MLB has caved to pressure and done the right thing. A little. The steroid testing program is quite welcome, but the weakness of it makes the league's priorities clear. Everyone knows that steroid use in baseball is rampant (no matter how hard some players and personnel tried to pound the nails through Caminiti's palms when he said as much). The big question is not whether steroids are used, it's who's using them. The limpness of MLB's response speaks volumes about just that. The abusers are the biggest (yeah, literally, too) players in the sport.
It was grimly satisfying to see the guys on ESPN's Sports Reporters dance gingerly about the topic without naming names while the video clips (that could safely be labeled an illustration rather than a representation) prominently featured Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa. All you have to do is look at the guys. All you have to do is hear Bonds defensively diss Babe Ruth's accomplishments (this criticism coming courtesy of a career doubles hitter suddenly and all too explicably turned monster power hitter with neck to match).
I'll have to take my satisfaction where I can get it, obviously, because the league has carefully crafted a policy that will allow their star players to continue taking supplements as long as they do it inconspicuously. "Random" testing. Five strikes and you're . . . suspended. Ten thousand dollar fines. Oooh, my wrist hurts, don't slap it again!
The most I can hope for is that Ken Caminiti feels some measure of respect and peace after the vicious demonizing he was subjected to. And now maybe the stand-up guys who never doped -- Tony Gwynn, one of the best hitters with the best eyes and the best reflexes of all time, who never hit for power but didn't need the flashbulbs popping as long as his team kept winning; the Florida Marlins, who beat the Giants (juiced-up Bonds) and the Cubs (juiced-up Sosa), proving that it takes more than home-run records to make champions -- will get their due. All the more reason to admire men like Hank Aaron, who never ended up looking like a grey-skinned version of the Incredible Hulk, for their genuine prowess.
Some of my favorite players are going to fall by the wayside, much like Mark McGwire did after he stopped taking Andro (which was legal, even), unless they can uncover designer variations that are undetectable. Of course, now that Bonds' nutritionist and the lab who supplied him and numerous Olympic athletes are out of business, that will prove harder. I like the guy, but I've long suspected Bagwell of juicing. Many others, too, some I like too much to even name. Like McGwire, their bodies will fall apart, their retirements will be hastened, and their reputations will be tarnished. But hey, they'll have their millions. And the premiere players, those few on Mount Olympus, will be protected from discovery. Even if they're caught, they'll be able to claim, as I am willing to bet my next paycheck they do in the upcoming federal grand jury investigation of BALCO, that they didn't know the supplements they were taking had steroids in them. No, your honor, I figured my inhuman gain in muscle tissue was due to my fitness program. That's right, your honor, I never asked my "nutritionist" what he was giving me to put in my multi-million dollar body.
One positiv--oops, I mean good result of steroid testing in baseball has already occurred. There were no 50-home run hitters in 2003 -- for the first time in 10 years. Could that have anything to do with the "survey testing" MLB did this year in a vain attempt to prove that steroid use wasn't as out-of-control as reported? Maybe. Or maybe pitching was unusually good this year (not likely; when a Dodgers pitcher says that steroid testing is the reason, it's got to give you pause) and the big sluggers spent a lot of time off the field due to injury and bereavement (Sosa and Bonds, respectively, suffering from events I wouldn't wish on anyone). I think (I hope) that the game will return to its subtler, more interesting aspects. Good base-running, stealing, fewer intentional walks, great defense, STRATEGY, for crying out loud. I'd like that.
Meanwhile, I'll just look forward to that grand jury investigation. I'm very interested in what Giambi and Bonds have to not say.