Baseball and performance drugs: The ultimate fiasco will soon be upon us

And so now it is clear that baseball’s worst fears are slowly but quite certainly being realized with a steady and relentless drip. Nor is there much doubt that the dreaded worst- case scenario will soon follow, probably in the form of a deluge.

Given the sort of luck baseball has had dealing with its performance-enhancing-drug scandal, the ultimate fiasco will probably occur either in September, when interest peaks as the pennant races become feverish, or in October, during the so-called “Fall Classic,” when all the world is watching. All of which would, of course, add substantially to baseball’s shame and then maybe somebody at long last will have the grace to say, “Enough is enough.”

It has been with fear and loathing that the game has proceeded since Alex Rodriguez was brought down with a bloody crash in February. When they nailed A-Rod they breached the dike, making it only a matter of time before all 104 players who tested positive in that now infamous survey conducted during the 2003 season would be revealed.

Of course, that test was supposed to be top secret. It was said to be just “a trial run.” They promised no names would be attached to any results, thus making everyone anonymous. It was on this basis that the players agreed to it. They didn’t have to, you know. There were no court orders. No arm of the law was forcing them. It was voluntary, for gosh sakes, the product of an agreement the owners had hashed out with the players’ union to try to determine precisely the scope of baseball’s drug problem with solid statistical documentation. As such it was a rare example of the much-despised union and the never-to-be-trusted owners getting together to try to do the right thing, for a change. And then the union screwed it up, somehow.

But however noble the original intent, we might safely now conclude it has backfired ingloriously, much to the delight of too many. Whatever good it accomplished in stemming the influence of PEDs has been outweighed by the disproportionate ruin it now threatens to bring upon too many.

It is further noteworthy that the players of no other games have ever acquiesced to such a survey, or have ever even been asked to. And if they ever should be, stand by for the spectacle of gales of laughter rolling over the sporting landscape. In retrospect, the baseball players should regard themselves as suckers. There are those who will say that comes as no surprise.

Nor ought we be surprised that Slamming Sammy Sosa becomes the latest casualty. Sammy was always this scandal’s Exhibit A. Well before the outrage over steroids got off the ground, folks were snickering at Sammy’s swelling physical dimensions. If Mark McGwire was the Paul Bunyan of the beefed-up ballplayer brigade, the affable Sosa was its Popeye.

Moreover, Sammy had long stood convicted by the evidence of his own statistical rap sheet. The immense McGwire, who rather more looked the part, was also more believable in that he had been certified as a prodigious home run hitter for more than a decade before his numbers started taking off into the ionosphere. But with Sosa, the transformation happened overnight.

In his first nine seasons, spent wandering from the Rangers to the White Sox to the Cubs, Sosa had only once hit over 36 homers, only once batted over .273, only twice knocked in more than 100 runs, never once led the league in anything. Then in the now much-to-be-regretted and entirely bogus homer happy season of 1998, during which Sosa and McGwire vied with much drama and stagecraft for the honor of expunging Roger Maris from the record book, Sosa erupted with 66 homers and 158 ribbies. It was a ferocious pace he would roughly sustain for three more seasons.

In the history of the game there had not been a comparable example of a player so thoroughly re-inventing himself in the middle of his career since Babe Ruth transitioned from pitcher to everyday player and re-invented the game itself back in 1919-1920. In that Sosa was clearly no Ruth, his sudden makeover and concomitant achievements were immediately deemed suspicious.

Also quite suspect is the manner in which Sosa has been outed as a member of that unhappy lodge of baseball’s 2003 drug offenders. According to the New York Times, which broke the story, Sosa’s name was leaked by “lawyers with knowledge of the drug testing results from that year [2003].”

But who are these bashful barristers? Are they connected with baseball, or with any of the grand juries running around sniffing into aspects of the issue? Or might they be still more of the rogue government prosecutors, investigators, and/or wiseguys who are already in hot water with the judicial system for the way they’ve behaved on this case and the civil liberties abuses they have racked up along the way? Even more important, how many other dubious characters out there have “a knowledge of the drug testing results from that year”? Now there’s a question you don’t need to be a member of the ACLU to find more than a bit chilling.

The Times -- oddly, conveniently, or otherwise -- does not offer so much as a hint. But the reporter, Michael S. Schmidt, does note that “the lawyers spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified as discussing material that is sealed by a court order.”

Now isn’t that lovely? These smarty-pants lawyer-boys cover their tracks by hiding behind a shield of journalistic source protection but have no problem smearing people the court is trying to protect while defying the court orders aimed at affording that protection even though they are alleged to be officers of the court. I doubt much of that is legal, let alone ethical. Still more to the point, I have been in this business of journalism a half century yet I remain uncertain that we should play footsie with some of these bashful barristers. You can pay too high a price for a scoop, however hot it may be.

If on the surface this flap seems merely to be only about baseball and the 104 ballplayers who, you may feel, only deserve whatever hurts and hardshipscome their way, it is actually developing into a major legal question that could lead to a landmark judgment relating to the huge issue of due process from no less than the U.S. Supreme Court. Now that should make A-Rod feel proud, don’t you think?

It all relates to the seizure of that list of 104 names by a hyper-aggressive group of Justice Department gumshoes and prosecutors who hoped its contents would seal their case against Barry Bonds. It has been argued that they did so unlawfully and with a particular arrogance. In a hassle that has gone on almost six years now, two lower courts have already upheld that viewpoint. But the government, as ever, keeps appealing. The matter now rests with an eleven-judge federal appeals court panel in California, which is expected to rule momentarily although we have been hearing that since March.

No matter how they rule in the end, an appeal to the Supreme Court is considered certain. Legal folk say it could be a notably important ruling in that it would address the increasingly controversial tactics that government prosecutors use in their investigations and not merely those that have to do with baseball, mind you. To think that A-Rod may yet end up being associated with a landmark ruling of constitutional law, placing him alongside Reynolds, Brown and the Board of Education, and Gideon. Could his ego handle it? Could we stand it?

But if in the meantime the other 102 names get leaked, how much good will it do them to have even the Supreme Court say: “Sorry”?


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