Anyone who has seen me spin that heavy, giant wheel on television knows that I??¢â???¬â???¢m not a steroid user. (Frankly, I have my doubts about Trebek, but that??¢â???¬â???¢s another matter.) On the other hand, it has been obvious to anyone who has paid attention to Major League Baseball over the past decade or so that there have been plenty of players who have resorted to artificial means to enhance their performances. Now, of course, to paraphrase “Casablanca??¢â???¬â???¢s” Captain Renault, we are shocked — shocked — to learn that steroid use has been rampant in our National Pastime.
I don??¢â???¬â???¢t mean to make light of the matter given the health risks to the athletes and the fact that young people who try to emulate them may be tempted to travel the same road. Those issues should be, and are being, addressed by the game. However, I??¢â???¬â???¢m not as upset as many baseball fans appear to be about the so-called integrity of the game. Spitballs, corked bats, sign stealing, Pete Rose. What integrity? After all, this is not a game where you??¢â???¬â???¢re likely to see a second baseman say, ??¢â???¬?????Excuse me, Mr. Umpire, but I actually missed tagging the runner, so you were wrong to call him ??¢â???¬????out??¢â???¬â???¢??¢â???¬
As for the sanctity of the record book, since when has the playing field been level? The only consistency over the years has been the inconsistency. We??¢â???¬â???¢ve seen the dead ball era and the juiced ball era. The mounds have been raised and lowered, fences have been pulled in and pushed back, the season??¢â???¬â???¢s length has been altered, and wartime rosters have been decimated to a point where even the terrible St. Louis Browns were able to make a 1944 World Series appearance.
We also don??¢â???¬â???¢t need any asterisks in the record book. Who gets those marks of shame? Those suspected of steroid use? Those who admit to it? Anyone Jose Canseco points to? The fact is that, rightly or wrongly, all of the offensive records attained during what will become known as baseball??¢â???¬â???¢s ??¢â???¬?????Steroid Era??¢â???¬ will have an assumed asterisk next to them, and that imaginary mark will affect things such as who gets into the Hall of Fame. Will some players be unfairly tainted? I suppose so. But I don??¢â???¬â???¢t think it??¢â???¬â???¢s all that tough to figure out who the cheaters are. (Hint: look for someone with 20-50 pounds of additional upper body weight from one season to the next whose home run total goes from, say, 15 to 45.)
Most of all, however, Congress needs to stay out of this. Don??¢â???¬â???¢t forget, this is a body that has helped to craft most of today??¢â???¬â???¢s national drug policies, and we all know how successful they have been. Health effects aside, I don??¢â???¬â???¢t know why keeping a sport drug-free is any concern of a bunch of elected officials. I certainly think they should be sure that airline pilots are drug-free. Policemen, because they’re toting guns, should also be clear of mind. In fact, I??¢â???¬â???¢m more concerned about members of Congress being drug-free than I am about members of the Yankees or Giants.
Congress, I??¢â???¬â???¢m afraid, cannot resist the temptation. Network television ??¢â???¬?????face time??¢â???¬ is too powerful a drug for these folks to ??¢â???¬?????just say no??¢â???¬ . Henry Waxman, the meek-looking Democratic Congressman from California, whom I suspect was bullied a lot as a kid, has made a career of turning the tables on big-shot businessmen who probably never chose him for the school team. Now he and others get another chance to show how tough they are (and maybe get a few autographs while they??¢â???¬â???¢re at it).
So Congress will have its hearings, players will deny or confess, tongues will wag, random testing and the microscope of publicity will force a cutback in the use of illegal substances, records from this era will be debated, and the game will go on.
For goodness sake, Play Ball!