December 18, 2007
Just how do we know? How do we ever know?
Maybe we're hardened cynics by now. A sorry lot of seamheads turned skeptics. Maybe our doubts and distrust are wound tighter than the string in a baseball.
So let me ask you this: Do you believe today?
Many of us will always strongly associate baseball with our youth. Forget BALCO. And forget Barry Bonds. And forget winstrol and stanozolol and whatever human growth hormone is filling syringes down at the local gym. Instinct might forever tell us to approach the game with the same childlike innocence we always have. Which is why you might feel inclined to swallow Roberts' admission that he tried steroids just once, accept his apology and make a beeline for the forgiveness stage.
You might want to? But how could you?
If we've learned anything by now, it's that the idea of truth in baseball clubhouses is as fluid and dirty as tobacco juice dripping down the dugout steps.
Roberts already asked us to believe him, back when he denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs - though, as we'll discuss momentarily, the exact nature and wording of earlier denials is up for debate. At any rate, now we're asked to believe him again. It reminds me of an old boxing quote, from longtime promoter Bob Arum. "Yesterday I was lying," he said. "Today I am telling the truth."
I don't doubt for a second that Roberts' statement is overflowing with contrition and regret. But why are we to believe that Roberts is being honest when he says he stopped after just one shot?
I'm not labeling Roberts a liar. I don't know whether he has done one shot of steroids, one bottle of Flintstones vitamins or a million bowls of Wheaties. But I do know that in any steroid conversation, he has invited skepticism, and the scarce details in last night's confession certainly deserve further scrutiny.
While it's refreshing that baseball players are finally acknowledging their mistakes, rather than simply lying about them, it does seem somewhat convenient that the two biggest names who've owned up to performance-enhancing drug use these past few days copped to the lowest possible charge.
Andy Pettitte's personal trainer told investigators he injected the pitcher two to four times with hGH. In his carefully constructed apology, Pettitte admitted to twice using hGH.
According to the Mitchell Report, Roberts told former teammate Larry Bigbie that he tried steroids "once or twice." Turns out, if his admission is to be believed, he used only once.
"I immediately realized that this was not what I stood for or anything that I wanted to continue doing," he said in a news release. "I never used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing drugs prior to or since that single incident."
Is that true? Doesn't it contradict what he has asked us to believe before?
Roberts doesn't remember a reporter asking him specifically whether he'd used steroids, so technically he never actually denied using them. And thus, based on that technicality, he never lied.
I can't speak to the accuracy of that, though I do know that Roberts certainly led reporters and fans alike to believe that he'd never used performance-enhancing drugs. I guess lies can be as fluid as the truth.
"His accusations are ridiculous," Roberts said in September 2006, when the Los Angeles Times reported that former teammate Jason Grimsley had named Roberts as a user. "We've had steroid testing, and I've taken all the tests. There is no point in getting into verbal wars. That's really all there is to say."
Like Roberts, the two other Orioles accused that day also saw their names resurface in last week's Mitchell Report.
"I'll get checked out for anybody, anytime, any moment - whenever they want," , the recently traded shortstop, said at the time.
"I am not going to dignify these claims and accusations with any further response," said the recently suspended .
The exact facts of Roberts' admission can be interpreted in just a couple of ways - truthful or deceptive. The sentiment, however, will make it easier for many Orioles fans to digest such a stinging confession.
The circumstances surrounding Roberts' inclusion in the Mitchell Report last week fell somewhere between ridiculous and absurd. Given the secondhand nature of the purported "evidence," many analysts and fans rushed to Roberts' defense. Even the Orioles broke ranks with other teams and issued a statement that cast doubt on the report. But Roberts still chose to admit to steroid use.
"I can honestly say before God, myself, my family and all of my fans that steroids or any performance-enhancing drugs have never had any effect on what I have worked so hard to accomplish in the game of baseball," Roberts said.
Was the knowledge of his own missteps too big a burden to bear? Does the truth really set you free?
I guess that depends on what exactly the truth is.
So much time has passed since the steroid controversy erupted that anyone willing to admit to past sins is now met with some degree of doubt. For the public, the amnesty period is over. And from this point on, even when someone says he's being straightforward, it's so difficult to still believe.
In fact, that might be the only truth in baseball that I'm certain of anymore.
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