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Archive for Saturday, August 25, 2007

Scandal about to get bigger

Fans must decide their stance on steroids issue

August 25, 2007

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Scores of major-leaguers are now squirming like fish on a hot dock, having learned that Kirk Radomski, the ex-Mets' clubhouse attendant who admitted selling steroids to ballplayers over a 10-year period, has implicated them all to the Mitchell investigation. It won't be long: One way or another the names will be made public, and the culture of the syringe will finally be exposed for its sleazy ethos.

The obvious question, of course, is what Bud Selig intends to do with the guilty ballplayers. Baseball's image already has suffered, and the commissioner walks a fine line between punishment and outright destruction of the game. A more poignant question, however, is what you, the sporting public, will do with these awful revelations.

It's one thing to bash Barry Bonds, a despicable man who clearly cheated his way to the all-time home run record. But what happens when you find out your favorite player is on Radomski's list? Then what?

Do you join the army of Bay Area sycophants who think Bonds has been framed and decide steroid use isn't that awful, after all? Or do you take the more courageous stand and renounce juicing and all that goes with it - even the star you've been rooting for all these years? It's no easy choice, because we're about to learn just how prevalent steroids were from the early '90s on.

We may well discover that every major milestone in a 15-year window has been soiled - or just plain spoiled - by players who were artificially strengthened by steroids. Not just personal achievements, but entire pennant races won and lost because certain teams had more steroids users than the others. We could find out that "stand-up" players who've been honest and forthright about everything else, taking responsibility for the errors they've made or the home runs they've surrendered, were hiding a darker truth: They were cheating you, the public, all along.

If Radomski has given an accurate accounting of who's who and what's what in the steroids world, we're all in for a lousy September. According to SI.com, people are going to be "very surprised" by how much information Mitchell has gleaned. The former Met employee is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to distributing steroids, and recently met with Mitchell to repeat to baseball's chief investigator what he told the feds.

Radomski's testimony will be everyone's nightmare: Selig's, the players', yours and mine. The commissioner might've hoped the worst of the steroids era was over after Bonds passed Hank Aaron. And the guilty players might've believed they'd escape punishment from the game's elders, too, after Jason Giambi was given amnesty for cooperating with Mitchell. Indeed, it looked like baseball was ready to move on.

But not now, not if Radomski's list is as juicy as some people are saying it is. So what do you do about your love of the game? Do you admit you've been victimized by what amounts to fraudulence? Do you summon enough moral outrage to see your favorite player on TV and say: there goes a lowlife? Do you have the courage to boo that player at the ballpark?

Make no mistake, how the steroids era will be remembered depends largely on the public that pumps billions of dollars into the game, through ticket sales, advertising and TV contracts. Selig and his public relations machine are nervously awaiting your response; they gauge attendance figures, network ratings, even Internet polls, to see if their product still sells. So far, it has, brilliantly. Americans aren't just enjoying baseball, they're obsessed with it, on a pace to set an attendance record for the fourth straight season.

But the game's popularity has been based on its honesty and integrity. Until now, the steroids fallout has been confined to a few, convenient targets - notably Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco. Every once in a while you hear about some idiot in the minor leagues who's been caught, but the mainstream major-leaguer appears clean. But that's about to change.

If there's a groundswell of revulsion, Selig will have no choice but to someday affix an asterisk upon the entire world of cheaters. Just call the 15-year window the steroids era, not unlike the dead ball era of the early 20th century. No need to remove or reverse anyone's records. Simply let it be known, by official decree, they were set against a backdrop of rampant cheating.

The revolution begins now: We're about to hear of the scores of baseball felons, the ones who couldn't resist the shortcut to bigger home run muscles, faster home-to-first times, improved radar-gun readings. The juice turned good hitters into very good ones, allowed power hitters to become monsters. A former major-leaguer once told me he took steroids a decade ago because, aside from the obvious strength enhancement, they even allowed him to see the ball better.

"Every pitch looked huge," he said. "I could wait forever (before swinging) because it improved my vision. It was great, I saw everything. But that stuff will break down your body, there's no getting around that. Eventually, you pay."

It's only a matter of time before someone pays the ultimate price. Someone will get terribly sick from the chemicals, maybe fatally so. No one will be able to say he or she was surprised. We're going to learn just how many cockroaches have been hiding under the rug, but let's face it, we knew they were there all along. Only, not this many.

Whether you want to thank Kirk Radomski or curse him, there's no ignoring him. Not now. The game is on the doorstep of a much darker era.

Selig is mulling his response. So should you.

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