SBJ/July 29 - August 4, 2002/Opinion

Steroid usage rewrites baseball record* book

Baseball fans, here's a pop quiz: What word belongs to this definition: "A star-shaped figure used chiefly to indicate an omission, a reference to a footnote, or an unattested word, sound or affix."

The word is "asterisk," a symbol that soon may darken the baseball record book with ugly little splotches of ink.

Perhaps the most famous asterisk in all of sports deals with Babe Ruth and his once-immortal record of 60 home runs. But in 1961 a young Yankee slugger by the name of Roger Maris belted 61 homers. Commissioner of baseball Ford Frick ruled that since Maris had played a 162-game schedule, as opposed to Ruth's 154, his record would be officially listed with a qualifying asterisk; this decision stood until 1991.

In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both surpassed Maris' mark, and last year Barry Bonds obliterated both men's records in a superhuman effort that resulted in 73 home runs and a record without an asterisk. But the question is, should there be one? Many are wondering whether Bonds' record was superhuman because of his God-given gifts or because he was pumped full of performance-enhancing drugs.

When you listen to the players themselves, it's not hard to believe that Bonds had some chemical help. The 1996 National League MVP Ken Caminiti recently admitted that he was taking steroids when he batted a career-high .326, hit 40 home runs and drove in 130 runs. Arizona Diamondbacks pitching great Curt Schilling says openly that the game is rampant with steroids. Jose Canseco, another MVP, claims some 85 percent of all players in Major League Baseball are "on the juice."

Why do they do it? Why risk health problems or even death (does the name Lyle Alzado ring a bell?) from liver, kidney or heart problems? Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers summed it up pretty well in a recent Sports Illustrated article. "Basically, steroids can jump you a level or two," he said. "The average player can become a star and the star player can become a superstar. And the superstar? Forget it. He can do things we've never seen before."

Regrettably, the star-making potential of steroids has not been lost on younger athletes. Even high school players have been experimenting with them in an effort to boost their numbers and enhance their appeal to college and pro scouts.

These revelations in recent months have caused an outcry for drug testing, which the players union is resisting on the grounds it would violate their right to privacy. The prevailing attitude seems to be that what players do with their bodies is their business.

The players are wrong — it is very much the fans' business.

If these allegations of steroid use are true, baseball fans are being defrauded on a scale unprecedented in major league sports. Baseball's legends are being denigrated by having their records erased from the books by players who are loaded with drugs not even heard of during the time of Ruth and Maris.

To Donald Fehr and the players union: Submit to testing! Here's a chance to bolster your public image with fans and send the right signal to young people. It's time to throw away the syringes and pills, and get this grand old game back to the way it was meant to be played. We don't need any more asterisks in the record book.

Dean Bonham is president of the Bonham Group, a sports consulting firm in Denver.

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