Commentary: Steroid use in baseball

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Date: 2004
Publisher: National Public Radio, Inc. (NPR)
Document Type: Broadcast transcript
Length: 612 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1430L

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The scandal in major league baseball this spring involves allegations about widespread use of steroids. Commentator Frank Deford says there's something familiar about this controversy.


When some time ago I was researching a story on baseball and the early 20th century, I was surprised to discover how much suspicion there existed then that some games were being fixed regularly, year after year. Yet despite all the inside knowledge, nothing was ever much done, and in the end, scoundrels fixed the whole World Series.

It all seemed so much the case with drugs a hundred years later. Everybody was sure something was up, but out of some misguided loyalty to the group, the clean players didn't protest and the public just turned its head. Maybe we're more programmed to accept cheating in sports in this country since we grow up blithely tolerating such utter corruption and hypocrisy in the college athletics we love.

Track and field people who've taken such a tremendous beating on the subject of drugs simply could not comprehend the appalling double standard that has allowed major league baseball to operate under drug laws that are different from the strictures that came to exist in virtually every other respectable athletic institution in the world, including, by the way, minor league baseball.

The players' union, of course, bears the greatest burden of guilt. Don Fehr and Gene Orza, the leaders, somehow decided that it was better to protect drug users than it was to stand up for the rights of the honest players. Incredibly, even last week, Orza was publicly declaring that steroids were no worse than cigarettes, and then babbling on about how some people abuse aspirin, so--oh, oh, you try to make sense of the baseball union and its lax attitude toward drugs.

Once again, we can only cue Lord Acton, `Power tends to corrupt,' etc., etc. The baseball union took over control of the game because management behaved like the Sun King, but now we see as the union took the place of management, it soon acted in the same unbridled way. Certainly a serious drug testing program ought to be put in effect. The commissioner should be publicly screaming for the union to accept changes in the drug statutes, which are now an insult to law, to health and to baseball. Instead, all he's done is institute a gag order so that nobody in baseball will talk about what everybody is talking about baseball.

It's too early to tell how much damage has been done to the game. Indisputably, though, something precious has been lost. Some faith, some trust, and what little innocence remained after all the turmoil of strikes and lockouts. Maybe this drug issue is even worse to deal with because we'll never really know, will we, about who took what in the past few years.

Most Americans, most baseball fans, adhere firmly to the principal that a man is innocent until proven guilty, but outside the realm of jurisprudence, most Americans, most baseball fans also can't help but believe that if it looks like a duck on steroids and it's built like a duck on steroids and it slugs like a duck on steroids, well, then it's a duck on steroids.

So the sad reality is that in their hearts, many fans already have concluded that the man who really and truly holds the home run record is Roger Maris, New York Yankees, 1961, 61 homers, clean and undisputed.

EDWARDS: The comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

It's 11 minutes before the hour.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A161995111