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Archive for Friday, December 3, 2004

Giambi may be baseball’s wake-up call

December 3, 2004

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Baseball is about to be offered some much-needed help pulling its head out of the sand.

That might have been the farthest thing from Jason Giambi's mind when he strolled into a grand jury room in San Francisco during the early stages of the BALCO investigation. It hardly matters.

The flow of information from that federal probe is about to wash over baseball, the same way that evidence of drug abuse conveniently washed up on the doorstep of Olympic officials in time to thin the athletic herd headed for Athens.

Everybody says they're against juicing in baseball, too, but nobody does much about it. If this latest opportunity comes and goes without real change, the next time you feel the urge to point a finger, go stand in front of a mirror.

Fan polls show overwhelming support for a cleanup. But those fans who also vote with their feet show up at ballparks in record numbers. Commissioner Bud Selig and the players' union finally buckled on a testing program, but even dizzy former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams could beat the one baseball has in place.

And good luck to anybody who accepts the commish's latest promise to do better. It comes with a lifetime pass to the Amnesiacs Hall of Fame.

When asked about Giambi's leaked grand jury testimony, Selig touted the much-tougher program already in place in the minor leagues.

"We need to have that program at the major-league level," he said. "This is just another manifestation of why we need that right away. My only reaction is we're going to leave no stone unturned until we have that policy in place by spring training 2005."

Right. And expect to see pigs handling the flyovers on opening day.

For 10 solid years, every time questions bubbled up about the role of performance-enhancers in supersizing of baseball, Selig & Co. bought themselves time by promising to study, monitor and test the players.

Normally the commissioner and his loyal opposition over at union headquarters can't agree on whether the sun in shining. But when it comes to denying the game has a drug problem, they speak with the same forked tongue.

When home-run records fell from the sky so often that old-timers developed tics, Selig dispatched a fact-finding mission to the Caribbean to rummage through the factories where the baseballs were made.

When a bottle of androstenedione was eyeballed in Mark McGwire's locker, the proper authorities assured everyone the supplement was legal and allowed under the rules in place at the time. Then, just for good measure, Selig commissioned a team of Harvard scientists to study andro.

Two years later, he thanked the researchers for a "significant contribution to the science surrounding its use" and put the study in a drawer. Then he and union boss Donald Fehr agreed more research was needed. Only later, and with little fanfare, did andro slide onto the banned list.

When former players Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti threw around estimates that more than 50 percent of their counterparts were on juice, the higher-ups advised everybody to calm down and consider the source.

And during a dress-rehearsal two years ago, when between 5 and 7 percent of the ballplayers' anonymous tests came back positive, both Selig and the union had the chutzpah to describe it as a win-win situation.

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