For baseball, scandal may translate into power outage


IMAGINE. A LEAGUE full of Ichiros. Baseball back to its small-ball roots.

Slap-hitting. Hit and run. Hitting in 56-game streaks like the Yankee Clipper - Joe DiMaggio - and hitting for average, like the Splendid Splinter - Ted Williams.

Do you think the Splinter was a BALCO customer? Can a Splinter be juiced?

Imagine gap-hitting. Base stealing. Suicide squeezes.

Imagine the acumen of a manager not waiting for the three-run bomb to break open the game.

Imagine the battle cry: Hit 'em where they ain't, just like Wee Willie Keeler used to say.

And let's not forget that 100-year-old weapon of offensive production, the Baltimore Chop.

Wee Willie was small but mighty. Necessity is the mother of invention, and when you're a regular-sized baseball player, or a diminutive one like Keeler, with no designer steroids or masking agents to rely on, it's necessary to knock out hits, advance the runner.

A new day might be dawning. Let's hope so. It's could be like the old days, before andro and THG (tetrahydrogestrinone).

Where will all the homers go?

Ask Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is not, as far as we know, been named commissioner of baseball - yet.

It has taken a bit of election year grandstanding on the part of the Justice Department, the IRS and the FDA to just say no to baseball's dirty little secret.

It's long overdue - by at least five years.

Where would Barry Bonds be if baseball had started to act when everyone first knew what was going on?

Not where we are right now, on the verge of what everyone should hope is a scandal that threatens the integrity of the game as much as the Black Sox or Pete Rose ever did.

This is worse, and what makes it worse is that everyone has been complicit in its perpetuation; players, owners, fans.

In 1998, on a Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh in the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run-crazed season, I stood in the visitors' clubhouse talking to Craig Biggio.

The Astros veteran is among the smallest players in baseball. He looked like a teenager that day. He still does, except he has been around major league baseball long enough to be jaded.

Watching some of his teammates saunter to the weight room with giant Styrofoam cups filled with "protein shakes," Biggio shook his head.

Look at some of the guys around the league, Biggio said. What's in those cups? What are these guys taking? No one gets that big that fast.

Yesterday, Bonds' personal trainer got busted. No surprise there. The chemists and pushers at BALCO (Bay Area Lab Cooperative) were headed for indictment all winter, ever since the grand jury started that All-Star roll call.

Spring training's right around the corner. What a fun time this will be: Bonds fending off the media all over Arizona while baseball attempts to justify "progress" with its toothless drug policy.

You know the song: For it's one, two, three, four, five strikes and you're still only out for a year.

According to the Associated Press, the defendants allegedly hid their activities by using false names on mailing labels and by referring to the drugs using a coded shorthand. Authorities also say the men provided the athletes with cover stories.

Is that the magnesium and zinc, broccoli and hard work Bonds talks about?

It's not Bonds I worry about. Bonds can claim all his prowess and glory are a result of magnesium, zinc, broccoli and a lot of hard work. We'll never know otherwise, unless there's a leak from the grand jury or Bonds, like Sosa once said he'd do, submits to a public drug test.

What better way to end the debate: Does he or doesn't he? Of course, that would suppose the drug testers have kept up with the drug designers.

Maybe one day Bonds will get caught. Maybe he'll be exonerated. Maybe we'll never know either way, just like we don't know right now, not in this age of deny, deny, deny.

The baseball players I think about are the Craig Biggios. There are just as many like him who have tried to honor the integrity of the game while watching the game mutate because of teammates or opponents who didn't, or don't.

And you can bet it's far more than the 5 to 7 percent who tested for steroids last year. If 5 to 7 percent were stupid enough to get caught, what about the ones who took the initiative to cycle down or load up on diuretics?

Two years ago, Jeff Cirillo stood in the Mariners' clubhouse and made a telling admission about the pressure clean players face in the presence of a game altered by steroid use. Like Biggio, Cirillo is an average-size player. The difference was Cirillo was struggling.

"I told my wife I'm thinking about using steroids," Cirillo told me.

Cirillo might have had other problems switching from the Rockies to the Mariners. He also felt he could be the power hitter the team expected him to be without trying to do what he saw other players doing.

None of us has really wanted to know how it is these players have gotten to where they are, but by now, it's impossible to ignore anymore.

In a city like Baltimore, where more than 100,000 single-game tickets were sold the first day they were available, there's reason to think that the prospect of a team's resurgence is what true fans want to watch.

Maybe there was a reason we were secretly squeamish about watching the ensuing assault on Babe Ruth's and Hank Aaron's home run records.

Maybe there was a point at which we would have to think about giving up our blind love of the game, when the evidence of cheating was too overwhelming to ignore.

That's why it might be time to imagine baseball filled with Ichiros and Wee Willie Keelers.

Imagine not having to think about: Does he or doesn't he?

Especially when you're pretty sure he does.

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