Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, looking rather drained and weary in stark contrast to the man we’ve all seen launch several souvenir baseballs into the bleachers over his career, all but admitted in a packed press conference at Yankee Stadium yesterday that he had used performance-enhancing drugs in the past, including steroids. All he wishes to do now, with the belief that a great burden has been lifted from his shoulders, is put past mistakes behind him and focus on the goal of helping his New York teammates reclaim the glory of a championship in 2005. Of course, it will be nearly impossible to do so now that former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco, who stroked 462 home runs in his major league career, not only admits in his new book, due to be released Monday, to using steroids but also fingered several former players and teammates, including fellow Bash Brother Mark McGwire and former Texas teammates Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Ivan Rodriguez.
Odd that all of this comes just a day after MLB commissioner Bud Selig appeared in San Francisco, stood in front of SBC Park, and announced that the city would host the 2007 All-Star contest. Ironically, it will take place the year after Barry Bonds, the player who some accuse of being the biggest cheat in baseball, witnesses the end of his contract with the Giants and perhaps his career, more than likely able to stake a claim to the title of the most prolific American home run hitter of all time. Fortunately, there’s little chance that he’ll ever catch up with Sadaharu Oh, who clobbered 868 home runs in 23 seasons of professional baseball with Japan’s Yomiuri Giants, to stake ownership of greatest home run hitter ever, period. Admit it; you likely either snickered or rolled your eyes when the legendary Willie Mays, Bond’s godfather, stood at the podium in front of the park and joked to reporters that perhaps he would have hit a few more home runs had he played here and that Bonds was aware of this fact. Yeah, we’re sure that Barry gets all the help he needs to pad those statistics thanks to the park’s generous dimensions that favor left-handed batters.
Of course, part of the blame can be pointed in the direction of Mr. Commissioner; his only response in addressing the problem recently is to flash the recently-signed pact, a more extensive, punitive and comprehensive policy governing testing for steroids and other banned substances, reached last month between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association. It’s not hard to see that this agreement has more bite than the toothless policy that had been instituted before this landmark accord. Yet this deal is just one answer to many questions still left to be satisfied with a viable response. How many records have been set by and how many honors have been bestowed upon players who weren’t all that they seemed? How long did the ownership turn its collective eye away from the problem, focused instead on trying to get the game back on its feet after the disastrous baseball strike in 1994? Why did it take loud whispers from every clubhouse in baseball, the death of a former MVP, and US Senate hearings to finally get baseball to address the matter?
It would be really hard to just take an eraser, open the record books, and begin removing names and numbers; this isn’t exactly an open-and-shut case like Milli Vanilli’s Grammy Award. Even with solid proof that a player cheated, there’s little the league can do. It appears that perhaps only history will mark this era in baseball with an asterisk, much like Ford Frick labeled the new home run record set by Roger Maris in 1961, the first year that the league added eight additional games to the regular season schedule. Of course, Maris accomplished that feat using determination as his drug of choice, not something that came in the form of a pill, a salve, or an injection.
Sadly, baseball continues to claim ignorance when it is clear that there was never doubt that there was something rotten in the state of the league. Canseco is certainly not the most trustworthy source; his allegations and accusations need to be taken with a grain of salt since he has made it his mission to single-handedly embarrass the industry that made him a household name. Regardless, from everything that we know today, league ownership needs to put on an honest face, swallow its pride, and cough up the truth about what it knows. Otherwise, the credibility of the league will continue to crumble and no apology will be able to repair the damage.