When players have trouble lying, baseball is there laying down law


ONCE AGAIN, I find myself in the strange position of being disappointed that big-name major league players do not know how to lie effectively.

Isn't that something they practice on the backfields during spring training?

Rafael Palmeiro barely got his accidental ingestion theory out of his mouth last week before somebody - presumably inside Major League Baseball's central authority - leaked the identity of the offending steroid (stanozolol, and try to pronounce that after a couple of Zimas) and cast serious doubt on his explanation.

This is just the latest example of a troubling trend when it comes to twisting the truth.

Barry Bonds told reporters last year that he never used steroids and went the additional step of insisting in front of television cameras that there was no way that he might have been given any banned substances without his knowledge. Maybe he should have left his answer a little more open to interpretation, because it soon was revealed that he already had admitted to unwittingly using two steroid-laced substances in front of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative grand jury.

Mark McGwire maintained throughout the final years of his career that he only used the then-legal supplement androstenedione to achieve his cartoonish bulk, but he was so clumsy in his attempts to sidestep any possible self-incrimination during the March 17 congressional steroid hearing that he came off looking worse than if he had made a full confession.

It strikes me that if you're not going to put in the hard work necessary to create an airtight alibi, then maybe you really aren't cut out for the difficult business of skirting the nation's drug laws and gaining an unfair advantage over the honest players in your sport.

I look at these guys and wonder if they're taking their cues from their lawyers or that hilarious pathological liar that Jon Lovitz used to play on Saturday Night Live. ("Yeah, that's the ticket.")

Now, the Major League Baseball Players Association is up in arms over an apparent violation of Palmeiro's privacy rights, though I don't know if the right to cover your rear end is clearly enumerated in either the Constitution or baseball's steroid-testing policy.

Palmeiro tried to use the confidentiality clause in the testing agreement to create plausible deniability, which would have been a fairly imaginative defense if everyone with an IQ above room temperature hadn't seen through it before agent Arn Tellem was done explaining why his client was not allowed to reveal information that would clear his name.

It is true that management is not allowed to reveal specific details of a positive drug test, but there is nothing to stop an innocent player from revealing facts that would prove he didn't knowingly take steroids. The only plausible reason for the player to hide behind a veil of secrecy is if there is something to hide.

Union officials are threatening to file a grievance over the apparent management leak, which scuttled the flimsy excuse that has been proffered by almost every baseball player who has tested positive to date. Not sure what that will accomplish, other than to keep Palmeiro's name and steroids together in the headlines for a few extra weeks, but the MLBPA has long been known for its great lawyering, so you can't blame the union for playing to its strength.

The word on the street is that someone at MLB whispered the name of the offending substance to a reporter because Palmeiro's excuse was undermining the credibility of baseball's anti-steroid effort at a moment in time when the unmasking of a big-name cheat should have been a compelling argument for the effectiveness of the program.

If that's what happened, there's a part of me that is dismayed at such a clear breach of trust on the part of baseball management, and another part of me that is happy to see baseball officials truly playing hardball with the steroid issue.

I have no such mixed feelings about the cheaters and their union protectors who have turned the whole steroid issue into an exercise in moral relativism.

This isn't about who has the wiliest lawyer or the best publicist. This is about the health and safety of all the players - at every level. This is about the integrity of the national pastime. This is about a generation of kids who need to know that there's a right way and a wrong way to achieve athletic excellence.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

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