Posted: Thursday February 10, 2005 4:26PM; Updated: Thursday February 10, 2005 6:24PM
For some fans, the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 has been tainted.
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For as long as El Hombre can remember, the wonderful sentence, "Pitchers and catchers report next week," has conjured visions of balmy breezes, sun-swept emerald fields and the promise of a swift end to winter's icy grip. Because of its romantic imagery and symbolic renewal of life -- and Cubs fans' hope -- spring training is unlike the run-up to any other professional sports season. Pretty soon baseball bards like Thomas Boswell and Roger Angell will be filing dispatches from Florida, detailing the return to form of this veteran or Prospect X's tremendous potential.
Meanwhile, the rest of us will be wondering exactly when MLB commissioner Bud Selig will finally decide to rip the band-aid off the whole steroid mess and allow the sport to move on. Though he should be credited for his offseason efforts to push through tougher testing standards, Selig remains unwilling to take aim at the sins of the past, and that's too bad. As long as he refuses to address the controversies that have surrounded the statistical anomalies of the late 1990s and early 21st century, Selig is doing the sport a disservice.
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By continually failing to launch any kind of investigation into What Really Happened when beefed up sluggers mashed long ball after long ball, Selig is allowing others to carry the steroid discussion. He can assert all he wants -- as he did Wednesday -- that baseball has "done everything that we could at this point," to restore the fans' faith in the game, but the truth is he hasn't taken the biggest step -- mounting a thorough and exhaustive effort to find out if the home-run binge led by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds was artificially flavored.
It's easy to see why Selig wants to steer clear of such an investigation. Were he to find conclusive evidence that the massive muscular gains of power hitters were not due to clean living and One-a-Day tablets, Selig would have to take action. He might deem all power stats from '98-03 invalid and direct Hall of Fame voters and historians to disregard them in their considerations of players for honors. He may have to disqualify some of the more egregious offenders from the Hall and future all-Whatever teams. It would hurt.
But it would provide closure, and more importantly, is a pro-active measure that could end all future nosing around. Instead, Selig does nothing and allows the taint of steroid abuse to infiltrate the game little by little.
Just this week, we've had a brouhaha over Jose Canseco's upcoming book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big, which among other things, reports McGwire used steroids and President George W. Bush "had to have known" players were juicing during his tenure as Texas Rangers owner. Now, Canseco, the author, may have the same credibility as Ashlee Simpson, but that hasn't stopped pre-sale orders of the book from piling up like Braves post-season flops at stores and on Web sites. Even if Canseco's tome is completely fictitious (and why would he risk substantial libel claims by doing that?), fans will be reading it this spring, at a time when Selig will be trying to tell us the steroid problem is under control.