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Let's start with two hockey-related news bits most Americans probably aren't aware of. 1) The NHL season still hasn't started, and 2) On Thursday, union leaders made a new collective bargaining proposal to commissioner Gary Bettman and his henchmen, the first negotiations since the lockout began three months ago.
The players made some serious concessions -- salary rollbacks, luxury taxes, yada, yada, yada -- and Bettman withheld meaningful comment until he's had a chance to "digest" the proposal. (The two sides will meet again Tuesday.) Here's how Bettman will go about digesting: He'll open the document on his computer and search for the phrase "salary cap." He'll come up with zero matches. Then he'll tell the players, in so many words, to go to hell, and the 2004-05 season will officially be lost. ...
Good news: I checked all of the usual Web sites first thing this morning, and it appears we'll make it through the week without another steroids outing. (How hard must it have been yesterday for the newest Dodger, Jeff Kent, to keep from gloating over the mess his old buddy Barry Bonds finds himself in?) One thing that got lost in the furor: Bonds and Jason Giambi, cheats though they are, got royally screwed. Their grand jury testimony never should have been made public. While it's good for the game in the long run that this story broke, it shouldn't have come to light the way it did. It's tough to blame players when they say they don't trust that a stringent testing system will keep the sport clean and protect their privacy. ...
I found it interesting that MasterCard cancelled its sponsorship of Bonds' chase of Hank Aaron's home run record. It makes sense: Who wants to spend millions promoting the baseball equivalent of Milli Vanilli's Grammy award? But the announcement immediately made me think back to 1999, when the credit card giant sponsored the selection of baseball's All-Century Team. All of the living members of the team were trotted out during the World Series in Atlanta -- including Pete Rose, who received a thunderous ovation from the crowd at Turner Field. If you could forget about Rose's disgraceful behavior, as most of the fans there that night apparently did, it was a touching moment. Rose, of course, was and still is banned from major league ballparks, and there were rumors that MasterCard leaned on Bud Selig to allow Rose's appearance that night. (Selig insisted he temporarily lifted the ban on his own.) Cost of flying several baseball immortals to Atlanta for a promotional appearance? Let's say $200,000. The buzz Rose's appearance created for MasterCard? Priceless. ...
Submit a comment or question for Stephen.
I've been thinking about this question: What's worse, gambling or steroids use? Who will go down as the bigger villain, the Hit King or the Home Run King? Aaron raised the point himself earlier this week when he spoke out against steroid use, saying, "Is this thing involving Barry Bonds in the same category as the guy who gambled on baseball?" Aaron didn't really answer the question, but in the ranking of baseball sins I think gambling comes out as the more serious crime.
Of course, I'm obligated to say here that I don't condone steroids use. (Please, Sen. McCain, hold the angry email.) The Bonds situation leaves a terrible stain on the game, and what was the most hallowed record in the sport will soon be damaged beyond repair. Bonds (along with Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Ken Caminiti and any number of others) is a cheat. But their type of cheating is, in a twisted way, in keeping with the spirit of the game. They're trying to win -- and though their accomplishments are artificially enhanced, drug use doesn't guarantee a home run any more than throwing a spitball guarantees a no-hitter. Even if everyone's juiced, the ball still has to be hit, pitches still have to be made.
Rose's gambling, on the other hand, casts into doubt nearly everything that happened in any game he was involved in. It raises the possibility that those games were rigged, that the outcomes were determined before the first pitch. (Hmmm, maybe I'll rent Eight Men Out tonight.) It was never proven that Rose bet against his own team, but it's certainly conceivable that he did. How many of his boneheaded managerial moves -- and there were plenty -- were made out of stupidity? How many were motivated by something more sinister? Did he make smarter moves on days when he had money riding on the Reds? Did his best relievers just happen to get the night off when he didn't have any action?
Those questions have been asked a million times before, and we'll probably never have answers. Rose's campaign to get into the Hall of Fame gets more support every year; fans don't seem to care much that those questions are out there. If Rose can undergo a reputation revival, Bonds can, too. MasterCard probably already has plans to honor him at the 2025 World Series.
Sports Illustrated staff writer Stephen Cannella covers the NHL for the magazine and contributes frequently to SI.com.