Give Baseball's Juicers a League of Their Own
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Eighty-six Major League Baseball players, past and present, including putative home run king Barry Bonds and vehement denier/lousy alibier Roger Clemens, were named in former Sen. George Mitchell's recently released report as users of performance-enhancing substitutes ranging from steroids to growth hormone, both human and bovine. As the late, great Scooter, Phil Rizzuto (38 decidedly non-turbo-boosted HRs in 5,816 career at-bats), would have said: "Holy cow!"
In the face of such meaty evidence, even a party-line hack like MLB commissioner Bud Selig can no longer keep his head in the sand and his hand on the till. So far, he has sagely chosen to go with the age-old Three-Point White-Collar Harrumph Plan:
- Wring hands.
- Point finger sternly.
- But then slap wrists ever so gently (a 15-day suspension for super-sized Kansas City outfielder Jose Guillen to go with his brand-new $36M contract?).
Bud, Bud, Bud. Now is not the time to sweep this unholy mess under the carpet. First of all, someone might step on a syringe. And secondly, since the customer is always right, why not just fess up and give the people what they want? The long ball -- power source be damned.
A humble proposal: The American League should go libertarian.
After all, this is America, where the unofficial state religion is the relentless pursuit of self-improvement (from preschool SAT prep courses to octogenarian Botox), so let's toss away the pee cup and yell batter up!
Pandora's bat-rack is open
Over three decades ago, the AL mortally offended purists by allowing the Designated Hitter to become part of the game. So why not just go all the way and become a circuit where absolutely no workplace testing is done (at least until the player has committed a felony), everything short of bionics is allowed and salary caps are nonexistent?
You may scoff, contending that such stigmatized spectacle would find no space in the marketplace, but consider the recent example of Ultimate Fighting and its offshoots. Once viewed as a fringe quasilegal activity, the UFC has roared past boxing as the violent-combat sport of choice in the past decade.
Recently on the TV show Sports Unfiltered with Dennis Miller (for which I am a producer), the national pastime's excommunicated all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, drew big laughs from the audience when he said that the players named in the recently released Mitchell Report are "making [me] look like an altar boy."
Rose, who was banned from baseball in 1987 for the cardinal sin of gambling on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds, concluded his interview by stating that if he played in the Roids Era, he "would've had 5,000 hits." Although that was also intended for laughs (which it got -- Pete still hits for a high average), it's not a stretch to imagine that a man who competed so hard that he ran out bases on balls and bulldozed a catcher in an All-Star Game would have "taken one for the team" and joined the ranks of the Altered Boys. Why not, when the results speak for themselves?
Despite Mark McGwire's discomfiting nontestimony in front of the initial congressional hearing on performance-enhancement in 2005, most fans still harken back fondly to the epic home run chase Big Mac and Sammy Sosa put on in the magical summer of 1998, in many ways rescuing the game just four years after a commercially disastrous strike.
"It's entertainment," was the resounding sentiment around the country, a collective shrug indicating that the general public would much rather watch their sluggers bat fourth than take the Fifth.
As we move forward, the delineation of eras could be made very clear in the record books with a brand-new Modern Era beginning in 1991 (the year that steroids were classified as a "controlled subtance" and subject to felony prosecution in these United States). That way, Roger Maris' hard-earned landmark total of 61 home runs can never be eclipsed, and Bonds' subsequent coup de trot would be put into a more accurate context.
But if you don't want to go with the BALCO flow, and you really are one of those stodgy, stick-in-the-Mudville types who prefers their competition uncloudy, then don't fret -- have we got the league for you ...
'Roid where prohibited
Conversely, those players who think that "take one for the team" should refer strictly to errant pitches will find a home in the new National League, now renamed as the "Natural" League. The purity of the product will be unparalleled, and the quality control unprecedented. During every seventh inning stretch, while fans sing appropriately modified lyrics ("buy me some wheat-germ and tofu snacks") and boycott the unlabeled cloned-beef hot dogs, the living, slugging role models on the field will retire to the locker room labs and randomly give blood and urine samples.
Pitting the juicers against the juice-bar habituÃ©s would also add an extra element of drama to the athletic competition -- much like when the amateurs of the U.S. Olympic Hockey team took on the mighty Soviet Empire in 1980. The home runs might not soar as far, and the pitchers might not be able to reach back for quite as much on their fastballs, but when the scrappy squad that wins the Natural League pennant squares off against the bulked-up, bacne-ridden American League champs, who knows? I'll wager that even Pete Rose wouldn't bet against them.