BALCO could change game
But don't expect new drug policy before next round of CBA talks
Posted: Tuesday March 2, 2004 4:10PM; Updated: Tuesday March 2, 2004 4:31PM
In May 2002, SI senior writer Tom Verducci wrote the story in which former MVP Ken Caminiti admitted to using steroids during his career. In light of Tuesday's report that Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield received steroids from BALCO, SI.com spoke with Verducci on the subject.
SI.com: Given the way this BALCO story has gone, should we have expected names to come out at some point?
Verducci: I think as these types of stories run their course, leaks are bound to happen. Obviously, the government prosecutors right now have a lot of information in their hands and it behooves them to leak some of that stuff, rightly or wrongly, because it helps build their case publicly. Even though they are never going to prosecute any ballplayers, they need names of ballplayers out in the public arena to gather support for this case, and not just people like Victor Conte or Greg Anderson, who are relatively unknown.
SI.com: Do fans care if star ballplayers like Barry Bonds are using steroids? Why should they?
Verducci: I think there is a segment of fans out there who don't care. They care about baseball purely as entertainment. They don't care about the fairness of an athletic competition. That is one reason to explain why professional wrestling is so popular, it is for the same kind of people who want to see a ball hit 600 feet or 400 feet or whatever. Any true fan of the game must have zero tolerance when it comes to steroids because what you are watching is not fair. Some players have a competitive advantage over other players. It's not fair to a lot of players who have never used steroids or never thought of using steroids who now come under public suspicion.
SI.com: Will it make a difference in public perception now that there is more of an official tone to the steroids accusations than just rumors?
Verducci: If you do begin to get tangible, hard evidence and facts, and not just innuendo, it will lead the general fan to wonder how many more people out there are cheating and not just those players implicated in BALCO investigation. We know that anywhere between 60 to 80 players out there flunked anonymous testing, and people understand that represents the tip of iceberg, but it has been left to the imagination just how big iceberg really is.
SI.com: Do you foresee anything that can bring about a change in the current drug testing policy before the next collective bargaining agreement is due in 2006?
Verducci: No. I think that's a nonissue. The current policy is something that was collectively bargained and I would be shocked if the union tore up a part of the basic agreement because of public pressure or for any reason. I don't see them redoing the deal. The only time real change is affected in baseball is when forces come from outside the game that they have to deal with it. The gambling problem baseball had in the early 20th century, baseball did something with that only after it got into federal courtroom. The drug scandal in the mid-80s, they did something substantial only after it was in a federal courtroom. Baseball will only get serious about steroids after it gets into a federal courtroom like this.
SI.com: But the players are not on trial here like they were in the scandals you mentioned. Is that necessary for the trial to influence baseball?
Verducci: If this case does go to trial, certainly their names will be introduced and that alone is going to be enough, you would think and hope, to embarrass baseball to do something. But we're not going to see real change in next couple years, at least not until the next round of collective bargaining. Real change is going to have to come from the rank and file. Enough players are going to have to raise their voices and say we need a better testing program. You shouldn't have to get to a good drug testing program incrementally. The landscape has already been mapped out by other sports. Why baseball thinks small steps is the way to get there, I don't know
SI.com: What is your opinion of the type of bravado players like Gary Sheffield have shown in denying steroid use this spring?
Verducci: It's a grandstand play. Any time a player beat his chest tell you test me any time, it's not gonna happen. When Gary Sheffield got back to his apartment in Florida after saying those things, he had four messages from the union telling him, "You can't do that. We will not allow you to be tested individually." It's a moot point. Nobody should ever take those things seriously. We know there are so many ways to be tested and to avoid detection. Athletes do these things in cycles. They know when and how they can be tested and they will pass. I don't put much stock in those kind of claims at all.
SI.com: Will the steroids issue overshadow the 2004 baseball season?
Verducci: This story is not going away. Any time baseball begins to feel good about itself, this story will jump up and scare the hell out of Bud Selig and everybody else involved in the game. Last season, they had the perfect storm of the Red Sox and Cubs in the playoffs, and so many viewers for it and they wanted to keep the focus on the field and continue that momentum. They did their best to ignore steroids head on and now they have no choice. They will have to deal with leaks, probably a trial at some point, players speaking out ... This is a hot button issue that is not going away.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci covers baseball for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.