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Division, Indecision on Testing

July 07, 2002|STEVE WILSTEIN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Major league baseball isn't a total muscle beach party. Not yet, anyway.

Far from the perception, suggested by Jose Canseco, that every locker room is filled with ballplayers on steroids, the truth is that most players look as skinny or flabby or unremarkably fit as they ever did.

Strutting among them, a few per team on average, are the muscle mutants who stand out with their sequoia chests, bison necks and biceps as big as baseballs--players who have transformed themselves in the weight room and, perhaps, through chemistry.

It will surely look as if there are more of those incredible hulks in the locker rooms for the home run derby Monday and All-Star game Tuesday in Milwaukee as baseball brings together its biggest bashers.

No one knows how many are on anabolic steroids because baseball doesn't test for them or even have a policy against them. And no one is likely to know anytime soon, if the current contract talks between the players' association and the owners fail to produce a drug program that includes random, year-round testing.

There's no agreement on any aspect of drug testing. Attitudes in baseball range from ambivalence to dismay to indifference. Players are lined up on all sides of the testing issue, with some advocating Olympic-style testing, some opposing it, and some preferring a more limited program.

Arizona's Randy Johnson doesn't even want to speak about the subject, saying "that doesn't affect me."

One of Johnson's teammates, pitcher Rick Helling, has been bringing up the idea of testing at the union's executive board meetings the past three winters.

"I thought the problem was growing and we should do something about it, basically try to get something taken care of before it turned into what it did," Helling said after Canseco's comments and Ken Caminiti's acknowledgment that he took steroids during his MVP season in 1996. "We have to figure out a way to get something done now."

Philadelphia Phillie trainer Jeff Cooper said he believes the percentage of major league players using steroids is in the low single digits and that in 22 years with the team he has suspected just one of his players of using them.

"There's an ethical issue in all of this," Cooper said. "If I'm pitcher X, I might be thinking, 'Is this guy juiced up? What if he hits me in the head with a line drive?' Is somebody going to hurt somebody else because of the increased force and velocity of the ball coming off the bat? It scares me. I've already seen one broken skull. I don't need to see another one."

New York Met slugger Mo Vaughn laughed at Canseco's comment that 85 percent of ballplayers are using steroids.

"I've been in three clubhouses in my career and I've never heard a word uttered about steroid use," Vaughn said. "Eight-five percent is a ridiculous number ....Baseball weight training has really advanced and guys are working hard. I hate to see their accomplishments tarnished like this."

Chicago Cub All-Star Sammy Sosa, who has hit more homers than anyone else in the past four years, is one of the most muscular major leaguers but he has consistently denied using steroids and said he would be first in line if baseball tested for drugs.

When Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly approached him with the name of a lab to get tested, Sosa was offended and turned him down. Reilly wrote that he told Sosa such a test would "show everybody you're clean ... and lift a cloud off you and a cloud off the game."

Sosa said he had nothing to prove, arguing he has not had the kind of ligament and tendon injuries often associated with steroid use.

"The whole world knows that I'm innocent," he told the Chicago Tribune and other reporters clustered around him in the locker room. "You guys know that I play every day and I've been healthy all my life. You can take it from there."

Detroit's Dmitri Young doubted that anyone in baseball is taking steroids.

"What people don't understand is there are some guys with naturally unbelievable physiques who are just animals in the weight room and with their diet," he said.

Florida slugger Cliff Floyd also thinks ballplayers are getting a bad rap.

"I don't like the things that are being said about the game," Floyd said. "I work my butt off during the offseason and I add 10 pounds of muscle. You tell me I'm doing steroids, then we're going to fight. The only thing that's going to solve the problem is if we start getting tested."

Ballplayers have been taking amphetamines for decades, New York Met catcher Mike Piazza said, but he also doubts the extent of steroid use suggested by Canseco and Caminiti.

"I think a lot of it is hysteria," he said. "It's for pure shock value."

Yet Steve Phillips, the Mets' general manager, acknowledged that it's likely some of his players are taking steroids. Met Manager Bobby Valentine said he wouldn't be surprised if 15 percent of the players in the majors are on steroids.

"I'm not going to be the naive baby or village idiot and say there's none," he said. "I'm sure there's some use."

Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar favors testing for steroids because they threaten players' health and may alienate fans.

"We have an identity problem as it is because of the money with the major league players," LaMar said. "I think the fans would appreciate [testing] so that they know that the player out there that they're paying good money to see is not using some type of illegal substance."

LaMar said the blame for steroid use rests with the system more than with the players since they are paid millions of dollars to perform at a high level as long as possible.

"What we do is increase that temptation to find something that will give you longevity or keep you in the major leagues because of the money that's involved," he said.

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