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Randy Harvey

Watching, and Then Waiting for the Results

October 17, 2003|Randy Harvey

CHICAGO — Millions more people than usual tuned in this year to watch the National League championship series. They were no doubt drawn to their televisions by the compelling story of the Chicago Cubs, who were attempting to overcome curses, their history and the Florida Marlins.

Major league baseball officials, who have tried all sorts of promotional schemes to turn the national pastime into the national present time, had to be thrilled that the two teams delivered such entertaining games.

They combined for 23 home runs in the seven games, nine more than had been hit in an NL championship series. They also combined for records in hits (133), extra-base hits (52) and runs (82). In all, they broke or tied 36 NL championship series offensive records.

"Bombs Away," the NL trumpeted on the summary of the series distributed to the media after Wednesday night's Game 7, which featured four home runs and 15 runs.

The bomb I was thinking about was ticking.


In a more innocent time, I could watch feats of strength, power and explosiveness and applaud. But three decades of following track and field has taught me that what you see is not necessarily what you see.

When I see a superb play in football, my first reaction before marveling is to look back up field to see whether a penalty flag has been thrown. When I see a superb performance in track and field, I wait three days until the results of the drug tests return from the laboratory.

My skepticism was again justified Thursday, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced it had uncovered cases in track and field of "intentional doping of the worst sort."

Terry Madden, USADA's chief executive officer, said chemists, coaches and certain athletes had been involved in a conspiracy by developing "undetectable designer steroids to defraud their fellow competitors and the American and world public who pay to attend sports events."

Shocking words, if anyone who has an interest in track and field could still be shocked.

Madden didn't name the athletes, although their identities probably will emerge. Now that the undetectable steroid is detectable through the analytical efforts of the UCLA lab, urine samples the athletes submitted at the national track and field championships last summer have been retested.

Several were positive, pending tests of their B samples, and speculation is that athletes who had potential to win medals in next summer's Olympics in Athens will instead be serving two-year suspensions.

The one person Madden did name was Victor Conte, director of Bay Area Laboratories Co-Operative (BALCO) in Burlingame, Calif.. The lab already was under an investigation of an unspecified nature by federal and local law enforcement agencies.

A number of high-profile athletes have been associated with BALCO, including Barry Bonds.

There is no evidence that he has used anabolic steroids -- designer or otherwise -- to further his home run totals, just as there is no evidence that Cub and Marlin hitters were aided by anything other than hanging curveballs and the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field.

But wouldn't you like to be certain?


Our major professional sports could enhance the credibility of their athletes by adopting more stringent anti-doping policies and transferring testing to USADA.

There have been numerous questions, many of them justified, about the handling of drug cases in the last two decades by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the sports under its umbrella, especially track and field. To the rest of the world, the United States had become the new East Germany.

Now, international sports officials say their confidence in U.S. Olympic sports has been restored since they made USADA their independent drug-testing agency in October 2000.

Independent is the key word. No matter how honorable organizations might be, conflicts of interest are inherent when they act as their own watchdogs.

USADA proved its value Thursday. As damaging as the announcement was for track and field, it was also good for track and field, because the sport is one stride closer to being clean and fair.

Just last week, at an extraordinary summit of U.S. track and field athletes in Miami, there was a unanimous call for more vigilance, with some suggesting the use of private investigators to monitor coaches and labs.

Major league baseball, in cooperation with its union, took a positive first step this year with limited steroid testing that some speculate was the reason home-run production was down during the season. It certainly wasn't because of better pitching. But it was only a first step.

As Madden said Thursday, if professional sports are serious about drug testing, they should form a partnership with USADA.

The NFL and the Assn. of Tennis Professionals have made a move in that direction, joining USADA in lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill for anti-steroid legislation that has been introduced in both houses.

Discussions between USADA and major league baseball, the NBA, the NHL and other leagues, however, have been fruitless. You can't help but wonder whether those sports are really interested in finding the weapons of mass destruction.


Randy Harvey can be reached at

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