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Madden: What's wrong with steroids?

Saturday, June 01, 2002

Ted Williams might have been the greatest hitter in baseball history. If there were a way to get an extra advantage in the batter's box, Williams knew it. And utilized it.

If Williams played today, the odds are he would use steroids. Steroids provide an edge. Great players want any edge they can get.

Ty Cobb would have used steroids. The idea of the psychotic Cobb experiencing 'roid rage is kind of scary, but again, Cobb would have wanted that extra edge.

Babe Ruth would have used steroids. Ruth truly loved being the best. Steroids would have allowed him to be even better.

So don't act as if Ken Caminiti's admission that he used steroids en route to the National League MVP in 1996 is this great revelation of moral failure. It's simply a matter of availability. Caminiti could get steroids. Williams, Cobb and Ruth couldn't.

To think that past baseball greats wouldn't have used steroids is just as naive as believing that they were much more loyal to their teams and towns than today's group of overpaid ingrates. The reason Roberto Clemente spent his whole career in Pittsburgh is because the reserve clause never allowed him to experience free agency. Clemente would have cashed in. Every old-time star would have.

Caminiti made his big confession. We brace ourselves for more players to be implicated.

But really, who cares?

Baseball does not test for steroids. Players who use steroids, therefore, are not breaking a rule. By not testing, baseball implicitly approves the use of steroids. Players who get on the gas are breaking the laws of the land, but those laws are not used to govern the competitive aspects of baseball.

Baseball should do what football does: Institute testing for the sake of public relations. The testing would be a sham, just like the NFL's testing. NFL players know how to beat a steroid test. Just use Human Growth Hormone, which is undetectable. Or take water-based testosterone, which quickly clears the system.

But testing gives NFL fans a chance to believe their game is on the level. It gives pro football credibility. That would work in baseball, too.

There is no way to truly solve baseball's steroid problem. In fact, I don't even consider it a problem. I don't care about the long-term health risks. I don't know these guys. I don't care if they live or die. Using steroids is their choice, and if they choose yes, and it provides me a more exciting athletic spectacle, great.

The journalistic furor over Caminiti's confession is even more entertaining than a long home run. All the old-school baseball scribes are bemoaning how the game has been ruined. How steroids have put a dark cloud over every record set recently.

But baseball has gone through many different eras: The dead-ball era. The all-white era. The era of free agency. The era of over-expansion. Each of those eras has seen the game affect nuances which undoubtedly influenced statistics and records set during those respective periods.

Well, baseball is now in the steroid era. So maybe something besides the ball was juiced when Mark McGwire hit all his home runs. So what? Ruth never hit a home run off a black pitcher.

Steroids are a far lesser threat to baseball than the competitive imbalance produced by the game's vast financial disparity. Yet steroids have taken said competitive imbalance off the front page and off the talk shows. Which, with collective bargaining theoretically going on right now, seems a bit convenient.

Could you see Babe Ruth playing today's baseball? Living in today's world? Ruth would take steroids, he'd use an oak bat, he'd face the current era's diluted pitching, and he might hit 100 home runs.

Of course, Ruth would be in and out of rehab so much that the Betty Ford Center would have to install an extra-large revolving door just for him. Given Ruth's notoriously addictive lifestyle, you've got to figure that cocaine and the Bambino would be a match made in pharmaceutical heaven.

When baseball's steroid revelations continue, we shouldn't think any less of our heroes. So maybe Roger Maris would still be the single-season home-run king if not for illegal muscle-building supplements. So maybe Hank Aaron's career home-run record will someday be sacrificed at the altar of HGH. So maybe some purists see the use of performance-enhancing drugs as cheating.

If you're not cheating, you're not trying.

As soon as a child starts playing youth sports, he's pressured to be the best. High school sports, college sports, pro sports ... the pressure increases every step of the way. When you drop by the athletic wayside, you're considered a failure. If you make it, the rewards are tremendous.

When athletes are pushed to succeed by any means necessary, don't be surprised -- or angry -- when they use any means necessary.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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