Tuesday, August 02, 2005

2 August 2005: Steroids

Mike Downey in the Chicago Tribune is a bit angry in yesterday's edition. And rightly so.

Rafael Palmeiro, only the fourth baseball player ever to reach the twin peaks of 500 home runs and 3000 hits (and Viagra's national spokesman in the US), has been suspended after a positive steroid test. He denies intentionally taking drugs, but in this age of frequent testing, stringent rules and public cynicism, how can an athlete of his experience not know what is and isn't going into his body? Major League Baseball said at the beginning of the year they were going to clamp down very hard on drug use this year, and it's not as if Palmeiro wasn't under the spotlight following last year's accusations from Jose Canseco.

A quick reminder: Canseco, former big-hitter with the Oakland A's and half of the infamous 'bash brothers' with Mark McGwire, wrote a book entitled 'Juiced' last year in which he claimed a number of top baseball players, including himself, had all taken steroids at various times. McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, Jason Giambi and Pudge Rodriguez have all had clouds hanging over them this year because of that - and of course Balco's cloud covering Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield et al. But Palmeiro was a little different. Canseco's testimony regarding Palmeiro was that he, Canseco, had personally injected steroids into Palmeiro's body; Palmeiro meantime testified under oath before congress that "I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." And he threatened to sue Canseco.

That was March 17th. We're now in August. Palmeiro has still showed no signs of legal action beyond his initial threats. And now this. It's hard to disagree with Mike Downey when he asks who do you now trust, Canseco or Palmeiro? Palmeiro may now be focusing on the issue of intentional use of steroids but that means two things: (1) he is still gaining physiological advantage from having measurable (and banned) amounts of steroids in his system and (2) it pushes this to a question of trust: the drugs are in his body, the question now is can you trust his word and his word alone that there was no intent? To me, that's less of a question. He should know better, and he should know what's going in and out of his body.

So he's banned for ten days. Pretty much any other sport would have banned him for two years, of course, but baseball is still dancing around the issue - eleven years after the strike, Bud Selig and his merry men are still walking in fear of controversy and any kind of scandal that would damage the game. They're getting there, slowly, but it's still hard not to be cynical about what should be a great game and one I still enjoy immensely. Sammy Sosa's corked bat was carefully spun but frankly was a disgrace to the sport and called into question the great 'Run for 61' home-run chase of 1998 where Sosa was beaten, coincidentally enough, by McGwire. Barry Bonds has been missing from the San Francisco Giants all season, and won't play again until at least next spring. On the year they introduced tougher drug testing, too, who'd have thought it?

Makes me wonder if the only player not taking anything in baseball is Julio Franco. Officially 47 years old this month (ha ha, he's 50 if he's a day), he continues to hit home runs, field athletically and even steal bases. He leads more "oldest player to..." categories than anyone else. His regimen? Raw egg whites and orange juice for breakfast every day ("pro-tee-in, it has lots of pro-tee-in"), a pro-tee-in shake for lunch, lots of carbohydrates before the game and no doughnuts. And lots of gym work too... he did a slot for TBS Xtra last year that can be viewed here. Andy Van Slyke (former Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star) accused Julio of being on drugs last year:

"Julio Franco is 46 years old -- I've got to believe he's on it." -- Andy Van Slyke, on whether or not Braves first baseman Julio Franco is on steroids.

"Tell Andy Van Slyke he's right -- I'm on the best juice there is. I'm juiced up every day, and the name of my juice is Jesus. I'm on His power, His wisdom, His understanding. Andy Van Slyke is right. But the thing he didn't mention was what kind of steroids I'm on. Next time you talk to him, tell him the steroid I'm on is Jesus of Nazareth." -- Julio Franco.

Van Slyke's mistake, of course, was his initial statement. Sportspeople on steroids typically don't live to 46, thereby proving that Julio is the only guaranteed clean player in the entire game.

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