Rehabbing baseball


MAJOR LEAGUE Baseball players will report to spring training camps in Florida and Arizona in just five weeks, and clubhouse managers across the show are apt to be busy finding smaller jerseys for not a few pros. Even with baseball's toothless stab at drug testing last season, some ball players showed up with noticeably deflated physiques, the apparent result of having forsaken the juice of steroids. This season, with baseball now having been shamed into the tougher testing protocol announced last week, look for the games to be played on a much more human scale.

Fans everywhere should be mostly happy with the breakthrough drug-testing agreement between club owners and the players union, which finally came out from behind its longstanding faM-gade of protecting players' privacy rights to accept year-round random testing, stiffer penalties and an end to anonymity for abusers of performance-enhancing drugs. In announcing the stepped-up testing, both sides talked about the need to protect players' health and shore up the game's integrity.

Let's not forget, however, that the tougher drug testing for major-leaguers is ridiculously tardy, after a decade of unnaturally bulging muscles and soaring home runs, and only came about because of the BALCO scandal and congressional threats of action. Moreover, continuing skepticism is in order. Somehow the new testing doesn't cover amphetamines, baseball's oldest and perhaps most widely abused drug. Like addicts still in denial as they enter rehab, the players union tried to explain that glaring hole with mumbo jumbo about the focus having been on the various other substances - steroids and hormones - that have been in the news recently.

Oh, well, there'll eventually be testing for amphetamines - though perhaps after one or more hard-charging superstars takes one too many of the pills on a 100-degree day and has to be carried off the diamond.

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