Before diving into the shenanigans of the Hot Stove League -- baseball's annual winter meetings begin Friday in Anaheim, Calif. -- I want to jump on a couple of questions this BALCO mess has brought up.
Does his reported testimony that he "unknowingly" used steroids jeopardize Barry Bonds' chances for the Hall of Fame?
Well, yeah, in some people's minds it does. I've heard several so-called experts who insist that, given this latest twist in this ever-twisted tale, they wouldn't vote Bonds into the Hall.
The real question is not what Bonds has done in the game, but what he has done to the game. Was baseball's integrity compromised by Bonds' reported use of performance-enhancing drugs? Are the records he has set tainted? If so, should that keep him out of the Hall?
The answers to the first two questions, of course, are yes. But the answer to the last one is no.
The charges the majority of the general public are levying against Bonds strike directly at the integrity of the game. But, technically, he has never done anything against baseball's rules. So how can you keep him out?
It's murky stuff, I'll grant you. But unless someone puts some kind of morals clause with teeth into the requirements for induction into the Hall -- and morals never has been a prerequisite to get into Cooperstown -- you simply can't keep Bonds out. A possible compromise would be to inscribe, on his plaque, that he admitted to using steroids. That would bring his records into question while still giving him his deserved spot in the Hall.
What about fraud? Can these guys be nailed for fraud?
Former Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten suggested to the New York Times this week that the Yankees may have been defrauded by Jason Giambi, who also admitted to using steroids.
My question is this: Can it be fraud if the buying party neglects to take the proper steps to ensure that no fraud is being perpetrated? It seems reasonable that the Yankees, for instance, should have at least suspected some kind of steroid use. Did the team really even want to know if Giambi was using?
I mean, I can sell you my dog, but if you don't check to see if it really is a dog, aren't you somewhat to blame if it turns out to be, say, a rat? Caveat emptor, or something like that.
And, again: The Yanks wouldn't be talking fraud or voiding Giambi's contract if he had gone .330, 40, 110 last season.
The only ones getting cheated in this thing are the fans.
Who cleans this up?
Bud Selig is laying this whole mess on the players' union, which probably is where it belongs. Don Fehr, Gene Orza and the rest of them have resisted drug testing for so long that it has given rise to this steroid-injecting, pill-popping, cream-rubbing, muscle-flexing age. If this is to be cleaned up, the players' union, ultimately, will have to give in to more sophisticated testing and stricter punishments for those who are caught cheating.
Major League Baseball has some culpability, for sure. Selig wasn't bleating about this scourge when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were supposedly saving the game via the longball in the summer of '98. But Selig is screaming now, enlisting everyone from George Bush to John McCain to put the pressure on the union.
The players, it seems, finally are ready to be heard and tested. The union and baseball officials already are working on a much stronger drug policy, and I see it getting implemented sooner rather than later. The number of positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs most likely will begin to drop this year.
Yeah, something good will come out of all of this.
What about history and the record books?
History provides us with perspective. We'll need to use it. Tall pitching mounds, dead balls, bigger ballparks, better training methods and equipment, rules changes, racism, midgets, wars ... all have affected the history of the game and its record books. The "juiced era" is just another entry on that list.
When will all this end?
The BALCO case still has some legs to it, though is its hard to believe anything bigger than "Barry Bonds Says He Took Steroids" will come out of it. The players who testified to the grand jury did so under immunity, so they probably will avoid any kind of legal fallout -- unless they lied under oath.
But the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in the game won't completely go away anytime soon. As long as there are millions to be made, as long as there are sleazy scientists peddling their latest chemical concoctions, as long as the pressure to perform and outperform others is around, the temptation to artificially enhance will be there.
Keeping up with these cheaters is a full-time job. It's about time that baseball got to it.