2005-08-03

Full Disclosure and Other Palmeiro Thoughts


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Yesterday on Sporting News Radio (or maybe it was ESPN, I don't know, that station switches up all the time) Bryan Cox argued that it was none of the fans' business what substance a player tested positive for in a failed drug screen. While that's not a surprising stance for a former athlete, Cox sometimes needs to join John Salley in the "How quickly they forget" penalty box.

Unless you want to give back all those big paychecks you collected because the fans make your games their business, some disclosure is appropriate.

First, as a fan I'm very interested in whether or not the substance in question was performance-enhancing. Sure, if it's an illegal, recreational drug, I don't need to know whether it was pot or heroin. However, knowing that people will tend to assume the worst, I would think that in such a case the player would want to be forthcoming.

But, when a player is using a performance-enhancing drug, that goes straight to the quality of the product (sports entertainment) that I'm buying. When someone sets amazing records using only their God-given talent and hard work, it's exciting. When such feats have been chemically engineered ... *yawn*.

I was satisfied with the performance-enhancing / non performance-enhancing distinction until another player was busted and went to the "I don't know how that could have happened" defense, followed by the NY Times' discovery that Palmeiro's failure was Stanozolol. This was the same hard-core steroid that had Ben Johnson sporting a body that looked hand-carved, and approaching light speed at the Olympics back in '88. In other words, it wasn't something Palmeiro might have harmlessly ingested via cold medicine, eye drops, ointment, or protein shakes. In other words, it wasn't the kind of thing that gets in your body without you being aware that you are taking or have taken the wrong thing.

As long as players are going to shamelessly stick to, "Gee, I don't know," as a defense, the fans deserve to know the magnitude of the substance in question. Though it has become abundantly obvious that athletes need to be militant in policing what goes into their bodies (as each year, millions of reasons why this is needed land in their bank accounts), I'm still willing to cut them some slack and acknowledge that even a careful person doesn't always know what they are getting. But, if you want to cry, "Innocent mistake!" then you need to back it up.

Finally, shame on baseball. Palmeiro failed his test early in the season. The matter was squelched and conveniently stalled in the appeals process while Palmeiro went out and collected his 3000th hit. MLB garnered a "feel good" moment, where instead it should have been brought face to face with the hypocrisy of the many "landmark" accomplishments that its players have logged during the "steroid era."

People forget that while steroids make you stronger and can help you hit more and longer home runs, its real value is in rebound time. This is why we're starting to hear that steroid use among pitchers is probably a lot more common than was originally thought. Palmeiro's 3000/500 is a feat of longevity. It is remarkable because most players can't stay healthy and productive long enough to reach both plateaus. Now the fan is left to conclude that an un-juiced Palmeiro probably couldn't have maintained his vitality that long. Just like we wonder if Bonds would be anywhere near Ruth and Aaron without his creme, and if McGwire would have had his miracle season without the Andro, and if Sosa isn't the biggest cheat the game has ever seen.

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