By Mike Steffanos
This was a topic that I planned to write about after Lisa and I complete our move into the new house and I have more time to develop my pieces. I reserve the right to touch on this again in more detail, but recent events have brought the steroid issue back to the forefront for Mets fans.
In the just completed series against the Giants, we saw Barry Bonds hit number 745 against Tom Glavine. As Giants fans celebrated their hero closing to 10 behind Hank Aaron's record, I had to admire the energy they put into celebrating Bonds' achievements. The fact that few outside of Giants fans honor this home run chase seems to inspire the Orange and Black faithful to defiantly put more energy into there celebration to make up for the apathy or even antagonism of the rest of us.
We also have word of Guillermo Mota working towards his return to the Mets bullpen. This could be as soon as May 30. I've talked to Mets fans who didn't like the Mets re-signing Mota after he tested positive for steroids. A common theme that I have heard, which a good friend of mine feels strongly about, is that the Mets have ceded the moral high ground on steroids by rewarding Mota with a contract.
I understand this thinking, although I don't buy into it. I don't see any moral high ground for anyone, fans or otherwise, when it comes to steroids in baseball. I don't feel personally responsible for the incursion of performance-enhancing drugs into baseball, and I don't believe that testing has eliminated their use. While as yet there has been no current or former Met major leaguer implicated in steroid use with anything stronger than innuendo, I have no delusions that there haven't been cheaters wearing the uniform for which I cheer. I suspect that if there is ever any wide scale "outing" of cheaters based on the so-called anonymous tests in 2004, every fan of every team will be disappointed -- even heartbroken -- by the names that come out.
In the past week, we also have word that Mets minor league pitcher Jorge Reyes, already suspended once for steroid use last year, tested positive again this year for performance-enhancers. Reyes is the fourth minor league player to receive a 100-game ban. If he tested positive one more time, he would receive a lifetime ban. I would tend to think this suspension might serve as a de facto lifetime ban, as Reyes is a marginal prospect. Some have tried to use Reyes' suspension along with Mota's impending return as some sort of red flag that the Mets as an organization wink at the use of performance enhancers. Frankly, I find this too silly to merit a response.
What it does bring home yet again is the prevalence of Latin minor leaguers who test positive for steroids. Poor Latin players are under tremendous pressure to make the major leagues and receive the kind of money that can elevate their entire family from poverty. I understand the temptation to go for any edge they can get, particularly if they are trying to come back from injury or are on the margin as prospects. Obviously, there are folks who peddle steroids to these kids who are willing to take advantage of this fact. Organized baseball has to do a better job of communicating to these players that they will be caught if they take these drugs. I'm sure the teams are trying, but they have to do better.
Getting back to Bonds, I've always contended that the less-than-alluring facets of his personality, combined with challenging an all-time cherished record, have made him an easy scapegoat for those of us looking for someone to blame. I'm not here to defend or vilify Barry Bonds. Sure, he's probably a cheater, but he had a lot of company.
Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire have already combined to cheapen the single season home run record. Just two players managed to hit 60 or more homers until 1998. Both McGwire and Sosa managed to do it that year, and both repeated the feat in 1999. In 2001, Bonds hit 73 and Sosa eclipsed 60 for the third time in four years. By that point, it was as much of a joke as a thrill.
There were a lot of folks who were complicit in this farcical rewriting of the record book, including Bud Selig and everyone else who purposely looked the other way. When Barry Bonds breaks Aaron's record, I will feel a little sad rather than angry. That Bud Selig chooses not to be there to mark the occasion is wrong, however. I can't think of a more fitting guest in the stands when this hallowed record is toppled than the commissioner who had quite a bit to do with creating the situation that made this all possible.
No doubt the game is cleaner today than it was during the days of rampant steroid use, but let's not pretend that the era of performance enhancement in baseball has concluded. Olympic drug testing is seen as the gold standard of sports testing, yet that hasn't eliminated cheaters from the Olympics. Chemists who create the latest undetectable designer performance enhancers will get rich by selling them to athletes looking for an edge in their ultra-competitive world.
All you could really hope for is the same result you get when you put an anti-theft device on your car. It doesn't eliminate the threat of your car being stolen, but it makes it harder and decreases the odds of it happening. A real pro will still get your car if he wants it. By making it more difficult for ballplayers to evade testing, it will at least cut down on the number of cheaters. Many players on the fence will decide it's not worth the risk, but some will certainly take their chances with the latest drugs. Whether that is equivalent to restoring integrity to the game is up to each fan to decide for his or herself.
I don't like the way steroids and other enhancers have changed the game I love best. I don't defend the people that take them. I also don't kid myself that there is any moral high ground to be found on this issue, just one giant gray quagmire.