criminal penalties, not four-game suspensions. Make the tests legally admissible and report offenders to law enforcement officials starting with the first violation. Let a judge and jury determine the penalties. When real testing and real penalties are in place, athletes will really stop using steroids.

In Major League Baseball, more than any other league, steroids pose a deeper problem. No game treasures its statistics and records more than MLB. No league pays more homage to its past. And no sport is more suspicious of its own stars and their recent accomplishments. For all that Lance Armstrong, Kostas Kenteris, Bill Romanowski, and (cough) Todd Sauerbrun have been implicated in steroid scandals, the spotlight — BALCO, Congressional Hearings, etc. — ultimately shines most brightly on baseball players and on MLB's record books.

There is little discussion of the MVP awards won by Caminiti in 1996 and Giambi in 2000, or by Barry Bonds each of the last four seasons. Rather, the debate has been about numbers: 70, 73, 40-40, 755. And even more than the numbers, the question keeps coming back to Cooperstown. A recent poll of the voters suggested Mark McGwire — once considered a candidate for unanimous induction — wouldn't make the Hall of Fame.

That is what really matters to most fans, and that's where I don't know what to think about steroids in sports. It's not fair for the marks set by McGwire, Bonds, or Canseco to stand if they wouldn't have set them without steroids — and this is an appropriate time to mention that only Canseco has admitted (heck, bragged about) juicing up. But asterisks aren't the answer — a generation of fans has grown up hating the idea — and just pretending certain accomplishments never happened is even worse.

There's also an awful slippery slope: if Bonds was using illegal steroids when he hit 73 home runs in 2001, what's the "real" record? Would he have hit 62 without the drugs? McGwire's 70 homers in '98 is next on the list, but Big Mac has definitely been convicted in the court of public opinion. After that is Sammy Sosa's 66, but Sammy's testifying for Congress, too, and he had that corked bat controversy a couple years back. That would bring us back to Roger Maris and the original asterisk.

Obviously, erasing records isn't the answer. Baseball stat-nerds are a sophisticated bunch, and if they can put the dead-ball era in context, they can do the same for the juiced-player era. Single seasons are much easier to address than careers, though. Most fans and analysts agree that Bonds, even if he benefited from steroids in the 21st century, was probably clean for most of his career. The same poll that implied McGwire might not make it to Cooperstown also showed that Bonds probably will. Where do we draw the line? How should we feel if Bonds breaks Henry Aaron's home run record, or even if he just passes Babe Ruth?

I don't have the answers to those questions, and despite my aggressive suggestions above, I don't really know how to curb steroid use by athletes. The cheaters are always a step ahead of the testers, and high schoolers using 'roids bother me more than grown men anyway. I suspect that emphasizing the potential health risks won't do much to prevent steroid use. The first 10 minutes of "Fight Club" are probably more effective. But what it all comes back to is playing fair. Everyone understands that. Using steroids isn't just against the rules — it's cheating. It's unethical and it makes a mockery of the game. And yes, it shrinks your balls.

Ultimately, I think the records should stand and the books have to stay the way they are. The Hall of Fame won't be complete without Bonds, but I think it can do without McGwire if he is guilty. One way or another, all the cheaters will pay their due. What goes around, sooner or later, comes around.

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Brad welcomes your feedback: mailto:newsletter@sports-central.org?subject=O-Files
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)

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|-- EDITOR'S PICK --|

There have been 10 new articles posted on Sports Central in the last week. Check them all out at: http://www.sports-central.org. The Editor's Pick is:

Top 10 Questions For Opening Day
By Adam Russell

As Opening Day rapidly approaches, SC's Adam Russell ponders the 10 biggest questions that need answering before the first pitch is thrown. And, like any other mentally-disturbed individual who talks to himself, he answers his own questions.

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...pening_day.php

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|-- SHOTS FROM THE LIP --|


"Baseball Returns After a Tumultuous Winter"
By Mike Round

To those of us who find life without baseball difficult, the world is a whole lot better place as of this Sunday night. As winter fades and temperatures finally rise, the sound of corked bat on tampered ball returns throughout the nation. Baseball hasn't had a great winter, what with BALCO, Jose Canseco, and the whole steroids mess. Once again, it has to mend fences with the fans. Is steroids in baseball really such a big deal and how can baseball move on after the PR disaster of this past winter?

It hasn't been a great winter for sports in general. The great NFL moneymaking machine rolls on, of course, relentlessly devouring all sports that dare threaten its column inches and television time. Devotees of the NHL — those hardy few that remain — have seen their sport all but destroyed by the idiotic actions of a narcissistic, preening commissioner and a clumsy, oafish union leader. Even those of us who don't even pretend to understand hockey can see how sad it is that such a proud and tradition-rich sport can suddenly be thrown into complete disarray.

Basketball hasn't had such a good winter either. An embarrassing players versus fans battle in Detroit highlighted the on and off field thuggery of NBA players. The fans seemed to wake up to the pure selfishness of the average NBA star and the sheer pointlessness of the NBA regular season and television ratings plummeted. David Stern has a challenge to put the gloss back on the NBA and will rely almost exclusively on LeBron James to achieve it.

Baseball's problem with steroids is by no means a new issue. It took the BALCO investigation and Jose Canseco's book to burst a boil that has been lurking under the skin for years. In fact, it is such an old issue that, personally, I wonder whether the average fan cares that much. Let's face facts, we've all known, thought we've known or at least suspected that baseball players use or have used performance enhancing substances.

Think back to the balmy days of the summer of '98. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa slugging it out for the home run record — two huge muscle-bound behemoths that captured the imagination of the nation and relaunched baseball after the rancor from the '94 labor dispute. There were rumblings back then that both were using "supplements" — a euphemism for anything from creatine to injecting anabolic steroids.

