Readers know that I love baseball. They also know that the drug scandals pain me deeply because my love for this game extends to real people both in and out of this truly American sport. I am reminded of a quote that I have made before, given to me by a former major league pitcher who is an earnest Christian: "The culture of major league baseball is no different than that in the wider culture. It is simply a culture that is under a much larger microscope." I still agree with this comment. There are many players who have never used drugs and there are some who have. There are Christians, and non-Christians, in baseball. And there are great guys and bad guys, scattered throughout this entire sport.
Was I shocked by the revelation that Alex Rodriguez used steroids in 2003? No, not really. Little of this kind of information shocks me. If it was John Smoltz or Matt Diaz, two of my favorites, I would be really shocked. But not A-Rod. His personal life has been a moral shambles for some time and the image the fans have of him does not fit the man. So baseball is stained by this revelation but baseball will not die because of it. In many ways this is one more step toward putting the "steroid years" behind us and toward putting the records some players accumulated during the 1990s in the right light. The truth will generally prevail and in this case it is previaiing, or so it seems. Mark McGwire getting only a 21% vote on the first ballot for the Hall of Fame shows that writers will not overlook this stuff.
A-Rod was caught in a year before current rules were put in place. 5% of the players failed the tests in that first year, with the results supposedly to be kept anonymous. Now the steroid tests are regular and the penalties are serious. Both the owners and the union are responsible for this past history. And Bud Selig, who sounds so self-righteous about it all, would do better to keep quiet much of the time. The real problem is that the drug issue has shifted once again. Human growth hormone (HGH) cannot be detected except in blood samples and the players have resisted these tests so far. HGH may be more potent than the steroids of the past. Barry Bonds is presently facing real legal problems because of HGH use. Roger Clemens' trainer says he injected him with HGH. Andy Pettitte, a devout Christian no less, has also come clean about using HGH, as has Miguel Tejada just last week. But without a reliable test it will never be easy to catch violators who use HGH.
But there is a huge problem. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WDA), which supervises the testing of Olympic competitors, has screened 8,500 athletes for HGH since 2000, by using blood tests (the only way to detect it). You know how many violators they have caught? The correct answer is zero. SO what gives us confidence that baseball players will not use HGH, legal or not? Nothing really.
It came to light this week that 100 major league players currently receive treatment for ADD through drug prescriptions. That number was called "incredible" by Dr. Gary Wadler, a WADA official. He adds that there seems to be "an epidemic of ADD" in major league baseball. Not really funny! But remember my first comment. Baseball looks like the culture. What percentage of people are on drugs for ADD in the culture? Probably far too many.
But the clearest path to cheating is not treatment for ADD. It is HGH. When a good test for HGH is developed, and it will be, and MLB then gets serious about testing for it, which it will, then we will then have another round of public scandals. We simply do not know how bad things are in 2009 and will not know for some years, just as we did not know how bad it was when Sosa and McGwire were chasing Ruth and Maris. And then there was Bonds, whose day is coming in a court of law.
Steve Chapman is right: "It's slightly comforting to think we have moved beyond the steroid decade. But the drug-free era hasn't begun, and it may never." The problem my friends is in the culture, not just in baseball.