Sports Nut

Baseball’s Bogus Doping Scandal


Well, how was your evening in the rocking chair?

That was damp and boring, wasn’t it? There were some nice slices of Derek Jeter base-running, and another big moment from our new favorite (“MATSUI!”) guy. But unless Carl “I Was Traded for Pedro Martinez Once” Pavano comes up big this evening, or Roger Clemens works himself up to some sort of “Auld Lang Syne” postseason self-immolation, our correspondence here isn’t going to make it to the end of the week.

(Apropos of nothing, and I would hate to find John Ashcroft in my vestibule for saying this, but hasn’t the time passed for the extended patriotic pageants? I think it’s time for Challenger the Eagle to go back to his day job of stealing salmon from more hardworking raptors, and that business of using Ronan Tynan’s In-a-gadda-da-vida take on “God Bless America” to ice the opposing pitcher at Yankee Stadium is cheap tactics more than it is sentimentality. Given the daily events abroad, I think a little reflective modesty might not be out of bounds right now.)

I did enjoy my first look at Josh Beckett, though, especially the Jorge Posada at-bat in the fourth. He started him off with a change-up, proving that, as Cheech Marin says in Tin Cup, he has extra large huevos. Then he dropped another one in for Strike 2. He then struck Posada out twice—Ball 3 was one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen, right up there with those from 1997 in this stadium, when the home-plate umpire determined that Livan Hernandez should have an outside corner that extended out into the gulf and halfway to Costa Rica—only to get inexcusably squeezed and lose Posada for the game-tying walk. I don’t think he ever recovered from the rain delay, though, and this one became just another one of those humdrum games that the Yankees win in the postseason. Get enough runs to create some daylight and bring on the Hammer of God to finish things out. If anything, Mariano looks better now than he has since he got dinked around by Arizona two years ago.

Stephen Smith, the Boston Globe’s terrific biotechnology reporter, has a good take in today’s paper about this weird designer steroid case in which Barry Bonds apparently has been entangled. Smith’s piece is lucid and scary, and I confess to being even more confused than I was a week ago. This THG potion apparently is neither strictly illegal—the lab was raided by tax agents, as well as the drug cops, which makes me believe that the feds are going to go after its finances as a way to go after its products—nor specifically mentioned on any list of banned substances.

I am at a loss, then, to understand the scandal that, I am assured by people who follow these things, is going to be a huge one. How can an athlete be punished—except through the cluck-clucking of the moralists of sports radio—for taking something that is neither illegal nor specifically forbidden by the rules of the sport? Smith’s story takes pains to point out that the Olympic anti-doping rules are “sufficiently … broad to include new compounds even if they’re not on the list of forbidden agents,” which, to me, proves only that a lot more people are reading Orwell these days. But baseball’s rules apparently are not anywhere near that elastic. Nevertheless, expect Bonds to have a pretty terrible couple of months, beginning with being hauled in front of a grand jury.

Watch this now, because we went through it with Mark McGwire a few years back. People who have been lying in the weeds for years waiting for this moment are going to accuse Bonds of all kinds of things based on the fact that he took something that was neither illegal nor banned by his sport. There will be talk about lifting his records. There will be a lot of chest-thumping from people who Knew It All Along, and the fact that neither laws nor rules were broken will get lost in the noise.

There will be the usual huffing and blowing about “cheating,” which seems to me to indicate that these drug warriors—as irrational about their mission as the people who are fighting, say, medical marijuana—have determined that it is immoral to take any artificial compound to enhance your performance, whether or not it is deleterious to your health. So, let’s leave aside the libertarian My Body, My Life argument for the moment. Science marches on, says I. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to brew something up that enhances performance without any nasty side effects at all and, science be damned, these clucks are going to ban it anyway. And that’s not even to mention the fact that most of these zealots wouldn’t recognize the Fourth Amendment if it fell off a shelf on their heads.

Good Lord, they’re even talking about retroactively punishing people by testing stored urine samples. That’s truly work for grown-ups. I ain’t no Pierre de Coubertin, but I have to believe that there are more glamorous jobs within the Olympic Movement than being the urine archivist.