Crowds flocked to baseball stadiums all over the country that summer of '98. The Yankees were steamrollering their way to a World Series, but it was Big Mac and Slammin' Sammy that gave the season impetus. The fans aren't idiots — they could see these guys were bursting out of their skins and can do the math. Did they care? They kept coming, so possibly not — maybe it's only a few writers and purists that do care?

If Sosa and McGwire were indeed juiced in some manner back in '98, what about Ken Griffey, Jr.? No one — to my knowledge — has pointed the finger of suspicion at him, yet he belted 56 homers that summer and enjoyed a career year. And Luis Gonzalez, him of the slight figure and normal-sized head, blasted 57 in 2001, way above anything he has achieved before or after. Out-of-career-pattern achievement doesn't necessarily mean steroid use.

In many ways, how the fans judge a player in relation to steroids depends on their likeability. Bonds is, without doubt, one of sports more obnoxious characters. It's easy to dismiss Bonds as a steroid using cheat because we don't like him — I know I don't. It's hard to find a baseball fan outside of the Bay Area or Bonds' immediate family who wants to see him break Hank Aaron's home run record. His name on baseballs list of records leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

In many ways, Barry Bonds isn't really the poster child of the steroid era. Bonds could play the game with or without being juiced. He had a career when he was skinny and his head didn't resemble the Goodyear Blimp. But Steroid Boy is Jason Giambi is a walking-talking advert for the "supplemental lifestyle."

Giambi came into the bigs as a decent singles/doubles hitter who played third base. In his last season in the minors at Edmonton in 1995, Giambi hit .342 with only 4 of his 65 hits getting past second base. By 1999, Giambi had added 35 pounds to his listed weight and was playing first base — badly. He also slugged 33 homers.

Without steroids, it's not even a given that Giambi would have stuck around in the majors, let alone sign a $120 million deal with the Yankees. Giambi's career is down the toilet and his health is at risk for the rest of his life, but he's made his money. Only he can say if he's happy with the trade off.

So who's to blame for this steroid mess and how does the sport repair the damage?

Firstly, the players have to accept the primary burden of responsibility. Nobody forced grown men to take tablets they didn't wish to swallow, or sticks a needle in a reluctant body. The players wanted the money — and this is all about money — that comes with achievement on the field. The players' union knew what was happening and ignored it — foolishly thinking their members interests was based purely on the thickness of their wallets.

The owners don't walk away from this with a clean slate, either. They suspected who was using and didn't care as long as ticket sales increased in direct correlation to the number of dingers leaving the yard.

At least the sport has taken the first step towards controlling the use of steroids. I say controlling deliberately because no sport can eliminate drugs completely. If an athlete is determined to use them and thinks the benefits outweigh the risk involved, then that athlete will take a chance regardless of the punishment or consequence.

Some have claimed the punishment for being caught is too light. Ten days for a first offence seems a weak sentence, but I think Harold Reynolds has it right on "Baseball Tonight" — the naming and shaming may be enough to deter all but the hardcore. If it's not and there's a flood of failed tests, then, by all means, jack up the punishment to something really severe.

Playing the games will relegate the steroid issue to a lower profile. Now that the season is underway, the actual drama of the season will take precedent, as it should. Baseball is still a damn good game and is sullied only by a minority of its competitors.

There are a few ways baseball can take the focus away from steroids and freak shows like Giambi and Bonds. First off, it would be nice if Bud Selig and friends would recognize there is more to a baseball game than home runs. A lot of fans, myself included, prefer a good pitching duel to a slugfest. Is there going to be a more exciting sight this season than Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling battling it out — say tied at 0-0 in the eighth? Isn't that more of a spectacle than a five-hour 17-12 or whatever game where both starters are back in the dugout before most of the crowd have taken their seats?

There are plenty of great pitchers out there that Selig and Co. can hang their advertising hat on. It would be nice, given that players seem to have shrunk over the past two years, that pitching started to get an edge over hitting, even allowing for the high number of postage-stamp sized ballparks. Raising the mound back to its original height would be on my wish list, but realistically it won't happen.

What might happen — and should — is contraction. I'd like to see four teams nuked, but two is a start and both of them should be in Florida. The Devil Rays are a total embarrassment and will never draw more than a handful of snowbirds no matter where they play. They should be top of anybody's annihilation list, closely followed by fellow Floridians the Marlins.

Is a reason other than Jeffrey Loria necessary? If it is, then I give you low crowds, a dismal stadium, no atmosphere, and constant rain delays. The city of Miami doesn't care about baseball even when its team is the World Series champion.

The union will fight contraction, as they should. The solution is to buy them off with the offer to expand the rosters of the remaining teams by two spots. The union is on the back foot with the steroids issue and might not have the stomach for a fight. Sadly, even if the union acquiesced, some owners are so shortsighted that they'd balk at the meager payroll increase.

Other than contraction in Florida and a Yankees championship, the one thing I'm hoping to see this summer is the players actually playing strong, fundamental baseball. Is moving a runner along a lost art nowadays? How about bringing a runner home, whether it's via a sac fly, base hit, or even a weak groundout? Forget the personal statistics and do what's necessary for your team. I've exhausted my range of expletives aimed at the TV from seeing strikeout after strikeout with one man out and a man in scoring position.

Striking out used to be seen as total failure. Now it's an occupational hazard and reason to share a joke with teammates on the return to the dugout. Personally, I'd like to see it viewed in the same way as steroid use, only with a different penalty. For every 10strikeouts, you get a day off without pay. After 100 strikeouts, you're traded to Tampa Bay.

Enjoy the season and remember to read the label on your nutritional drink.

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Mike welcomes your feedback: mailto:newsletter@sports-central.org?subject=SFTL
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)

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(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 05/08/05.)

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