March 3, 2004

Baseball Has Buffed Up the Bad Way

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The debate over steroid use in baseball just got a little more complicated. Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that federal investigators have discovered that the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) distributed anabolic steroids and human growth hormone to Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield, among other professional athletes.

This report simply verifies two things we already knew: that these three players were probably lying when they said that they have never used steroids, and that the problem of illegal drug use in baseball is as rampant as ever.

While the information the Chronicle obtained stopped short of explicitly stating that the implicated players used the steroids, the report contains pretty damning evidence that they likely did.

Again, this is an example of the collective bargaining agreement’s failing. It was a contentious issue during negotiations, and one that ended up not being included in the final contract. Though Don Fehr and the Players Association were adamant about protecting the player’s privacy, what has resulted is a culture that allows players to seriously endanger their health at the same time as endangering the integrity of the game.

Baseball is reaching the point at which no on field performance can be taken seriously, every achievement is questioned, and every statistic is marked with an asterisk. The game is taking on such a cartoonish quality, it is no wonder that public interest continues to plummet.

And the Players’ Associations’ refusal to act is downright alarming. Not only is the union failing to protect the health of its members, discord within the ranks is now becoming common place.

In recent weeks, several players ranging from Turk Wendell of the Phillies to John Smoltz of the Braves have called for stricter testing and enforcement. Even though major league baseball players are adults who should be responsible for their own actions, they are still athletes who by their very nature will do anything to get a competitive edge.

So the game suffers. And the game will continue to suffer until something substantial is done. The need for action is dire, but it cannot be effective unless it has the support and endorsement of the Players’ Association. If Major League Baseball or its players care at all for either themselves or for the good of the game, they will act soon.

Archived article by Owen Bochner