February 11, 2009
Outside, the birds are starting to sing, and spring training begins next week, so you know what that means: It's time for another baseball doping scandal! Just like every pre-season since 2004, drug abuse by baseball stars is grabbing the headlines. (Do you really think the timing of these news items is just a coincidence?) It was in December 2004 that rumors of steroid use by Barry Bonds were confirmed by journalistic investigators, showing how ineffective the MLB drug testing policy had been. (Jason Giambi also confessed.) Then in March 2005, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro testified on Capitol Hill, reminding one of the showdown between Oliver North and Congress. A year later, in March 2006, Bud Selig finally named former Sen. George Mitchell to head MLB's investigation into dope use. Because of the intensive public scrutiny, baseball players finally got the message, and the whole issue subsided. In December 2007 the Mitchell report was released, naming many names, leading to several criminal investigations.
But we all knew that the other shoe was going to drop eventually, and on Monday it did: Alex Rodriguez admitted that reports that he had used steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers (see last Saturday) were, in fact, true. He said he used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003. See ESPN and MLB.com, which has a full roundup. The admission by Rodriguez was candid and sincere, blaming his youthful foolishness and his fierce desire to meet the super-high expectations that people had of him. As he told ESPN's Peter Gammon, "it was such a loosey-goosey era..." (Kind of like the U.S. economy overall!) I'm willing to accept his explanation that he deceived himself when denying on CBS's "60 Minutes" that he had used steroids, in part because he does seem deeply regretful. Anyone who cheats in a major way eventually winds up in a no-win situation, and it doesn't do much good for observers to wag their finger.
The way this story came out was strange, because the drug tests that showed that A-Rod had been cheating were supposed to be anonymous. He didn't blame the players' union for either resisting drug testing or for making sure that the samples were destroyed after the testing was done. As he said, it's probably for the best that the truth came out, and now he doesn't have to carry the burden of living a lie. People go crazy that way. Think about Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and other players who kept on denying guilt long after they had lost all credibility, except among their hard-core fans. They are on a dead-end street. Time will tell whether coming clean pays off for A-Rod. For Yankee fans (like me), he is now "on probation," and as long as nobody comes forward with allegations that he abused drugs after 2003, he can probably redeem himself. As for the 156 home runs that A-Rod hit during those three years, the frequency was almost one-third more than during his other ten seasons, so perhaps statisticians can make a suitable adjustment formula for the record books. If so, his current lifetime total of 553 home runs would be reduced to 514.
Meanwhile, Houston Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada, formerly of the Baltimore Orioles, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to Congress about drug use by other players and now awaits sentencing, set for March 26. His own dope use was not part of the charges, possibly because of a plea bargain, but it's pretty obvious that he was a user. Because Tejada is a citizen of the Dominican Republic, as a convicted felon, he might face problems getting his visa renewed. See MLB.com. Tejada's tearful statement to the press today leave no doubt about the emotional damage that this scourge has done to the sport -- fans and players alike.
This is one of the best pieces of baseball news for Washington in a long time: the Nationals have signed first baseman Adam Dunn to a two-year $10 million contract. He will thus join his friend Austin Kearns, another former Cincinnati Red. See MLB.com. This is bad news for the two Nats players who vied for the first base slot last year: Nick Johnson (one of the only two former Expos still with the franchise) and Dmitri Young. The big-bucks deal shows that the Lerner family is indeed committed to fielding a competitive team this year -- not just "rebuilding for the future." Us Nats fans don't ask for much, but please just give us a chance to break the .500 mark! I took a photo of Dunn at bat in Cincinnati in August 2004.
I've seen from various Web sites that demolition of Shea Stadium is moving ahead very quickly, and less than one-fourth of the grandstand is left. That being the case, I have changed the scrolling menu at the top of the baseball blog page, moving Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium to the "Former" stadium list, and putting Citi Field (?) and Yankee Stadium II in the list of "Current" stadiums.