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Ross Newhan ON BASEBALL

Response to Steroids Is Weak

June 02, 2002|Ross Newhan

Brian Tracy is an 18-year-old senior pitcher at Claremont High, the oldest of Dodger Manager Jim Tracy's three sons and a probable selection in Tuesday's annual draft of amateur players.

However, with an SAT score that is about four times higher than any Dodger batting average and makes his parents beam, Brian is likely to accept a scholarship offer from UC Santa Barbara.

Also, at 6 feet 5 and 175 pounds, "looking much like a sparrow" in his dad's view, the young Tracy probably has some weight work and filling out to do before trying to fulfill his professional promise. As Jim Tracy said of Brian and his brother Chad, 16, a junior catcher at Claremont, "I don't see any indication from the body types walking around our house that they're into anything they shouldn't be."

He meant there is no indication that they have been sampling any of the muscle-building or performance-enhancing substances prevalent even at the high school level as young players feed off the disgraceful message being sent by many major leaguers and the union that represents them.

"It's become a terrible problem," said the baseball coach at a Los Angeles high school. "We do our best to explain the risks, but whether it's testosterone, growth hormones or anabolic steroids, a high percentage of high school players are exposing themselves to serious health problems, and I believe a lot of it stems from the fact that there's no testing in the big leagues. It's hard to argue when a kid says, 'If it's all right for them, it must be all right for us.'"

For years, the mantra of the Major League Baseball Players Assn. on almost all issues has been that it is trying to protect the rights of future major leaguers.

The reality is that the basic interest of the intractable union is in preserving the wealth and spending privileges of the New York Yankees, making sure the highest salaried players are served.

If its refusal to allow testing makes for a constituency in which at least half are on steroids, as Ken Caminiti claimed in a Sports Illustrated story, sending the wrong message to those future major leaguers, what evidence is there that the union cares?

Of course, the impact of the union's policy on young players--minor leaguers and high school dreamers alike--is only one of the damaging results of its ban on testing.

Lacking a random check on steroid use, the apparently widespread practice--be it by Caminiti's 50% or Jose Canseco's 85%--has served to degrade every power record of recent years, has turned fringe players into home run-hammering baseball millionaires, and has tarnished both those who wear the S on their chests and those who don't.

The union has also turned its constituency into a secret society comparable to the old East German athletic machine. The users are protected by the non-users, despite the moral and criminal overtones in turning a blind eye to the use of an illegal substance--steroids are legal in the U.S. only when medically prescribed--and the consequent health risks.

Those have been proven to include death.

Short of the grave, Caminiti's candid account of the impact steroids had on his testicles and natural testosterone production should have chilled every macho clubhouse.

Of course, the players also should have been chilled, or alarmingly confused, when Gene Orza, one of their union leaders, appeared on an HBO steroids special two years ago, acknowledged that steroids could lead to injuries and more time on the disabled list, but also--in comments widely criticized by medical experts--tried to say that steroids may not harm adult men, that "most ... health risks associated with the use of ... steroids are in fact outside the universe of individuals who play Major League Baseball. They are in women and the young."

But then, management hasn't been overly aggressive on the steroid issue either.

Minor leaguers are tested, but counseling and disciplining are inconsistent, and there is no off-season testing, so players can get on another steroid cycle without fear of detection.

Besides, management and fans have reveled in the offensive explosion, there being few questions in a bottom-line business when a guy suddenly hits 50 or 60 or even 73 home runs.

Didn't Mark McGwire receive Commissioner Bud Selig's Historic Achievement Award when he hit 70 in 1998 while using the supplement Androstenedione?

The players like to cite that steroid-condoning atmosphere as a contradictory breeding ground in which management doesn't hesitate to inject injured players with cortisone to get them back on the field, even before they're ready.

But does that justify the apparently rampant use of steroids and other muscle and performance enhancers?

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